Irish Academics Consider the Value of PhDs

Oct 12, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

A recent article in The Irish Times suggests that although PhD degrees can still be useful in Ireland, the almost 9,000 PhD students at Irish schools face a tough road ahead to securing a job in academia.

Chief executive of the Higher Education Authority Graham Love graduated with a PhD in vascular cell biology in 1997 from University College Dublin.

He said, “Back then, the classical path was to go on to academia, although the tide was beginning to turn. People asked me: if you spent so long studying, why did you go into a consulting firm?

“It did turn a few heads - including my father’s. I don’t use the direct domain knowledge but I did learn about inquiry, setting out and testing an idea. You learn to face a problem, reduce it to its constituent parts and set out a plan.

“With a PhD, you spend a lot of time getting negative results and this builds resilience. It can be testing at times. And at the end, you stand in front of people and need to explain, in plain English, what you are trying to do.”

That path doesn’t exactly apply now.

According to a study by Trinity College, between 2000 and 2010, the number of PhD graduates working in industry doubled.

The study also found that, by their fifth job, 63 percent of PhD graduates worked in industry.

Why? Those PhDs in Ireland who go into academia are among the best. 

Love said, “If you want to be an academic and are clear and driven, go for it, but the people who are getting those jobs are top of their game and it is tough.”

He added, “Be aware you may have to travel or have to break out and try something else. The majority go to work in private companies or the public service.”

What’s the benefit of getting a PhD? Innovation, critical thinking, and studying something you love.

Learn more about earning your PhD in Ireland.



Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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