Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How Academia Is Slowly Becoming Exclusive for the Rich Only..

Of course the only way to get an academic job is to get a PhD. Without a scholarship, a PhD is too expensive for middle-class students, especially those who come from developing countries. In the UK for example, if you come from UK/EU, you can work and study to make ends meet. But for international students, the fees are triple, so scholarships are a must.

But that’s just the beginning of the story. As you go through the PhD, you face barriers on your work-hours limit as an international student, and hence on the income you can make, and the jobs you can do. Besides, you will need money to travel to your home country to see your family, or to go on vacations, which become a luxury as they are too expensive for you to afford. The lack of social activity plus all the pressure the PhD puts on you increase the mental health problems you are prone to. It is claimed that

“One in two PhD students experiences psychological distress; one in three is at risk of a common psychiatric disorder.” (Levecque et al., 2017)

So the PhD becomes a social and a financial burden, and a challenge to go through once you decide you really want to stay in academia, because in addition to your personal needs, you have all the academic needs of: going to conferences to make connections, and extending your PhD until you can publish some research that gets you a job, which means living off your parents’ money for a while until you get a postdoc or a permanent position. All this needs money. The PhD visa alone nowadays costs a fortune, and you have to get a visa for every single conference or trip. You even can't extend your PhD student visa beyond 4 years in the UK unless you have a really good reason for that, so you have to make sure you finish your PhD on time, but how can you do this, given all these interconnected various challenges? 

All these challenges even make you wonder if academia is really fair. But just like anything else in the world isn’t, why should academia be different?

Maybe academia should be different because we talk about research to create a positive impact for the world, because the developed world spends millions to stay in fancy places to talk about eradicating poverty, because we talk about ethics and equal opportunities all the time in academic institutions, and because very pragmatically, we need researchers from different parts of the world who have access and can speak languages, in order to conduct research that brings funds to institutions!

So, very selfishly speaking, the world needs researchers from different parts of the world. However, the reality means that you need a lot of MONEY, in addition to patience, perseverance, support, super mental power, and continuous brain activity… in order to finish a PhD, let alone continuing in an academic career.

It is up to institutions to decide if research degrees are really worth it or not, and start being more inclusive and accommodating, but we all know that the world isn’t so rosy, because simply, if it were, I wouldn’t be writing this post and you wouldn’t be reading it…



Ahmed Saeed said...

I want to pick your brain about a couple of points:

How much of this applies to STEM compared to humanities? I mean in STEM most good programs will fund PhD students if they are admitted, and with occasional internships, students do not have to seek extra funding often if at all.

How much of this applies to US compared to Europe?

If you were to ask institutions for two actionable items what would those be?

Evronia said...

Some of the issues are definitely discipline or country-related. PhD programmes aren't the same length or content in all countries. With the crackdown on immigration, there is a crackdown also on funds, work-hours limit, post-study visa, and PhD duration.

Very few students get fully funded from the University in the PhD in the UK because students do not teach, as teaching is a separate activity that you may or may not have a chance to do and delays your PhD project as well.

With humanities, hardly people take on internships, because of the discipline and the work-hours limit. You seek extra funding for every conference or activity because you don't work in a lab for a professor who secures the funding for you.

It may be the case that in the US, the situation is slightly better for funding, but I also know that it is not better in terms of mental health as it is a universal problem.

For institutions, these are not just the universities, but also the governments who seek to broaden the research outcome of their universities. Acknowledging these problems are very important in the first place. I don't think people are facing it, and many students are expected to work like a machine to finish on time, which again destroys their mental health. Action items will be things like: more funding to PhD students, more paid trainings, more social/mental support, definitely make all students equal in terms of how many hours a week they can work. There are many things to think about for a start.