I’m quite certain we’ve all been thinking about this. The pandemic and quarantine have impacted us all and, unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet. Based on what I have been reading from others on this topic and heard from our colleagues, and in reviewing the official statements of many institutions, these changes do not leave anyone with much optimism. At this point, it appears that the most hard-hit group are those at a transition phase, i.e., from graduate school to postdoc or postdoc to faculty position. Please see this Google Doc maintained by Karen Kelsky, PhD: List of Schools That Have Announced Hiring Freezes or Pauses (Incomplete/Unofficial)
Multiple institutions have extended graduate student funding by one year, but many have not. Consequently, many graduate student organizations have come together to petition their institutions for assurances that they will be protected. Every institution has to manage these situations in different ways, and these might vary between programs within the same institution. Figure out where you stand so you can make informed decisions moving forward.
Almost everyone I know has had to completely shut down their labs (myself included). If you were working on your dissertation experiments and only have half of the data your committee agreed to, what can you do? Will you be able to extend and complete them next year? Can you modify your experimental design in a way that your committee will still allow you to defend? Keep in mind, defending means you’ll be done with grad school and maybe without a job. Trying to stay put might be a better choice for some.
Now might be a chance to get some (additional) teaching experience. A large portion of institutions are going to be either completely or partially online in Fall 2020. This may be an opportunity to maintain your stipend via teaching. This could be a “win-win” in that getting some teaching experience generally only helps increase your marketability. Furthermore, when most schools transitioned to online only in March, they set up a natural experiment. The results of this experiment showed that online instruction is viable and will likely be incorporated into the curriculum moving forward. Interestingly, some faculty had such positive experiences they have elected to teach online courses regularly. Here are some suggestions and ideas for those facing this reality from Rob Weir, PhD: Not All Online Experiences Are Equal
Most institutions have implemented faculty hiring freezes through Fall 2021. Tragically, some individuals have reported that their offers have been rescinded. Others have indicated that the institution followed through with hiring if the offer was made before official hiring freezes took place. While some job offers have been extended but official start dates have been postponed until 2021 (in line with hiring freeze policy). So, what are some actionable steps to take at this point?
If you haven’t, talk to your mentor/supervisor. Figure out your ability to extend your post-doc. Again, the safest bet appears to be staying put and weathering the storm. If you’re early in your post-doc you are probably okay. It appears that funding already secured is not being revoked, which can hopefully help you extend. Alternatively, there may be opportunities to secure your own funding that could help secure your current or a new position. Finally, I’ve seen a few new post-doc ads posted in recent weeks. Perhaps there’s a chance to find a new or move to a different post-doc given the jump to faculty is not viable for most.
While not abundant, I’ve heard of some institutions allowing individuals to move to new positions within the same institution. This (by technicality) does not break the hiring freeze rule. If you already have a position, changing to a new position does not increase the number of people employed by the institution and thus hiring remains “frozen.” Now may be the time to start looking for such positions with the caveat that they may be rare.
Keep in mind, we’re not in uncharted territory in terms of non-profit, industry, or government positions for folks with PhDs. Following the Great Recession of 2008, hiring freezes were widespread at all levels of the education system. Now may be the time to think flexibly about your options. For some, outside academia may a more attractive option. See the link to this article by L. Maren Wood, PhD, in the TheChronicle of Higher Education: For Would-Be Academics, Now Is the Time to Get Serious About Plan B
The intent of this article is not to paint a bleak picture of the future – it is meant to help confront the reality of our current situation. Everyone is coping with the repercussions of Covid-19 and everyone wants their career trajectory to remain stable. It may be some time before we get back to normal, so until then I encourage you to remain optimistic, flexible, and resolute. We are all in this together.