We asked our readers with postgraduate degrees how long they spent in postgraduate education and in postdoc positions; 215 responded. The average time spent in postgraduate study, which varies by country, was 4.9 years. Students in both the UK and Germany devote an average of 3.5 years; in the United States and Canada, the average is 5.5 years.
The vast majority, 83%, went on to nontenured or nonpermanent positions--mostly postdocs--after completing their formal education. Those who finished their postdocs spent an average of 4.9 years, with 16% taking eight years or more to do so. "Sometimes it seems endless, but I see the light at the end of the dark, dark tunnel," said one respondent.
The tunnel's gotten longer: Time spent in postdoc positions is growing. Those who finished before 1990 spent an average of 3.6 years in that position; the average has since grown to 5.6 years.
As usual, our respondents had interesting insights. One said that today's students need to be a bit more practical regarding one aspect: "I think that young people today need independent guidance about choice of postdoc positions--mentoring for career path rather than [settling for] 'Oh this might be interesting.'"
Another pointed out a second practicality: "The older you are when you achieve a PhD, the less likely you are to find a permanent, well-paid position that compensates for all the years of deferred gratuity. There is little ageism in teaching, and so that's what I've ended up doing. I was 44 when I got my PhD, and I'm still paying back my student loan at 50!"