In relation to job attainment, the term ‘overqualified’ should be smothered deep within the stiff interview jackets and declined beverage offers. But despite attempts (if any) to restrict its emergence, ‘overqualified’ has groped its way to the top of job offer discussions. Its beastly, boastful nature is out of place in career decisions, but stubbornly sits there, waiting to prod the balance towards acceptance or declination.

In effect, someone may be offered a position that they are overqualified for, because of their opulent experience. Conversely, this may be grounds for a declined offer, the surmounting qualifications arising suspicion to the applicant’s role commitment. Additionally, and more disrupting, someone may not be accepted for a position they are perfectly suited for and wholly capable of, if an ‘overqualified’ applicant is preferred, as in the first instance. But why would this maestro apply (and settle for a less well paid job)? – well, this is where the grumbling dilemma in academia is unapologetically rooted. The dysfunctional disturbance of ‘over-qualification’ increases the expectation of qualification levels which continues in a claustrophobic cycle – catch 22.

There are not enough post-doc jobs and tenured positions to accommodate the expanding PhD cohorts across Europe.  The sector is currently over-subscribed and unsustainable. Only a shrinking proportion manage to squeeze into a continued academic career, leading to a bulging pressure and stress in the field, the so-called ‘pipeline disaster’. This results in many unsatisfied employees doing jobs they are overqualified for, qualified individuals feeling under-qualified and not attaining their career goals, and many begrudging years of short-term contracts and instability. In accomplice, the ‘publish or perish’ mantra and hostile competitiveness are triumphant.

Funding, the looming back throttle of research, should increase focus on creating jobs after PhDs and more long-term positions. Those doing PhDs must be made aware of the opportunities that exist in industry and other employment sectors outside of research and academia. Career advice at all levels of education needs to be less conservative and more obtuse. Independent critical thinking and project management are among the rushing stream of skills that can be applied to a multitude of careers. Why not start your own business, traverse into journalism, communications, or government advisory boards? A PhD should be viewed as a training, not a predisposition to professorship. Students should be encouraged to use their PhDs more effectively, confidently, and wholly. While more and fairer opportunities for those truly wishing to grapple an academic life are urgently required.

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