Why do a predoc?
The Academic Pipeline
Until recently, the typical academic pipeline in the quantitative social sciences has solely been a series of degrees: first a Bachelor's degree, then perhaps a Master's before completing a PhD program.
Completing a Master's degree or enrolling directly in a PhD program is an option for some, but presents challenges to those who are still deciding if a PhD is right for them, or need some further development before applying to PhD programs but find a Master's degree prohibitive. Pre-doctoral programs can resolve these difficulties.
At universities, pre-docs work directly for faculty for one to two years, allowing them to gain a deep understanding of the research process. At research institutions, pre-docs typically work with a team of senior researchers. During their tenure, pre-docs:
- hone coding, quantitative, and field work proficiencies;
- develop professional skills like team and project management;
- gain confidence and skill interacting with faculty and senior researchers;
- explore subfields and refine their academic interests;
- ultimately evaluate whether the PhD track is right for them.
Those who do continue on to top PhD programs do so with a highly developed toolkit, and hit the ground running. Those who decide to go on to non-PhD opportunities are well-positioned for a variety of careers, including non-PhD research positions and other industry roles. All leave with a network of aspiring researchers who could well become future colleagues and collaborators.
There are two career outcomes: either an assistant professor position or a career in Research, Data Science, consulting in the public or private sector. All degrees can get a position in the latter. To become an assistant professor, you must have a Bachelor's degree, either a Pre-Doc or a Masters degree, and a PHD.
|Industry||Percentage||Professor||Associate Professor||Assistant Professor|
This flow chart illustrates the new pathway through the academic pipeline. While a pre-doctoral opportunity or Master's degree may add a lot of value, neither is required to apply to the PhD. Pre-docs and Master's programs are not identical, but they can fulfill similar credentialing functions when one is applying to PhD programs. Master's degrees are student-driven and are, of course, costly. Pre-docs are faculty-driven, giving direct experience of the research process, and are paid positions. While pre-docs are not specifically designed to prepare people for non-academic careers, the skills they pre-docs gain through their work are applicable to a wide variety of non-academic occupations.
So why do a pre-doc?
Pre-doctoral research experience can be valuable in several different ways.
- Gain more experience before a PhD (and get paid for it). For those who need to flesh out some technical skills or get more research experience, a pre-doc can be a great alternative to a more expensive option like a terminal Master's degree. A lot of that skill and experience comes directly from the job, but can also be supplemented by coursework and resources specifically created for pre-docs by the hiring institutions.
- Explore what a research career is, and whether it's right for you. For those still exploring what a career in research looks like and whether a PhD is right for them, pre-docs give an unparalleled window to the research process. Supervisors involve pre-docs closely in the research projects they are running. Pre-docs who have gone on to PhD programs report that this preview helps them hit the ground running for their own graduate studies. Even for those who never go on to exactly the kind of research they did as a pre-doc, the toolkit developed in these roles is broadly applicable and highly valued.
- Prepare for a successful career (academic or otherwise). Most people who complete a pre-doc do go on to PhD study. We are still sharing data among the PREDOC consortium members to get a clear picture of exactly how many go on to the PhD, but from what we've analyzed so far, it looks to be in excess of 75%. From our preliminary data, around 40% of applicants accepted to top PhD programs have experience as a pre-doc, so while it's not necessary experience, it's not uncommon, either. Those who go on to a PhD (which is typically fully funded) after a pre-doc are generally happy with their placements and report being well prepared. Those who don't go on to the PhD typically take jobs in research and data science, frequently in policy (e.g., at the Federal Reserve or International Monetary Fund), and also in private industry (e.g., data science consultancy or non-profit work).
- With a pre-doc and PhD, open an array of unique and impactful opportunities. The main intended goal from pursuing doctoral studies is to embrace research and eventually become a professor at an academic institution. Not all PhD students, however, end up pursuing an academic career at universities. Many PhD students may eventually prefer to go to work for a government organization, such as the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, or the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), to name a few. Others may prefer to go to the private sector, like consulting, investment banking, technology firms, and so on. Some others decide to go to work for non-profit organizations and put their skills to use to help others.
To get a concrete idea of what compensation for a professorial career looks like, the following chart reports the distribution of faculty salaries in business schools as reported by AACSB: