Research shows a doubling of PhD graduates working in industry between 2000 and 2010

Trinity College Dublin in partnership with LinkedIn carried out an analysis of 11,000 PhD graduates from Irish universities over the last 20 years
Caoilfhionn Ni Dheorain (left) and Martha Nic Ionais from Coláiste Chillain in Dublin make final preparations for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Dr Diarmuid O’Brien
Wed, Jan 7, 2015, 00:02
First published: Wed, Jan 7, 2015, 00:02

This week there are 4,616 students at the BT Young Scientist exhibition who are demonstrating the depth of our national talent base.
This is timely, as following the economic downturn Ireland’s economy is now growing again. A large part of the growth is being driven by Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and export-orientated businesses. However, the narrative to promote industry investment has evolved; Ireland is now building an investment case based on talent.
There are many indicators of this transition. The recent Forfás policy statement on FDI in Ireland highlights both talent and research as key investment factors; the American Chamber of Commerce published a report on “Ireland as a global centre for talent”; and Martin Murphy Hewlett Packard’s MD at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner noted that future internationally mobile investment will be increasingly won by regions with talent availability.
Consistent with these trends Ireland is developing new innovation policy. The recent budget highlighted improved R&D tax credits and the new concept of a “knowledge box”. These new initiatives are dependent on talent.
A more advanced economy demands more advanced skills and talent. If there is agreement on the importance of talent, has investment in research during the recession resulted in a stronger talent base for Ireland? How do we know that our companies require a technical and more highly trained talent base?
Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with LinkedIn, has carried out an analysis of 11,000 PhD graduates from Irish universities over the last 20 years. The study looked at where these PhD graduates took their first job, the transition from academia to industry and how they compared with bachelor graduates during the same period. The data is based on LinkedIn profile information and is one of the first studies to capture a longitudinal analysis of the careers of our PhD graduates.
An interesting insight is the transition process from PhD to industry. Fifty-eight per cent of graduates following completion of their PhD took up a first role in academia.
However over time this situation changed significantly and by their fifth post, 63 per cent of the PhD graduates were working in industry.
Time lapse
The average time for a PhD graduate to transition from academia to industry was 2.7 years. This demonstrates that post-doctorate research is considered an additional career training step. It also highlights that there can be a seven-year window from the first investment in a PhD to a pipeline of industry-ready graduates. Research and talent development takes time.
The LinkedIn data shows a doubling of PhD graduates working in industry in the period 2000 to 2010. This represents both the growth in numbers undertaking PhD training and also the increased absorptive capacity of industry.
It also demonstrates how the ambition of Ireland’s Science Technology and Innovation Strategy in the period 2006-2013 to double PhD numbers has directly impacted on our talent competitiveness. This is an important input as our new science strategy is being developed.
The study also shows that a PhD graduate fills a different role in industry. More than 32 per cent of PhD graduates who move into employment in industry have roles in research; with another 21 per cent involved in engineering and information technology roles.
In comparison, only 5 per cent of the 70,000 BSc graduates who have LinkedIn profiles for the same period are working in roles in research.
In addition, the analysis shows that PhD graduates take more senior positions in industry than graduates – 46 per cent of PhDs versus 29 per cent of graduates enter in a “senior contributor” role. This strong interest in PhD graduates by employers is consistent with their skill profiles. PhD graduates have a more diverse and broader technical skill set than the graduates surveyed.
Demand for PhDs
In summary PhD graduates offer different skills, carry out different roles and fill more senior positions than the graduates surveyed. A PhD is a different form of education and increasingly a form which is demanded by employers.
Over this period, the survey shows Trinity College Dublin to be Ireland’s largest provider of PhDs; supplying 20 per cent of the national total. Trinity is using innovative approaches to develop researcher skills and to link them with industry.
Initiatives like the Trinity Innovation and Entrepreneurship strategy; the Trinity-UCD Innovation Academy and the newly formed Office of Corporate Partnership and Knowledge Exchange all focus on developing our PhDs to deliver both world-leading research and industry understanding.
Investing in research produces many tangible impacts: scientific learnings; intellectual property which can be commercialised and international collaborations which enhance our capacity to innovate. However, the most important benefit is talent. Graduates in a range of disciplines and at different levels make up the national talent pool but increasingly research-trained PhD graduates can help differentiate Ireland internationally.
Investment in research is fundamental to ensure that the full potential of the talent showcased at the BTYS is realised in Ireland and for Ireland. Dr Diarmuid O’Brien is director of Trinity Research and Innovation, O’Reilly Institute, Trinity College Dublin