“Academic or Industry?” is the million-dollar question frequently asked by prospective doctoral students, and graduating ones. What happens in life after getting a PhD in Korea?
The Question: Life After a PhD in Korea
PhD students are mostly older and they usually have a job already. However, that isn’t always the case. As for myself, I came to get a PhD in Korea to further my studies, only after being a professor at a university in Indonesia. Of course, most people also think that PhD graduates will be professors like myself, but it is also not always the case.
In this article, I will tell about working in academia based on my experience. Although my work is not in Korea, academia is pretty similar in most countries. You can always try to find a job in the private sector if, after reading this article, you find that academia is not the suitable path for you.
Should I Get a PhD?
If I had a dollar for each time people ask me this question, I’d probably be rich. Higher education is admittedly, a privilege -an expensive one. So, it’s understandable that people weigh multiple factors before getting one.
The path to a doctoral degree is long and exhausting. It normally takes at least 5 years of your life. So, you should be very careful with your decision to get one. However, I think the biggest question that you should consider is; why do you think you need one?
A PhD is usually focused on a very specific area of research and studies. So, unless one needs to have one for a job promotion, or to work in academia, it’s pretty useless. If neither applies to you then, my answer is don’t get a PhD! Unless you feel immense hatred toward yourself and want to torture yourself for years, don’t get one if you don’t have a specific position in mind.
Should I Get a PhD in Korea?
Korea has become an increasingly popular study-abroad choice for foreigners, including for doctoral studies. But do I recommend it? For my specific major and university, I don’t. I have not had the opportunities I was expecting, and I feel as though I was scammed. To read more about it, Click Here for an article on the scholarship trap I fell into, along with nearly all of my peers.
Nevertheless, a doctoral degree in Korea may be good if the prospective student wants a career in academia and is from a developing country. Korea offers scholarships for government officials through KOICA, for instance, and it’s a good scholarship that takes care of its recipients very well!
Some people asked have asked me, “Don’t you get paid as a PhD student?”. No, I don’t. I study Social Science so there is no lab I can work at. And strangely, there are no research opportunities for PhD students in my department – at least not for international students. In fact, there are not even opportunities for us to be teaching assistants. As a result, all of the international students in my department graduate with no research or job experience.
However, if you get an opportunity to work with a professor for a research project, or in a laboratory, you will have a monthly salary. And sometimes, in addition to your monthly stipend from the scholarship. If you receive such an offer, then it’s considerably good.
Now let’s talk about a career in academia after doctoral studies.
After a PhD in Korea: Why Academia?
Like I said, a doctoral degree will be extremely useful if you want to have a career in academia: as a professor and a researcher. Most PhD students are prospective lecturers, professors, researchers – or aspiring ones.
Most universities only accept applicants with a PhD, for both part-time and full-time (or tenured) positions. In Korea, based on a Facebook group I joined, most job offers for foreigners are for teaching English at a university level. However, these jobs are rarely permanent, or better, tenured. For tenured positions, the universities will open job vacancies on their own website, or through academic circles.
Overall, if you are a non-ethnic Korean who wants to focus on an area of academia outside of the English language and literature, you probably will not be able to remain in Korea. However, there are some exceptions and occasionally foreigners are able to teach specialized subjects in Korea.
Career Positions in Academia
How are the career positions in academia different? Let me break it down based on my experience back home. Universities in Korea may have different recruitment processes, but I assume the structure would be pretty much the same.
Part-time positions basically mean a part-time job. You only teach several hours a week and the job comes with no benefits. Instead, you are paid hourly, or by the course credits you teach.
The second position is a full-time position, it could be a contract or a tenured position. Both have similar tasks and responsibilities, but a tenured position is the ultimate goal in academia.
A tenured position is fully permanent and almost guarantees full professorship at an institution. This position enables someone to attain higher job security and get more research grants, which are usually offered to universities or reputable research centers.
If you look at journal papers, there will be an author and institution name. A tenured professor will be able to use a permanent ‘affiliate universities’ on their papers and probably get more credibility and citations (citations are important in academia).
Won’t the contracted or part-time professors be able to do that too? Yes, they can. But there are also fewer benefits for them. Tenured professors get benefits like a higher salary, days off, a chance of joining research projects, and career promotions. Academia is a lifelong career, but it also takes a lifetime to build it. It is a career for those who feel that teaching and researching are their calling and want a more secure and stable job for decades ahead.
The fun thing about an academic career is the fact that I earn money from reading, writing, and teaching about my favorite things. Granted, teaching and researching can be exhausting, but it is also very fulfilling if you really enjoy it.
Plus, the students are adults with whom I can have mature (presumably) discussions and banter. I am teaching them, but I also learn a lot from these intellectually stimulating discussions. Some of them may have the brightest minds, and it is always fulfilling to see their growth as a person and also academically.
Another fun thing is going for conferences and field research out of town, or even abroad. I may sound nerdy, but I like going to such events since I will be learning something new while meeting other scholars! Though I’m also not gonna lie, most people (especially graduate students) go to conferences for food.
Anyway, some universities regularly have an ‘outbound fund’ and a lecturer can apply for partially or fully funded outbound programs like conferences. So you don’t have to pay it all yourself!
After a PhD in Korea: Why NOT Academia??
Now let’s talk about the dark side of academia.
There are hierarchies in academia. At the bottom is lecturer, then senior lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and finally, at the top is full professor. It can take one or two decades to become a full professor, and yes, all of them have a PhD.
Hierarchies determine what you can do in your job. A full professor will get more research grants than a lecturer, for instance. Back home, a new lecturer sometimes can’t apply for grants without a more senior colleague by their side, and can’t even teach a class alone, which ultimately affects their earnings.
There’s a so-called ‘accreditation’ and ‘university ranking’ in the academic world. Both are important to increase the reputation of every university. While the professors can significantly contribute to both by publishing a high number of academic journals, in some countries, the administrative work for accreditation will fall on the lower-level employees. I am talking about reviewing hundreds of pages, and many sleepless nights. Not fun.
If you have some teaching experience, you can attest that grading is no one’s favorite activity.
Publications make one career in academia. The more you publish, the faster you (may) get a promotion and gain a reputation. The catch is, some journals require you to pay to publish your articles. Some journals require submission fees only, some require publication fees, and some extra capitalist ones require you to pay both.
Funny thing is, not only do you pay to publish, your own article will be published behind a paywall, meaning you must pay to access your own articles. FUN.
Also, it can take months to get one manuscript published because a reputable journal will have it reviewed and revised at least two times. Journals have their own hierarchies, which are generally determined by the number of citations they have.
Working in a university may be prestigious, but the pay is not as high as people assume. For starters, it’s probably almost similar to minimum wage (even in Korea). However, university jobs grant more day-offs and leave than private-sector employment.
The higher you climb the hierarchy, the higher your earnings will be. Also, some universities may give additional incentives if you manage to publish your papers.
In my country, the starting salary is even below the regional minimum wage, though we do have additional earnings from teaching, examining theses, publication incentives, etc. It will take around 5 years to finally get ‘lecturer certification’ and more earnings. In comparison, with the same qualifications, working at a government institution or state-owned enterprise will pay you double the university wage.
Working in a university means a rocky path ahead, but if you are fond of teaching and researching, then go that PhD in Korea! On the other hand, if you feel like the career path is long and winding, perhaps working in a normal corporation will suit you better!