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Japanese Ph.D.S Find It Increasingly Difficult to Find Work

July 27, 2008

A growing number of young people are finding that academic achievement is no guarantee of career success, with many doctorate holders unable to get the jobs they want.

According to research by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, of 16,801 doctoral graduates who completed courses in March last year, 4,146, or about 25 percent, could not find permanent jobs. The figure is even higher if only those able to secure part-time or temporary positions is included.

The problem is particularly pronounced in the humanities as fewer academic positions such as university lecturers are available, while the private sector is shunning those already deemed too old for many graduate recruitment schemes by the time they have earned their doctorate.

“I wonder what position I’ll be in when I graduate,” said Miho Ushiyama, 28, who is studying for a doctorate at Waseda University’s graduate school.

Ushiyama says she is studying cultural anthropology and intends to send copies of her completed thesis to different universities in the hope of securing a research position, such as a teaching assistant.

But she says many graduates she has heard about are having to make ends meet by holding down two or more part-time and low paying lecturer positions, even though they have obtained a doctorate.

“I’ll take a regular job wherever I can get one,” she said.

Shodo Mizuki, 41, who recently published a book, “Kogakureki (highly educated) Working Poor,” (Kobunsha Co.) said, “Even after obtaining a doctorate, only one of every several dozen candidates will find a teaching post at a university.”

Mizuki is himself a Ph.D. holder, and even though he is currently a researcher at Ritsumeikan University, he will have to go job-hunting again when his term expires in March 2011.

“These days we have doctors working in convenience stores. Graduate schools now are just turning out freeters (those holding unstable part-time jobs),” he said.

The number of highly educated young people has soared as a result of a bubble economy education policy aimed at dramatically increasing the number of graduates.

A 1991 report by the government’s University Council urged relevant bodies to push for a doubling of the number of graduate school students, with the government increasing subsidies to universities opening new graduate schools.

As a result, the number of graduate schools increased from 320 in 1991 to 598 in May 2007, with an increase in students during the period from about 100,000 to about 260,000.

The main reason most companies are reluctant to employ doctorate holders is that even the youngest graduates are 27, and many have already turned 30 by the time they get their doctorate.

In addition, some doctorate holders believe company recruiters hold ingrained prejudices such as that the specialized knowledge they have gained makes them stubborn, or that they lack proper social or teamwork skills.

But Nobunaga Hayashi, the 33-year-old president of DFS, a company that assists doctoral graduates with finding jobs, denies this is the case.

“Doctoral graduates are highly talented after completing their academic studies and are more skilled than students who haven’t done anything special,” he said.

Since last year, the company has tried to match employers with doctoral graduates and has been offering job-hunting tips to doctoral students and graduates.

In some cases, graduates themselves are not aware what they are capable of doing.

Tomoka Ichikawa, 28, who studied for a doctorate in sports sociology at Juntendo University, had failed many recruitment exams at private companies.

Initially, because she specialized in the J- League, she applied for jobs in companies managing professional soccer teams, as well as media companies. But she said despite always presenting her academic achievements in job interviews, recruiters paid little attention to them.

DFS suggested she change tack. “I realized that I might also have acquired analytical and presentation skills, and learned to think logically,” she said.

Ichikawa then decided to apply for a job in a company analyzing information technology-related data. She got the job and started working for the company in spring.

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(c) 2008, The Yomiuri Shimbun.

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