Doctors and postdocs in political science in Switzerland

A study conducted by the Swiss Political Science Association




Executive summary

This report shows the results of a survey conducted in spring 2019 among all people who received a PhD in political science from a Swiss university during the last eleven years (2008 to 2018) and among postdocs working in a Swiss university in June 2019. Thus, this survey sheds light on the experiences and career paths of both postdocs and doctors in political science who left academia. Moreover, it compares the results regarding postdocs with a similar study carried out in 2012.

Between 2008 and 2018, 496 persons have received a PhD in political science in Switzerland. Among the 574 persons included in the initial sample (the 496 doctors + 78 postdocs currently working in a Swiss university but who got their PhD abroad), we were able to contact 521 persons. Among them, 284 took the survey, which results in a 54.5% response rate, with some strong variation across universities.

According to our survey, more than a half of the doctors who graduated in political science in Switzerland between 2008 and 2018 still work in academia in 2019. However, our survey overestimates the share of persons still working in academia, due to the higher response rate among that population than among doctors who left academia. According to our estimation, the actual share of doctors still working in academia amounts to about 40%, which is still sizeable.

A fourth of doctors who graduated in Swiss universities between 2008 and 2018 and who still work in academia hold a professorship or similar, stable position. Among them, half work abroad, which suggests that Swiss doctors are competitive on the international job market. Professors overall tend to stress the difficulty of finding a stable position, but with variation across persons. They are more unanimous with respect to the importance of publications in top journals as a major requirement to get a professorship position. Interestingly, 43% of professors are women. This is not gender parity (yet), but comes close to it.

Doctors who specialized in public policy/administration and policy analysis are overrepresented among doctors who left academia, in comparison to their share in the initial sample. According to our survey, male doctors are proportionally more likely than female doctors to have left academia. Yet women who left academia did so earlier than men, i.e. after obtaining their PhD or after one postdoc position. Very few doctors remain unemployed after completing their PhD, and those who are currently employed outside academia report the transition was moderately difficult. However, the results to our survey suggest that the reasons for leaving academia relate more to a negative evaluation of the (prospect of an) academic career, than to a strong aspiration or calling for a non-academic career.

More than half of doctors who left academia say they did not receive any support during the transition. Men rate the transition as more difficult than women, although a larger share of women say they did not receive any support for the transition, especially from (people in) academia. Furthermore, a clear majority of doctors working outside academia say their job requires only a Master's degree, but women have a slightly more positive view on that than men. A gender pay gap appears with respect to the non-academic career, with women earning on average 20'000 CHF less a year than men.

Precarious working conditions still prevail for post-doctoral researchers and teachers. First, a majority of postdocs have short-term contracts of two years, at most. Second, less than 60 percent of the respondents have a full time or nearly full time employment (i.e. more than 80%). This is reflected in the mean income, which is 30'000 lower than among doctors working outside of academia. Third, almost half of respondents have had a fellowship as their first post-doctoral position or as their current post-doctoral position – a share that has substantially increased since 2012. This can be viewed as a sign that the SNSF is investing in young scholars, but this also contributes to precariousness.

On the more positive side, the gender gap among postdocs is shrinking in comparison to the 2012 survey. First, the share of men and women among postdocs is now more balanced. Second, women who work as post-doctoral researchers are now more likely than men to lead research projects, and less likely to be employees. Third, in comparison to the situation outside of academia, we observe more gender 3 equality when it comes to income and working time. By contrast, we observe some important differences when we compare the French-speaking and the German-speaking part of the country. There are comparatively more MA/OberassistentIn/Asssistant professor positions in the German-speaking universities than in French-speaking universities. In addition, it is also more common that post-doctoral researchers obtain an MA/OberassistentIn position immediately after the PhD in German-speaking universities.

In light of these findings, the present study makes four recommendations:

  1. Open a debate about a sustainable approach for training in political science: How many PhD students can we train in political science? How many will find a job in academia? What are their career opportunities outside of academia? How can we support and facilitate the transition?
  2. Assess the skills associated with a PhD in political science in order to communicate about the competencies acquired during a training in political science.
  3. Develop PhD programs that enable to acquire qualifications valued on the non-academic labor market such as project management or team management; some existing measures used for gender equality could be used as models to develop such programs.
  4. Create more open-ended positions of different types – not only the classic professorship track (including assistant professor with tenure track), but also research and teaching open-ended positions, in line with the recommendations of the Swiss Academies (Hildebrand 2018).


Read the full report here