Receiving any company perks or benefits whilst in academia is pretty much unheard of. This isn’t necessarily done out of spite and a lot of it comes down to the way academic institutions conduct themselves financially. Academic organisations typically operate like non-profit organisations, or at the very least, constantly looking over their shoulder not knowing if they’re going to be able to meet financial costs. Research projects are short lived, with a fixed time period so it’s hard to forecast and predict the incoming finances – which also contributes to the ‘publish or perish’ culture, it’s simply a mechanism to acquire more funding and put your institution on centre stage. Nothing wrong with a bit of free advertising.
This problem gets compounded further as the supply and demand for PhD students, post-doctoral workers, researchers and lecturers is overly saturated. The amount of post-doctoral places are significantly smaller than the amount of PhD students completing in that given year. This becomes even more challenging when you factor in location, PhDs who have completed in previous years, post-doctoral workers falling out of work due to contract end dates and so on. In turn, if you have a favourable supply, you can get away with under-paying or not offering perks and benefits to current faculty as the number of applicants will always be tremendously high.
This is often where we can get into a world of debate between justifying sub-optimal work conditions because if it’s ‘truly what you love’ you should be able to grit your teeth, delay gratification, and get on with it. Obviously, this isn’t true and is a false dichotomy. You’re perfectly within your rights to aim for respectable salary goals, good work-life balance, a manageable distance from home (i.e., commute time), and a range of other factors that align with a role that you’re super passionate about, stimulates you intellectually and enables you to have an impact on the world and others.
These factors have been covered extensively elsewhere on this site, but we haven’t yet dived into additional perks and benefits an organisation may be able to offer. The great thing about this is that it can represent a whole host of options, remote working, bonus schemes, international travel, flexible hours, healthcare, the size of your annual leave, and the smaller things like free breakfast, expenses, gym membership, or even a working laptop and phone. Certainly, these things shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor on what you want to do after your PhD, but they do contribute to the holistic package that will ultimately influence the way in which you live your life and subsequently your happiness.
There is sometimes a narrative however that the perks are there too offset horrible working conditions. We often paint industry as the evil villain who give us perks because they want our soul in return. For sure, for some organisations this is going to be the case (more of a reason to check out the Glassdoor reviews). In the instance you make a mistake, and you find yourself in one of these places that make you unhappy, don’t fret, you can just change again. Nothing is set in stone and your future career does not depend on this first career out of academia. It is not definitive. You won’t get trapped.
However, we often overlook the fact that a ‘good’ organisation will understand that keeping and retaining talent is an important initiative. It can be a good pre-cursor for a healthy work culture. Some of this relates to the supply and demand of a workforce mentioned earlier, but also can be indicative of how an organisation treats and looks after their staff. For any organisation to thrive and do well, they need to focus on not only keeping their staff, but also keeping the staff that could in theory achieve more elsewhere. A way to do this is to ensure you have a good and fruitful package of perks.
From an outsider looking in, or a job applicant, you can usually find salary bonuses and other company perks for each organisation listed on Glassdoor. It’s important to do your due diligence as these things will influence your decision making. For instance, you might be willing to take less pay if you know it’s a fully remote role. You might be more inclined to commute further if you know your company offers an attractive health package and so on.
But how do we decide what perks are best? This can be difficult, especially if you haven’t had any before and all you’ve known is the world of academia. As always, and with most decisions you make in your career, it should hinge on your life values. These will be your compass to what’s important – and for goodness sake don’t be shy to put your needs first (for once) and aim for what you want. It’s your responsibility and nobody else’s to design and build a life that looks and feels good to you.
Breaking out of the status quo and being selective on what you want to achieve in your next career journey is encouraged. There’s nothing more heart-breaking than seeing arguably the smartest population group downplaying their skills and not reaching for the stars. As always, good luck and remember there is more to life than just publishing.
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