What is an academic career about? For whom is the doctoral programme recommended, and what happens if you do not want to
work in the academic sector? We talked to István Kónya, the newly appointed Head of the Corvinus Doctoral Schools.
Written by. Máté Kovács
You decide yourself what you want to do’, says István Kónya. However, you have to be persistent, for many years, often without any feedback.
‘The research career is for people who are motivated by the prospect of finding answers to interesting questions. It is very important to have an inner motivation. You should not be a researcher because you want to work at a university, but because you are actually curious about the world’, says the head of the Doctoral Schools.
The academic work of researchers is supported by the doctoral programme, too. There is a certain body of knowledge you have to learn in each area. Although students learn some of that in previous programmes, they usually meet the latest academic results and knowledge in the doctoral programme.
What does the programme entail?
The doctoral programme consists of two main elements, in a system of 2 + 2 years. In the studying phase, students attend classes and read articles. That is when they acquire the skills needed for independent research. In the second phase, they start an independent research project, and the programme ends with the writing and defending of the doctoral dissertation.
PhD students are involved in teaching at the University, too. There is a mandatory part of this, i.e. the students have to teach a certain number of hours during the four years. If you like teaching, it is possible for you to do more of that, for which you can get remuneration.
In István Kónya’s opinion, the teaching activity is advantageous, because you get immediate feedbacks. During research, you often have to wait for years for individual results, but in teaching, you get a confirmation every day.
The increased international embeddedness can be detected in the doctoral programme, too. Each doctoral school has the budget to finance visits to international conferences, and this is open to PhD students, too. The supervisor is another important connection point to both the university and the academic life, his/her system of connections may be an advantage for the PhD student, too.
Can you make a living during the PhD programme?
Beside the commitment for four years, students also have to consider if they can make a living during the programme. István Kónya says that ‘it is not a good idea to work during the doctoral programme, because you would fritter away your time, and the programme requires all your energy’.
However, there are exceptions. One of them is working within the university, for instance as a teacher or research assistant. Therefore it is worth joining the works of research groups, which means not only money, but professional development, too. The other option is a part-time job for the student at an external research institute, but definitely related to his/her professional area.
From a financial point of view, the doctoral programme cannot compete with the labour market, but the available scholarships and additional activities at the university allow PhD students to reach a fair standard of living. ‘The state and the Corvinus scholarship together offer a quite correct standard of living, and we give every assistance to that.’
What happens after you earn your doctoral degree?
After the completion of the doctoral programme, you can obtain the assistant professor, the associate professor and the full professor statuses. Within the university, there is an additional step, namely the habilitation, in which the university community and the profession give a comprehensive evaluation about the researcher. The academic line is related to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where the main task is to earn the HAS doctoral title.
The way István Kónya sees it, an academic career may be complete even if the researcher does not go through this course. ‘Of course, when the publications are coming, you get higher after a while, in this sense, this is a subsequent acknowledgement of the work’, he says.
In the Anglo-Saxon world, the academic career is somewhat flatter. Following the earning of the PhD, the researcher works for a university or a research institute, where he/she should first obtain a tenure degree. ‘You enter as an assistant professor, and have six years to prove yourself and produce publications in the right quantity and quality’, says István Kónya.
After these six years, the university decides whether or not it wishes to keep employing the researcher. If it does, the researcher is promoted to be an associate professor, and then he/she will have a legally and informally protected position in all his/her life. The person becomes a full professor in the last step, and this means more mainly in prestige and payment, compared to the previous rank.
What happens if this career is not for me?
One of the greatest dilemmas of master students is whether it is worth committing themselves for at least four years, which is the time of the doctoral programme. István Kónya says that the answer is simple: ‘The students will see if they like it or not when they try it’.
In his opinion, four years is definitely a long time, especially for a young adult, who wishes to do so many other things. Therefore, if the student has no academic ambitions at all, it is not worth selecting this career. However, if you are uncertain about the application, but feel like doing it, it is worth giving it a try.
‘At the end of each year, sit down with your supervisor and ask: do I really want to do this? It is no worth continuing just because you started it’, says István Kónya.
Besides, there are alternative career options, too, if you do not envisage your future in the university sphere. A lot of people with PhD go to work for central banks in analyst and researcher positions, and the PhD is an expectation at more and more places. Other international organisations, such as the IMF, the World Bank, or the UNO in other areas, the various institutions of the European Union also look for staff with doctoral degrees, and offer work related to social and economic policies to the graduated professionals.
The third market is the private sector, where they can join applied researches and impact analyses. In the financial area, stock exchange companies, financial analysts are looking for staff with doctoral degrees, and the comprehensive knowledge of financial, statistical and mathematical skills is especially important in these cases. In other words, a doctoral degree prepares you not only for an academic career, but also for the challenges of the public and international institutions and the private sector.