Academic positions for IP PhDs: (What's the story) academic glory?

Merpel has always had a passion for investigative journalism, especially if applied to notoriously intriguing IP stories. After a little gentle reflection, she has decided to seek the opinion of those who follow this weblog in relation to current state of affairs regarding one of its liveliest groups of readers -- those bright and enthusiastic souls who aspire to become intellectual property academics.  This is what she says:
Even with her three IP Doctorates, Tiddles
still spends long, long nights filling in those
application forms and dreaming on ...
"Having a PhD [or equivalent experience … but let’s leave this aside for the time being] has become a basic requirement for anyone who wishes to pursue a career in academia. Getting one's paws on a scholarship in order to fund one’s doctoral studies is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. If you want evidence that this is so, it's not hard to find.  Just take a look at the website of the recently-launched Glasgow-based CREATe centre, for example, and you'll see that there are quite a few opportunities out there. However, if your goal is to make the great leap from PhD research to becoming an IP academic, you’ll soon realise that, in the vast majority of instances, opportunity seems to stop right there where it starts, with PhD studentships.

"I'll never make it ..."
From being a niche area of the law, IP has increasingly become a relevant subject in most university curriculums [or is it curricula? Never mind, so long as there are syllabuses and not syllabi ...]; it is also generally an extremely popular subject, which many students clamour to study, resulting in the publication of an ever-increasing number of student textbooks in the field.  However, the number of IP lectureships (which de facto means getting a permanent position) advertised is nowhere near as great as the number of scholarships offered for those wishing to undertake doctoral IP research. Sadly, while a growing number of young IP enthusiasts seek to embark their PhD adventures, no-one is brave enough to make it plain to these doctors-to-be that it will be heartbreakingly difficult for most of them ever to find a job in academia afterwards, even after securing one or two post-doctoral research positions.

Got the job!
Merpel therefore innocently wonders about current state of affairs. Are there simply not enough teaching positions for IP academics, so maybe we should be thinking of creating more of them? Or is there so much IP research needing to be done that we need far more research scholars than IP lecturers and professors, but we have to recognise that the only way to recruit them is to offer the prospect of an academic teaching position which most of them will have scarcely a sniff of getting?  Or do we need so many PhD scholars to do the research because we have burdened the "real" academic staff with so much marking and administration that they don't have time to do their own research any more?  What do readers think?"
Curriculum or curricula here and here; Caracalla here
Syllabus or syllabi here and here
Slave labour here
Academic positions for IP PhDs: (What's the story) academic glory? Academic positions for IP PhDs: (What's the story) academic glory? Reviewed by Merpel on Monday, October 14, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. Don't we need to know something about what happening in other academic disciplines ? Are civil engineers (for example) finding a similar paucity of opportunity at
    PhD level etc ? Maybe part of the answer is for those wanting to go for the challenge of a PhD that leads to a place in academia to "think outside the box" and go for a mixed-subject PhD (IP as it relates to civil engineering) ? Are such opportunities available ? If not - why not ?

  2. I also wonder what happens to people who do taught IP courses, of one sort or another. There are not enough jobs as patent attorneys to accommodate them all. What do they end up doing?

  3. While I think that George Bernard Shaw was unnecessarily cruel when he said "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach", I wonder why so many would WANT such a job. Escape of the real world of actually having to work at the coal face? And does the paucity of such positions not suggest that we have all that we need, and that potential candidates should be looking elsewhere?

    IP has increased enormously in importance in the last quarter-century, but I can't help feeling that we are in danger of exaggerating its importance, as opposed to the importance of actually making and selling things, and that the whole edifice may come crashing down.

    Every week I'm deluged with paper advertizing IP courses of all sorts. This has become an industry in its own right, with many of the courses looking increasingly like excuses for having a course. I suspect that this may also apply in the academic world.

    Perhaps a mid-course correction of some sort is needed.

  4. A bit off topic perhaps (or a bit underscoring a primary driver), take a look at how many lawyers in general are being produced. Then take a look at the recent plague of trouble at law schools (inflating numbers and the like).

    Returning then to the IP subset, keep in mind the rather unusual mix of technical and legal involved. How many typical law suits have such a pedigree? Or more to the point, how few?

  5. That's the result of industrialisation of research and teaching. When you become a teacher, the best (or maybe the worst) PhD students you have will become teachers, too. In the alternative, start finding another IP-related PhD or postdoc (don't focus on IP only)...

  6. "From being a niche area of the law, IP has increasingly become a relevant subject in most university curriculums"

    If Merpel means that IP has become increasingly relevant in most university law school curriculums, I'd agree. But IP is not yet recognised as a relevant subject in university faculties, other than law schools.

    "it is also generally an extremely popular subject, which many students clamour to study" Again, that's true for student lawyers in law schools. Research (e.g. has shown that students from other faculties could be keen to add IP law, management, strategy, valuation etc to their studies, if it were available. But there are few if any IP electives available outside law faculties.

    There are barriers to making IP more widely acceptable as a subject for university study, at undergraduate and postgraduate level. One is convincing business school, technology, and arts faculty academics to make space for IP in a crowded non-law syllabus. Another is identfying the 'what and how' of teaching IP law that will make it palatable and relevant to non-lawyers. Perhaps Merpel could champion a task force, including IP Phds, to take on the challenge of lowering those barriers, by researching exactly what extent of IP law needs to be taught to a non-lawyer, and how best to teach it, in combination with other business management skills. Which then might persuade more non-law faculties to allow their students to acquire "IP" as a business skill, and might in turn stimulate job-creation for IP academics.

  7. The central premise for this article appears to be that the only purpose in having a PhD is to act as a facilitator for an academic career. I'm not entirely sure that research students are undertaking studies on that basis.

    If we look to other areas of study, it appears quite common to me for postdoc's to be employed in the pharmaceutical industry, and for that particular industry to fund/support existing staff in PhD study.

    That is to say that, in other fields, a PhD is not necessarily seen as a path to an academic career.

  8. Timely discussion to have - thanks! In Australia, the thought of having an IP subject offered in every semester, and in every law school would go some way to solving the problem. However, many Australian law schools have not shown the same level of enthusiasm towards IP as other areas of law.
    I can also report that the teaching of IP in non-Law schools (ie other departments) is virtually non-existence!
    (PhD candidate in IP Law)

  9. To add to what Clive Bruton said above: in my experience (doctorate in a scientific discipline at one of the Oxbridge universities - I'm not giving any more details than that!) there was an underlying assumption amongst most of the academics that candidates would pursue a career in academia on completion. In fact the attitude appeared to be that this was the *only* valid career option. Anything else - even if it was scientific in nature - was viewed as a sign of "failure" or "selling out".

    Some of us, on the other hand, found that our interests lay more in reading/writing/tuition than in experimental research; discovered that we were too bored, infuriated, or depressed by life in a lab; or looked at the treadmill of the career path - postdoc after postdoc, moving city every 2-3 years, in the hopes of eventually landing a permanent position, while constantly chasing research funding - and decided that it wasn't for us. On completion I sidestepped into the world of IP practice, ignoring the derision of the academics, and haven't looked back since.

    I wouldn't be surprised if similar considerations applied in other disciplines, including in law faculties. Academia can be a very narrow-minded environment indeed.

    (In fact I clearly remember attending an IP seminar at my alma mater shortly after I'd made the move, and listening in increasing bewilderment to a group of law academics debating various legal minutiae which were irrelevant to the outcome of the issue they were considering. When the floor was opened to questions I dared to ask a question grounded in the real world, and remember well the condescension in the tone with which the speaker said "Oh, you're a *practitioner*, are you?" Yes, believe it or not, there are actually those of us out there for whom the law is something to be applied practically, not just debated as an academic exercise...)

  10. Re: to Tuesday, 15 October 2013 10:07:00 BST

    Comparing work in academia with outside worlds is like comparing haute couture with prêt-à-porter. Different purpose, different interest groups. Not really comparable, not interchangeable.


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