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SCARP’s PhD success

How difficult is it out there for aspiring academics? In the continuing saga of the US recession, dire predictions have been made: a recent article in The Atlantic showed that in 2011, about 38% of PhD graduates in the sciences found jobs after finishing while about 28% found postdocs. The rest were doing “nothing” according to the National Science Foundation. This article, and others like it, have been circulating among the academic community in every field, dashing the hopes of many a PhD student. However, these aggregate American statistics may not be representative of every field of study, nor does it necessarily reflect the Canadian reality. In planning, PhD students often decide from the outset that they would prefer to do work in public, private, or non-profit planning; unlike science PhDs, planning PhDs don’t work in large labs or patent-developing corporations, and they generally don’t work in a series of post-doc positions. Canadian academic institutions have been hit by the economic downturn, but the country generally has not faced such dire conditions as in the US since the mortgage crisis didn’t affect us.

As many of you know, I did my PhD at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. Recently I got together with a couple of friends who also graduated from the program, and we started comparing notes on SCARP’s PhD alumni. Here is what we concluded: every single person that finished a PhD at SCARP in the last ten years found a job directly related to their PhD work, and some were snapped up well before they graduated. Since they have all been mentioned in my blog posts, I doubt that they’d mind my summarizing their success here. I’m proud to have known and learned from such a fine group of people!

  • Jennie Moore (2013): Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment
  • James White (2013): Lecturer, University of Glasgow Department of Urban Studies
  • Cornelia Sussmann (2012): Postdoctoral Research Associate, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Sustainable Food Systems Research Group
  • Silvia Vilches (2012): Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Simon Fraser University Department of Sociology and Anthropology
  • Josh van Loon (2011): Postdoctoral Fellow, UBC Health and Community Design Lab
  • Ren Thomas (2011): Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Amsterdam Department of Geography, Planning and International Development
  • Ugo Lachapelle (2010): Professeur, Université du Québec à Montréal Département d’études urbaines et touristiques (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at Rutgers University)
  • Danielle Labbé (2010): Professeure adjointe, Université de Montréal Institute d’urbanisme (formerly, Postdoctoral Fellow at York University)
  • Janice Barry (2010): Lecturer, University of Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Glasgow)
  • Leslie Shieh (2010): Planner and Community Developer, TakeRoot Properties Inc.
  • Sheng Zhong (2010): Lecturer, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at the National University of Singapore)
  • Laura Tate (2009): Provincial Director, Community Action Initiative (formerly, Manger of Growth Services at the Province of BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development)
  • Meidad Kissinger (2008): Lecturer, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Department of Geography and Environmental Development (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at UBC)
  • Matti Siemiatycki (2007): Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Department of Geography and Planning (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Glasgow)
  • Etsuko Yasui (2007): Assistant Professor, Brandon University Applied Science and Emergency Studies
  • Judy Gillespie (2006): Associate Professor, University of British Columbia (Okanagan) School of Social Work
  • Tanja Winkler (2005): Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics (formerly, Lecturer at University of Sheffield)
  • Maged Senbel (2005): Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning (formerly, Assistant Professor at University of Utah)

SCARP grads seem to have weathered the economic storm, which at any rate has not affected jobs in academic planning as much as it may have in other fields. Every graduate who pursued an academic career was able to find a postdoc position 1-2 years in length before finding a permanent academic position, or was hired into a permanent position directly after graduation. Those who chose not to do so pursued rewarding careers in the public and private sector. The geographic dispersion of our graduates is also impressive, from China to Israel to South Africa. Of course a lot of this reflects the diversity of the students themselves; many left their countries to pursue the PhD and eventually returned home.

In earlier decades, SCARP’s PhD program produced such stellar graduates as Ann McAfee (1974), who began working at the City of Vancouver during her PhD and worked as the City’s Co-Director of Planning for many years. David Witty (1998), is currently the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) of Vancouver Island University. The success of the PhD program should be highlighted as SCARP prepares to transition its Masters in Planning degree into two separate research-based and practice-oriented degrees. Lest this have implications for the PhD program in the future, we thought a little reminder was in order!


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