Too many PhDs? Paula Stephan tells Julie Gould why graduate departments "should partake in birth control."

In 2015, labour economist Paula Stephan told an audience of early career researchers in the US that the supply of PhD students was outstripping demand. “Since 1977, we've been recommending that graduate departments partake in birth control, but no one has been listening.

"We are definitely producing many more PhDs than there is demand for them in research positions,” she said.

In this first episode of this five-part series about the future of the PhD and how it might change, Julie Gould asks Stephan, who is based at Georgia State University, if her view has altered.

Anne-Marie Coriat, head of UK and EU research landscape at the Wellcome Trust in London, says students need to be clear about why they want to pursue a PhD. "Look at what you're getting into, try and understand that, and then network," she says.

Forty per cent of respondents to Nature's 2019 PhD survey, published this week, said that their programme didn’t meet their original expectations, and only 10% said that it exceeded their expectations — a sharp drop from 2017, when 23% of respondents said that their PhD programme exceeded their expectations.

Despite a global shortage of jobs at universities and colleges, 56% of respondents said that academia is their first choice for a career. Just under 30% chose industry as their preferred destination. The rest named research positions in government, medicine or non-profit organizations. In 2017, 52% of respondents chose academia and 22% chose industry.