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Jul 13 2007

Dr. Darling, Ph.D Postal Carrier

My chronically over-qualified Swede has finally found an employer willing to ignore her education…though she had to go to Denmark in order to do it.

Starting July 30th she will be gainfully employed at a company that delivers business-to-business and direct mail marketing material in Copenhagen…by bike. Not exactly the best use of her advanced degree in molecular medicine, but it’s full-time and permanent for as long as she wants the job…something that hasn’t been the case with the various freelance gigs and research projects she’s had since graduation.

Other than the recent post revealing the existence of my male British alter-ego, Nigel, I’ve been somewhat intentionally cryptic when writing about Dr. Darling‘s employment struggles, because quite frankly, the situation has been really hard on her. The job market for research scientists continues to be extremely tight and hyper-competitive in Sweden…so much so that virtually every Ph.D who has come out of her former lab since 2004 is either unemployed, doing post-doc work abroad, or has chosen to have a baby. Seriously.

Back in the late 1990′s, when the biotech industry here was crying for researchers, a lot of new college grads in the hard sciences were encouraged to pursue advanced degrees. Unfortunately, by the time they were graduating 4 and 5 years later, the anticipated “biotech boom” had turned out to be not much more than a noisy fart.

When a full-time research job does become available, there are literally scores of qualified applicants vying for it. At her last (and rare) interview for a Ph.D position (a temporary gig that was only funded for two years) the recruiting company said she was one of seven scientists selected for interviews from a pool of 167 applicants.  I kid you not.

But unlike many of her fellow unemployed colleagues, Dr. Darling has always been willing to consider jobs outside of her field and “beneath” her education…the problem has been getting would-be employers to take her seriously.  And to be honest, I can understand their point of view.  In Sweden, educational level is a factor in determining salaries, regardless of whether or not the particular degree is relevant to the job.  Why would any manager hire a Ph.D when there are plenty of people with lowly bachelor’s and master’s degrees who are equally qualified to do the work and can be hired for less money?

For the past nine months Dr. Darling has been required to participate in something the Swedish unemployment system calls an “activity guarantee”.  In her case, the “activity” involved spending two hours every day looking for work with a bunch of other well-educated yet long-term jobless people…the “guarantee” being a full-on spiral into clinical depression.  In this sort of situation, misery definitely does NOT love company.

In addition to having to serve time at the “Unemployed Losers Club” (or “Vandelay Industries” as we sometimes call it), she has also been forced to apply for every job in Sweden that she’s even remotely qualified for…regardless of location. The interview I mentioned previously was with a lab in Uppsala, north or Stockholm.  Had she been offered the job, we would have had to choose between living apart during the week or forfeiting her unemployment benefits…a decision we were not looking forward to making.

So delivering direct mail advertising by bicycle is not so much a strategic career move for her as it is an opportunity to get out from under the thumb of the unemployment office.  Hell, I’m amazed she’s survived the system as long as she has and can’t even describe how impressed I’ve been with her ability to maintain a positive attitude. I know if I had been without real work for as long as she has, I’d have jumped off the Öresund Bridge long ago.

She plans to continue job hunting (it’s ALWAYS easier to find a job when you already have one)…concentrating on positions that she’s actually excited about while learning some Danish and getting lots of fresh air and exercise.  And surprisingly, for the kind of work that it is, the money’s not too bad either.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to give up my Ph.D housewife.

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Feed my ego!

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