In recent years, data on the total number of research workers and degree-seeking candidates show sharp drop in Russia. The same trend characterizes the data on the number of students who completed and presented their dissertations, the average age of the researchers in Russia is growing at that. The new format of PhD studies, which implies the need to defend a thesis and inappropriate financial incentives, contribute to the outflow of potential young researchers to commercial and government organizations. This paper deals with unattractiveness of the academic labor market for PhD students. The authors present a comprehensive review of the issues of reproduction of human capital in higher education. Empirical evidence is based on the analysis of the opinions of 176 experts from 20 leading universities in the South of Russia, as well as on materials from a wide range of papers that examine the behavior of PhD students in academic and non-academic labor markets. Particular attention is paid to the motives for admission to PhD study programs, the reasons for decision-making by young researchers regarding their professional and personal development. The study of career strategies for PhD students emphasizes peculiarities of the development of the academic environment in regional and federal universities, as well as factors affecting the quality of study programs for highly qualified specialists. The authors put forward a hypothesis that an academic career is influenced by certain institutional norms that ensure the retention and development of young professionals in the internal and external academic labor market. Such norms include new motivating environment (grants for study, a differentiated approach to pay, infrastructure for research projects, etc.), regulation of barriers to entry into the field of research and teaching in higher education, development of institutions to strengthen interaction with the science supervisors, information institutions to search for vacancies for PhD students, institutes of professional mobility for young researchers.