Friday, February 18, 2005

Oversupply of PhDs: consequence, not conspiracy

So, an alert reader sent me this link economics of science? and asked what do I think.

I think the first 3/4 of it are right on, I agree with everything.

Then in the last 2 paragraphs, it seems that this person has a hypothesis but they don't support it very well, they are asking a question, I guess, but it is kind of strange.

This oversupply created by academia and the immigration of foreign scientist creates a high supply and low demand in the U.S., which allows industry to be highly selective of employees. They demand highly qualified and trained personnel, yet providing less on the job training. Also, their salaries are lower than other jobs requiring personnel with less academic training due to oversupply of Ph.Ds and a cheap but highly-skilled foreign workforce.

This makes no sense to me. Keep in mind, I don't work in industry, so I can't say from firsthand experience, but here goes:

First, I wouldn't say that industry is any more selective of employees than academia, they just use different criteria. For example, experience with teamwork, success with teamwork, and a personal preference for teamwork is usually much more important for industry. Academia still values independence and self-sufficiency more highly than social skills (although not much more highly).

I wouldn't say that there is less on-the-job training in industry. There is essentially no training involved in a postdoc or a PI position, beyond what you can glean from your own efforts (asking questions, mostly). If anything, industry seems to provide more training, from my perspective.

The last sentence of this paragraph makes the least sense of all. Industry salaries are not lower, but this sentence is grammatically strange so I'm not sure what they're trying to say. I wouldn't say that foreign workers are more highly trained than American scientists. If anything with the language barrier and differences in the educational systems, foreign workers are usually at a disadvantage, at least during an initial adjustment period. And most companies don't want to pay for visa/Greencard lawyer fees if they don't have to. There are distinct advantages to hiring American in industry. In contrast, in Academia, for a long time no one was paying any attention to how much postdocs were getting paid, so foreign postdocs frequently got the short end of the stick, and didn't even know they should be asking for more. Fortunately, this is starting to change.

As for obtaining a government job (e.g. NIH), I have very little information, but I'm assuming it is similar to the structure of academia. Except the positions are far more stable and the pay is a bit better. I'm assuming these positions are few and very coveted?

I wouldn't say that government positions are more coveted than academic ones. Working for the government involves a lot more paperwork, many more regulations and restrictions on personal freedom - as well as creative, intellectual freedom- than working in academia. I think it appeals to a different sort of person than the ones who are really gung-ho for being professors.

The whole oversupply or Ph.Ds through academia providing a limitless supply of workers for industry sounds very much like a conspiracy theory to me. In a way it sounds unbelievable.

I have no idea whose conspiracy theory this is, but it's just wrong. Industry doesn't directly fuel the oversupply, Universities do. Universities have an immediate need to expand their graduate programs: teaching assistants. They don't care what happens to these graduate students once they are done with their teaching obligation. Despite many studies and very vocal complaints from the scientific community, Universities keep expanding their graduate programs. I would blame them long before I would blame industry. Industry just profits from the spoils.

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At 5:59 PM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

You should submit this essay to the Skeptic's Circle. They loooove this sort of thing!


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