Sunday, May 02, 2010

Science is great: Just don't major in it

Yesterday I read an article about the layoffs at ABC. The author wrote that about 400 people were laid off, and interviewed one guy in particular who said he was 58 years old, had a family and "a dog who likes to be fed" and no idea how he was going to be able to get a job at his age, at a time when journalism is disappearing and the economy is still pretty shitty.

This got me thinking about how journalism, such as it used to be, is dying. I recommend checking out this blog if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Why does it matter that journalism is dying?

For one thing, I see universities going the same way: to be replaced by the internet. We should be paying attention to what is happening to journalists, because the same thing will happen to academic faculty.

Another reason to pay attention is that among the many so-called Alternative Careers science graduate programs love to tout, Science Journalism is usually listed as one of the top options.

But clearly, that's not going to absorb all the scientists leaving with masters degrees and PhDs.




I regularly receive articles about pharmaceutical and biotech layoffs. Yesterday I read one that said no one is really sure how many scientists are out of work right now, or whether it's better or worse than it was two years ago.

Really? No one is tracking this?

I regularly hear NIH and NSF saying that PhD-holding scientists supposedly have among the lowest unemployment rates, but that may be completely apocryphal, and it sounds like nobody actually has the numbers to back it up.

Which would not surprise me, considering that no one was tracking postdocs at all until about 5 years ago. How could they possibly know? There isn't exactly a strong biotech-wide union.




What else is among the top "alternative careers" touted so widely as a solution for the overflow of PhDs who can't get academic tenure-track positions?

Teaching in public or charter schools, maybe. Sure, we need more science teachers. But where is the money for that going to come from? I read an article today about how education specialists can't decide whether charter schools are working better than public schools or not. I found many of the lessons (pun intended) quite relevant to higher education: that schools with the highest accountability showed improvement, while those that tolerated mediocrity stayed in business despite showing no progress.

What about science policy work? How many jobs can that really provide? My guess would be in the hundreds, maybe the low thousands, at most?

But we have tens of thousands of science PhDs in this country. And nobody seems to know how many are doing anything related to science within, let's say, 15 years of leaving their PhD program. Let's say you do 5-10 years of postdoc after you graduate. Then what? Where do you end up?

And sure, you can always go back to school for patent law. How many science PhDs are going into debt to attend, of all things, more school??

At some extreme, if we're really being hyperbolic and facetious, we can see how not all scientists (with degrees or otherwise) can be patent lawyers. There would be nobody left to invent or find anything worth patenting.




The article I cited in my last post talks about how undergraduate education now yields only about 8% of students majoring in the humanities. It cites a large percentage as majoring in business, but fails to mention science and engineering. I have to assume they account for the majority, which seems to be supported by data such as these.

Parents don't check these data, either. Mine didn't; others are just misled. I had a conversation with a woman recently about how she felt her daughter should major in science rather than engineering, and get a PhD so she could have more possibilities for finding work. I had to control myself to say, as calmly as possible, that she had it all backwards and wrong.

I understand that universities budget for faculty positions and building space according to student enrollment numbers in the classes. In that sense, faculty in every department want more students to choose their discipline to major in, or at least they should, because it means their department will get more money and resources. Universities are a business, and at some schools, students are treated as consumers. It is the faculty's job to woo the students. It is the students' job to choose.



Personally, I agree that humanities are a necessary ingredient to teaching critical thinking in higher education. I think humanities classes should be required; I think science requirements are less than they should be. To educate the public on science and technology-related issues, we need to start by turning out students who at least understand the basics.

Having said that, I think we've duped far too many students into majoring in science.

Then they find they can't get a job, or can't move up, without a PhD.

Then they're duped into grad school.

Then the cycle repeats, so they do a postdoc.

Then what? Cut them loose and absolve everyone of any guilt? Tell the student "you chose to do this"?

The least we could do is collect the data and tell the truth.

Students: you'd be better off choosing an alternative that will guarantee you can find work.




In the interest of full disclosure, I don't know what the best alternative is now; I don't know what it will be 15 years from now, but I can almost certainly guarantee that it will keep changing every few years. It's no secret that people tend to run in herds. Baby names are trendy; so are majors and careers.

Some disciplines seem to have it all figured out. I've heard of some departments choosing to be exclusive, admitting fewer majors and building up their reputation as a great department by taking only the best students they can get, rather than trying to earn strength by numbers. Those people seem to have no trouble finding jobs when they get out.

I don't know if the secret is in top-down regulation of earlier specialization, having more but smaller departments, or more options for specialized majors, but it might help control and direct the pipeline. It would be a way to potentially combat the common misconception that there are plenty of jobs for everyone who majors in science.




One final thought from this particular soap-box: I still think one of the major problems with the approach to careers in science is the overly long incubation time. Part of the disconnect between input of students majoring in science, and output into an actual job, is the lag time.

I often think if I had gone to a vocational school or majored in engineering that at least I could have gotten a "real job" after just 4 years (or less) of classes.

Nobody can see 4 years into the future, whether the oil spill in the Gulf will completely kill the fishing industry, or whether in another 4 years after that, it might come back.

Even fewer people can say that in 10 years, there will be jobs for people with PhDs in X sub-speciality of biotech.

Fewer still can say that in 15 years, there will be jobs only for people who did a PhD in X and a postdoc in Y and published papers on L, M, N, O and P.

But that's how it actually is right now. Does that sound very scientific?

So spin your dice. You either have to be psychic, or very, very lucky.

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27 Comments:

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But you don't have the data either, so this post may be misleading. The fact is that no major is going to guarantee a job, especially nowadays with globalization driving wages downward. You just have to play the odds. Science still looks very good to me.

By the way, there definitely is hard data available on unemployment rates versus education. For example, see Table 8 (page 21) of http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-databook-2009.pdf . In 2008, unemployment was 2% overall for men or women with a doctoral degree. For college graduates the rate was 2.5%. Note that women with a doctorate have *higher* unemployment than college graduates, while for men it is dramatically the opposite. This doesn't give historical data, though, to see if this is usual, but I guess you could figure it out.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger Dr.Girlfriend said...

Recently our college hosted an event for undergraduate science majors considering graduate school. Graduate students and professors were present for an Q and A session. I find it interesting that no postdocs were invited to attend - and some of us even volunteered our services!

Undergraduates are lead to believe that there is no gap between graduate school and a professorship or between graduate school and a good position within biotech.

 
At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off: like you, I think the humanities programs are essential to any rigorous academic program. As a scientist, I really enjoy the company of my humanities colleagues for the wealth of knowledge and insight that they have. Conversations with them often spark creative thoughts that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

Second: limiting the number of grad students accepted into biomedical science programs is probably the best way to ameliorate the over-production of those scientists in the U.S. However, having more specialized departments would be a problem - I see excellent scientists as those who are able to cross departmental boundaries and understand the "big picture." Too much specialization, at least in the biomedical sciences, may result in the production of scientists who may be well trained but unable to do more than function as a small cog in the bigger wheel of biomedical research, and the end result would be, say, someone who knows a lot about the function of protein X in one cell type, but not in another cell type and a drug that gets synthesized to antagonize the action of protein X in the first cell type, with profoundly detrimental effects on protein X in the other cell type. So, we need biomedical scientists with better training (in-depth and general knowledge), but not more biomedical scientists, in general.

On another note: my parents both got PhDs in the physical sciences back in the late 60's-early 70's. Like those of us in biomedical research, that was a time of "over-production" for that area of science, particularly because of the space race and Cold War. So, this has happened before, but in a different area of science. Now-a-days, I think that the over-production of scientists in biomedical research is definitely tied to the rise of biotech as a money-making enterprise.

-LadyDay

 
At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left science after a 5-year postdoc because it became more and more apparent that landing a real job depends on the luck of the draw. if you happened to have done your PhD in X and postdoc in Y and published papers on Z, then there would be ONE opening for you halfway across the country, along with 200 other applicants. If you had 2 out of 3 of those ingredients, then too bad it doesn't even make sense to apply. That's what all the postdocs are doing - waiting around indefinitely for a job to open up that is tailor made to their ridiculously specialized and obscure specialty. The exception is if you were lucky enough to have a postdoc advisor who would pull strings for you and get you hired despite your not meeting all the requirements. But since I didn't have that kind of postdoc advisor either, I basically ran out of options and ran out of waiting time - there's only so many years you can go without making a real salary or having health insurance. I'm still unemployed but applyign for engineering jobs in industry. The kind of jobs that required no more than a BS so everyone else who's applyying is 10-15 years younger than me. Pretty depressing.

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Nice blog!

I recently passed the doctoral defense and will get the degree in May 2010. But, I find it very difficult to get a job or a post doc. Today, I send my 100th job application. I got one phone interview, but I was not selected. Anyway, after spending 6 years (2 years masters and 4 years Ph.D. in different specializations) in research field, I find very difficult to find a job. It seems like majority of science post doc job now have bioinformatics and molecular techniques as part of the expected skills in a candidate. I don't know how I would pay the bills next month if I don't get a job.

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Bee said...

Well, I don't know about biotech but I follow the numbers for PhD in physics. They say the same thing, the unemployment numbers are very low.

Facts are: I don't know a single person with a PhD in physics who has been unemployed for longer then a few months (not counting one person who has been seriously ill for an extended time and unable to work). Even the number of people I know who left academia (quit their job) is significantly higher than those who left because they couldn't find a job (that seems odd because the job situation in academia is very tight, so possibly that's nor very representative).

I recently saw some numbers from the Germans (they did a survey). Unfortunately I can't find it online, but the unemployment rate is indeed very low among physicists. Basically it's because physicists are typically welcome in banks as well as consulting (the physics journals will feature the respective advertisements, I know people who went that direction.) Have to see if I can find that survey data somewhere.

 
At 3:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Data for you

http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10309/?WT.mc_id=USNSF_178

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger steph said...

I think that this situation must suck for you. However, you are lumping "science" and "bio-sciences" together in what I feel is an inappropriate fashion. If you check out this chart http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables/dt08_271.asp , they clearly show that there are way more people getting degrees in biosciences (and engineering and computer sciences) than there were back in 1970. Also in that time frame the total number of degrees granted has nearly doubled. However, the number of degrees in physical science has stayed about the same and the number of degrees in math has dropped. So, though I can't recommend physics for being any better in terms of academic culture (it's probably way worse, I'm certainly disgusted by what I've seen in grad school in physics), I can say that job prospects, if you can survive the PhD and still want to spend the rest of your life in that culture, are probably much better than for bio. And with the push for clean tech, I think the materials science related fields will be having even more job prospects. Not that this helps you, but perhaps you can keep this in mind when giving advice to other people's children.

I still think a BS in physics is the best possible degree to train your brain into a problem solving machine of awesomeness, but the PhD is more of a way to train your soul to get sucked away...but I'm not bitter ;)

Good luck!

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger Genomic Repairman said...

Scientists might have low unemployment but its because they could be stuck in there second or third postdoc.

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon,

clearly my problem then is because I'm a woman, not because I have a doctorate. Thanks for clarifying.

Dr. Girlfriend,

Thus it has always been. But it has to stop.

Anon 4:38,

I'm not sure about specializing, how that would work. You're right about being small cogs, but the truth is, that's what most JOBS are. If you go into biotech with a bachelor's degree, that's what they're hiring for. Maybe science at that level should be treated as more of a vocation. One of the interesting points of the article I cited on humanities was the idea that in humanities classes, you're taught to apply your knowledge as an undergrad. In the sciences, we don't even let students really think for themselves until they're well into grad school. And I think that's a big mistake.

I agree that physics went through this before, which is why they have less of a problem now. Biotech is on its way down, though, and has been for a while. So when are the biomedical science majors going to catch on to this?

Anon 8:17 and 8:51,

Exactly.

Bee,

My point is, are those people happy about taking jobs in banking? I wouldn't be (especially now!). And I still consider that a giant waste of a science degree. All that training?

Anon 3:36,

That's NOT what I'm talking about. I'm talking about where do people end up AFTER THE POSTDOC.

Also, NSF doesn't collect data on all postdocs, only NSF-funded areas. The problem is much bigger with NIH-funded disciplines.

steph,

I can't agree that there are more jobs for physics majors. I've met too many who ended up going to grad school in engineering just so they could find work.

And I personally think grad school is a giant waste of people's time, energy and talent if they aren't actually training for a job they'll eventually get to do.

Sure, it's fine to talk theoretically about training your brain, work ethic, maturity, etc. but that has as much to do with growing up as working - and you're going to grow up no matter what you do.

I just don't see the need to create so much suffering.

 
At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

Ms. PhD, graduate school isn’t all *that* torturous. And as the 1st Anon said, no major guarantees you a job, so you might as well follow your passion. The areas that I’m familiar with are physics and engineering. People with PhD’s in these areas don’t seem to have much of a problem finding jobs – they have plenty of options outside of academia. That’s because a number of fields have great respect for the critical thinking skills of those who study a hard science like engineering; physics, in particular, has a kind of mystique with certain employers. And I happen to know someone who after their PhD in particle physics went happily off to finance. A number of my fellow physics majors got jobs in consulting and finance with just an ugrad degree; one got accepted to a highly ranked program in … literature! A few other of my friends got jobs programming, working for a national lab, and in various entry-level research positions studying lasers, aerospace, and radar problems.

So I would not steer someone away from majoring in physics or engineering. But then again, I wouldn’t tell them that they’ll have a guaranteed job after graduation, especially if they don’t use their summers to get valuable internship experience.

Also, consider this: suppose I have a deep passion for astrophysics but know that I have practically zero chance of landing a job in the field. Is it really a waste for me to get my PhD in this? What, exactly, am I “wasting”? I suppose one could argue that I could spend those years working and accumulating wealth, but for some people, it’s not just about the money.

I say study what you love; get a PhD in it, if you want; but stay flexible and be realistic about your job prospects. A PhD doesn’t only train you for academia; there are a number of places—in particular, research jobs—where it means more money and a shot at a management/leadership position.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point is, are those people happy about taking jobs in banking? I wouldn't be (especially now!). And I still consider that a giant waste of a science degree. All that training?

In my discipline (Math), a lot of PhDs end up going to finance and other industry. And I must tell you that they are the happiest of the lot -- way happier than those that manage to do the tenure-track route.

I know this may not apply to your field, but a PhD in theoretical physics/math/statistics or even theoretical computer science is actually great training for being a quantitative finance person. I know many PhDs in math who really enjoy it.

A lot of math and statistics phds I know also end up going to companies like Google and Yahoo, where they do what is called advanced development. The last time I checked, 99% of them are very happy there!

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Hope,

I can't name a single person IRL who would say they enjoyed grad school.

Sure, I would say I enjoyed some of it. Doing science is fun. And I'm the rare exception from my program who still thinks that.

Mostly, grad school was a thoroughly hellish, life-eating, soul-sucking experience, mindfucking experience that took up the better part of my best years, physically speaking. I worked long hours for low pay, little credit and zero respect. The science part was fun, but if I had to do it all over again, if I had any idea what would happen or where it would lead, I wouldn't.

I don't know what kind of alternate reality you're living in. Just please acknowledge that there are other kinds of experiences beyond your own, and maybe we shouldn't encourage students and parents to blindly enter them, assuming a great job will be waiting for them at the end. There won't.

 
At 4:43 PM, Blogger Dave Backus said...

It's true we live in a volatile world, with people losing jobs all the time, but why the fear about science? Unemployment is almost always lower among more educated people. And within a group of educated people, I'd guess science training is less risky than (say) the humanities. Have faith: you have skills that are hard to replicate, maybe more than you realize.

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 4:23,

Yeah, there's no high-paying equivalent in my field. Genentech used to be it; now it's extremely difficult to get in there.

It's about as hard to get a job there as a faculty position at Harvard, Stanford or Yale.

Biotech can't possibly absorb the thousands of biomed PhDs graduating every year.

And many of us are NOT happy about it.

Dave Backus,

Yes, less risky than humanities, the most unemployable field.

Yes, my skills are unique.

So how come nobody is banging down my door offering me jobs?

For comparison, a friend of mine just applied for a computer programming job, and got interviewed the same day, on the verge of getting a job offer a week later.

I spent a year applying for jobs in 2005. I did the same thing in 2009. I still can't find a job.

Skills that are impossible to replicate are not necessarily valued. By anyone. Least of all my advisor, who seems to think all postdocs are easily replaced, but especially females.

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger Brandi Badass said...

I am currently teetering on this. I graduate friday with a bachelors in chemistry. Ive spent 10 hours researching possible routes:
Grad Schools- PhD programs that pay 100% tuition, have high grant approval ratings, have over an 85% placement of their students in post-doc jobs... and the list goes on.
Then I think about a lab job- I would be working under someone with a masters or PhD.
Well now that Ive research possible schools... Ive now got to pick a program that has sustained thru this recession- pharmacology, biomedics... but I see the articles of layoffs too.
It seems as if the only sustainable option is Environmental Chem but this choice came from many many hours of research.

 
At 11:57 AM, Anonymous GrrlScientist said...

i know plenty of unemployed PhDs in the biosciences. they move back in with their parents. they walk dogs. they park your car when you go to the theatre. they go back to school for more another degree. they sell used cars. they write books. they clean toilets. they start their own businesses. they drive school busses. a fair number of them have looked unsuccessfully for permanent employment -- in and out of their fields -- that pays a living wage for literally YEARS. an alarming number of them eventually solve their chronic joblessness (or chronic underemployment) by committing suicide. sad, but true. it's far more common than most people realize.

 
At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how come nobody is banging down my door offering me jobs?

I don't know what you have tried so its possible you tried all this.

But all the PhDs I know who got good industry positions (including finance, management consultancy and so on) did not have people banging down their doors offering them jobs either.

They had to work really hard at getting these positions. They went to many career fairs meant for undergrads and masters students. They handed out many resumes. They went to many networking events, and tried out many contacts. Yes, even when they were postdocs. Finally they ended up getting decent industry jobs which they were quite happy doing, and which they did not think was a waste of their valuable training. So, after a PhD, getting started in the industry route can be hard, and no there is no automatic pipeline from a PhD to a company. But it is doable even after a PhD if one puts their mind to it, and in the end it is often very rewarding.

 
At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are so many people saying "it's OK, look how many PhDs managed to get alternative jobs outside of academia."

The point is not whether X number of PhDs got jobs in industry or driving school buses or whatever. The point is that few of them actually wanted to that because - DUH - if they wanted to do that they wouldn't have gone through years of training to become scientists in the first place. If they wanted to go into industry they would have done so 5-10 years earlier, not after slogging through grad school training to become a scientist / researcher and then going through additional years of postdoctoral "training" again supposedly to land a job as a scientist.

The point is not that it is possible to get a job in spite of your PhD. Sure it is. The point is that it makes no sense that the majority of PhDs have to seek employment outside of the sector they were trained to go into, because they have no choice.

imagine how ridiculous it would be to say that most people who finish medical school and have MD degrees can't put their training into practice to become actual medical doctors and will instead "have" to become _ _ _ (fill in the blanks : financial analysts, whatever). Does it make sense to have gone through the MD and medical training knowing that you will probably not be able to find employment as a medical doctor? Of course not. Why train for a career that doesn't exist (on a practical level)? Yet why are so many people saying this is how we - scientists - should feel about our employment situation? Or are people saying that all throughout our years of scientific training we were wrong to want or expect our training to lead to the kind of job we were training for?

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon @ 9.01 PM:

It cannot possibly be that everyone who does a PhD becomes an academic professor. If that were the case, in the steady state, a professor would have only one student in her entire lifetime.

So you have to admit that either
(1) a PhD is a training for careers in addition to academic ones -- for example, advanced development, industry jobs, and so on.
Or, the only alternative is
(2) training very few PhDs. Such as, one professor has one student over his/her entire lifetime.

There is a third alternative -- which is a huge growth in the number of universities which need more and more professors -- but that is not sustainable. Nor is it going to happen.

Given these facts, I would think that a decent industry job after a PhD is actually a very good deal. I also think one of the problems with graduate school is that they train you to think that the be-all and end-all of grad school is ending up in academia, and industry jobs are strongly frowned upon. One of the things one has to realize in grad school is that your professors have a very different point of view than you have, and their advice, particularly career advice, can be very biased and not particularly good.

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 12:02,

I'm not sure if you realize how demoralizing it is to have to attend career fairs after doing a long, painful postdoc (or worse, more than one those). Or how it's nearly impossible to make a good impression as an "older applicant" (by which I mean, not fresh out of college) in a cattle-call audition, which is what those are.

Besides, I wasn't talking about industry jobs.

And yes, have been to many, many networking events. So far I have not been offered even a remote chance to *apply* for an industry position that wouldn't be a waste of my training and experience.

I have been told repeatedly that my skills would be valued in a faculty position, but so far that seems to be a big fat lie.

Anon 10:02,

you're both right.

But I tend to agree with Anon 9:01, because I am one of those people who really wants to do independent research that wouldn't be possible at a company, and I feel like my mentors were reluctant to say to me what I would have needed to hear. That would have been something like:

"Look, kid, you're pretty good, but pretty good isn't good enough in this business. You're not going to make it, because almost no one does, and it's already too late for you to catch up. Go get yourself some kinda better life than this. This is no way to live."

(Note that in my fantasy, my imaginary mentor person sounds like a former detective, now weekend boxing instructor, and successful but very honest and caring scientist. From Chicago. )

I really think that I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in now, feeling the way I do (heartbroken), if more people had just been more straight-up honest with me that:

"It's fun while it lasts, but it won't last for long.

And sure, you might see other people getting to do what you wanted to do, but no matter how hard you try to be like them, you have to understand that they're the exceptions.

We'll never understand that special ingredient of luck that got them where they are, because luck is all magic.

Not science."

 
At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Anon10:02

I'm the Anon 9:01

You said "It cannot possibly be that everyone who does a PhD becomes an academic professor. If that were the case, in the steady state, a professor would have only one student in her entire lifetime.

So you have to admit that either
(1) a PhD is a training for careers in addition to academic ones -- for example, advanced development, industry jobs, and so on.
Or, the only alternative is
(2) training very few PhDs. Such as, one professor has one student over his/her entire lifetime."


With the present system, what you say is true. The problem with this rationale is that the PhD is an academic degree. unless we completely overhaul PhD curriculums across the country to no longer emphasize independent research skills and more emphasize vocational technical skills or business or management skills (you know, those things that are required in 'alternative' careers), the fact is still that a PhD program trains you to develop as an independent academic scientist and to conduct independent academic research.

Re how it's not reasonable that all PhDs can become professors. There's several issues with this. seeing as how a lot of college classes are being taught by TAs not by professors, I think that there should be a lot more faculty jobs than there are. Faculty are supposed to be teachers, right? If more faculty jobs were created, then it would be more reasonable for any one PhD-holder to expect to get the job for which they trained. However the economics of creating more faculty jobs is a whole other issue.

Also, there are other academic research jobs besides faculty. These do also make use of PhD training. The problem is, these jobs are the dreaded never-ending-postdoc type of job, i.e. (a) low paid (b) often without benefits (c) with little to no job stability beyond 6-12 months at a time (d) with little to no chance of "promotion", ever - meaning, no chance to become more autonomous (the way a TT faculty is) or to write your own grants and so on. even if many people are OK with not ever becoming PI-type lab directors, the fact is that staying in academic research (making use of your PhD) means staying in a dead-end, low-paying, zero-stability job which are completely different from faculty jobs in terms of status and benefits and just plain ol 'respect', so disparate that it's unfathomable that people in both types of jobs were more or less 'equal' up unto a turning point.

Thus, I feel there should be more faculty jobs, and/or there should be "better" and more sustainable academic research positions besides the permanent-postdoc. These would make more sense for PhD holders to have careers doing what they trained up to a decade for.

The other option, as you mention, is to pretend that a PhD isn't supposed to be training for independent academic science research, but is industrial vocational training instead. Then PhD programs across the country need to shift their goals and focus.


I guess my point is, a handful of PhDs dropping out of science here and there to alternative careers is fine - that would show that it's an individual choice. But when this is the norm rather than the exception, it's an indicator of some systemic problem in the 'industry' of academic science. Vast droves of PhDs "having" to go into alternative careers makes no sense, it is absurd. I dont' think we should be making excuses for it because then we are ensuring its continuity rather than seeking solutions at the root cause.

ok I'm off my soapbox now!

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I have a post about how different things used to be (with a link to your site) up over at Observational Epidemiology.

http://observationalepidemiology.blogspot.com/2010/05/times-change.html

It includes this paragraph from a 1966 novel:

Industry considers a bachelor's degree indispensable, and, by a curious extension, regards master's and doctorates as a way of separating the men from the boys. I don't understand this. Why should a Ph.D. awarded for an extended essay on color symbolism in the poetry of Pushkin have anything to do with a man's competence to develop a sales promotion campaign for a manufacturer of ladies underwear?

 
At 6:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I can't name a single person IRL who would say they enjoyed grad school... I don't know what kind of alternate reality you're living in."

sounds like you had a really fucked up department and/or surround yourself with really fucking negative people. neither of which surprises me.

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 6:03,

Yes, my department was really fucked up.

I don't think my friends are more negative than average? Most of them are much happier now that they're doing something other than grad school.

I also want to point out that the friends who were unhappy in grad school span many departments and many fields, not just biosciences but also engineering and social sciences. I don't know numbers off the top of my head.

Even the people I know who became faculty would not say they enjoyed grad school.

I have to admit, I do have one friend who loved grad school.

But he despised his postdoc and went to industry.

He's the only one who would say he had fun in his thesis lab.

 
At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The University of Malaya invites qualified graduates to apply for the academic positions in the following fields

Faculty of Economics and Administration (Lecturer)

1. Demography
2. Macroeconomics
3. Land Economics
4. Environmental Management
5. Environmental and Resource Economics
6. Development Studies
7. Public Administration
8. Political Science
9. Multivariate Analysis
10.Time Series Analysis
11.Computer Information Systems

Center for Foundation Studies in Science (Lecturer)

1. Organic Chemistry
2. Physical Chemistry
3. Physics
4. Applied Mathematics
5. Computational Mathematics

Faculty of Science (Lecturer)

1. Chemistry
2. Physics
3. Material Science

Requirement

Applicants must possess PhD or equivalent professional qualification in their respective field with at least 3 publications especially in internationally recognized scientific journals indexed in Web of Science. Applicants must also have good command and understanding of English.

Terms of Appointment & Application

Visit our homepage at http://www.um.edu.my for further details, then click "careers". We welcome you to submit your details through our online system by logging in to http://e-recruitment.um.edu.my

Please submit your application to,

Principal Assistant Registrar,
Recruitment Unit,
Human Resource Division,
Level 1,
Chancellory Building,
University of Malaya,
50603 Kuala Lumpur

Tel : +603-7967 3208

Closing Date : 30 June 2010

 
At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has a lot to do with how our shitty economic system works. This income for labor illusion should have vanished a long time ago, but where are we in that respect? Scientists getting laid off? Are we f***ing crazy? Business traders are still at large and those that actually contribute get the worst end of the straw. It is by no accident that it is this way. This IS the 'free-market' ideology. Outsourcing, crappy jobs, over-payed CEO's, war, starving children, corruption. Solutions are scarce, but there are some to change this damn paradigm. The best till date I have found is the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KphWsnhZ4Ag

Our challenges as a human race are many, and we can change our mentality to one that will actually keep sustaining life on this planet, and encouraging individuals to pursue science for human betterment; and do away with parasitic 'business men and women'.

 

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