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Education Science

Glut of Postdoc Researchers Stirs Quiet Crisis In Science 283

HughPickens.com writes: Carolyn Johnson reports in the Boston Globe that in recent years, the position of postdoctoral researcher has become less a stepping stone and more of a holding tank. Postdocs are caught up in an all-but-invisible crisis, mired in an underclass as federal funding for research has leveled off, leaving the supply of well-trained scientists outstripping demand. "It's sunk in that it's by no means guaranteed — for anyone, really — that an academic position is possible," says Gary McDowell, a 29-year old biologist doing his second postdoc. "There's this huge labor force here to do the bench work, the grunt work of science. But then there's nowhere for them to go; this massive pool of postdocs that accumulates and keeps growing." The problem is that any researcher running a lab today is training far more people than there will ever be labs to run. Often these supremely well-educated trainees are simply cheap laborers, not learning skills for the careers where they are more likely to find jobs. This wasn't such an issue decades ago, but universities have expanded the number of PhD students they train from about 30,000 biomedical graduate students in 1979 to 56,800 in 2009, flooding the system with trainees and drawing out the training period.

Possible solutions span a wide gamut, from halving the number of postdocs over time, to creating a new tier of staff scientists that would be better paid. One thing people seem to agree on is that simply adding more money to the pot will not by itself solve the oversupply. Facing these stark statistics, postdocs are taking matters into their own hands, recently organizing a Future of Research conference in Boston that they hoped would give voice to their frustrations and hopes and help shape change. They ask, "How can we, as the next generation, run the system?"
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Glut of Postdoc Researchers Stirs Quiet Crisis In Science

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  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:19PM (#48088143) Homepage Journal

    and unemployed brainiacs?

    Form an evil syndicate and take over the world, of course.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's simply much easier to get a PhD these days. Lots of science doctorates involve very specific work with lots of hand-holding under a keen supervisor guided by a well-tuned system. You don't have to be particularly innovative, let alone brilliant.

      We don't have a lot of supremely well educated brainiacs, just a load of moderately clever people with a piece of paper which they probably wouldn't have been able to get a few decades ago.

      • You sound like you're just taunting the next Dr. Evil. "Oh, sure you're a seismologist, but you couldn't actually cause earthquakes to bring cities to their knees. You just don't have it in you." That's the type of talk that encourages super villians. We should be encouraging people to be super heroes. Sure you don't get hired for a real job, but thats okay, just keep working for humanity. That's the type of talk we should be doing.
        • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @11:14PM (#48088909)

          Working for humanity doesn't pay the rent.

          Sure, in the old days, you could just be a superhero in your spare time, while working some kind of part-time or other non-glamorous job to pay the bills and afford a modest home or apartment, such as being a freelance news photographer or a newspaper reporter or a police forensic scientist. However, these days the economy and employment situation is so bad that this just isn't realistic any more, so superheroes are forced to turn to the dark side and become supervillians. Most of them found that job searches were taking up all their time, leaving them with no free time to be superheroes, so they found instead that by turning to villainy, they could instead enjoy some of life's luxuries again, along with plenty of free time in their lairs in hollowed-out volcanoes.

        • To be properly entertaining, we need both kinds of talk. There is no super hero with out a super villian, after all!

          To be sure, we have plenty of villians and heros now. Nothing particularly super... except, perhaps, super stupid. But that's neither a villian nor a hero. Is it?

        • To recall (roughly) the words of evil Psycop Bestor from B5: "...being a freedom fighter is a great thing. You keep your own hours. It looks good on a resume. But the Pay. Sucks."
      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        It's simply much easier to get a PhD these days

        The real question isn't about whether it's easier to *get* a PhD, it's why it's easier to get a PhD *paid for*. It's 5 extra years of education, usually paid for with a grant from *somewhere*. I guess you could consider of the last couple years a fairly low-paid lab tech and/or TA with a lot of education - but maybe the university systems should stop spending so much money on subsidizing PhDs that will never go anywhere and start figuring out how to make top-rate undergraduate education cost less than $5

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      Form an evil syndicate and take over the world, of course.

      That's what they are doing. It's a particularly popular pastime for frustrated graduates of social science, psychology, women's studies, and political science departments. Where do you think all that political b.s. is coming from?

  • by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:21PM (#48088151)
    We need more STEM, no, no we need less.
    • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:25PM (#48088171) Homepage Journal

      shortage of engineers, glut of researchers.

      • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @08:57PM (#48088403) Homepage

        If there was a geniune shortage, you'd see sharp increases in salary levels. There's just a shortage of qualified people willing to work for much less than they're worth.

        • by silfen ( 3720385 )

          If there was a geniune shortage, you'd see sharp increases in salary levels.

          That's not how economics works. Companies only hire someone if they get a bigger return than they pay. If companies can't get engineers at a price that makes sense, they don't pay more, they simply go out of (that) business altogether and invest in something more profitable.

        • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

          Actually, that's exactly what HAS happened. Software engineering starting salaries have jumped dramatically in recent years. Shit, in the SF Bay Area smart grads can make $80-100k or more right out of college. It's one of the highest paid fields for a *qualified* new college grad (that said, just like PhDs, apparently, there are a lot of really unqualified CS NCGs who really need to find another field).

          • Shit, in the SF Bay Area smart grads can make $80-100k or more right out of college.

            And experienced programmers can make twice that.

        • If there was a geniune shortage, you'd see sharp increases in salary levels.

          If you aren't seeing the sharp increases, you aren't doing it right.

          For example, if you stay at your current job, without even asking for a raise, your boss will be happy to keep paying you a low amount. Raises happen because programmers demand them, not because bosses are generous.

      • And, say, in the biochemical field mentioned, what's the equivalent of "engineers"? I can only imagine those as researchers. (But of course, my imagination is known to be deficient at times.)
    • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <glandauer@charter.net> on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:42PM (#48088251) Homepage

      Employers want more to drive prices down, workers want fewer to reduce competition. Employers have more money and a better lobbying arm, so their opinion is the one we tend to hear.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @08:04PM (#48088385)

      Clearly we need less STEM. There are way too many educated in STEM...the days of the "good job" you could get just by virtue of being a reliable and educated worker are long gone. Companies don't want to hire STEM people at any level. If they must, they'd rather hire H2B workers at a fraction of the price for staffing the company nerdery to save a few bucks. Nerds don't get moved up into positions of management, they get used up like so much toilet paper and flushed when they've done their job.

      I've never understood those demanding that the US needs more STEM education. Why? Where are these mythical high paying jobs that you just need a college degree to get? I actually went to grad school just because I couldn't find anything with my BS in Math. I could have gone down the path of trying the Post doc gig indefinitely, but after my first Post Doc (which I only took because it paid well) I went straight to teaching at a community college just because it was a solid teaching job, no requirements for bullshit grant applications and spewing out dreck research, and have been happy since. I would never encourage anyone to go into STEM fields unless they *truly* loved the work...there are many better options for someone just looking for a paycheck, particularly in fields like finance, law and medicine.

    • More STEM helps the economy. But the economy doesn't reward you for going into STEM. It's pretty simple, so if you are confused, it is because you make invalid assumptions about the economy.

  • by Bruce66423 ( 1678196 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:24PM (#48088159)
    Historically university posts were open to people with a BA (e.g. John Wesley and John Newman at Oxford in the 18th and 19th century) That it now takes a PhD and post doctoral work to get the same post means that we are training too many. Therefore the only solution is to row back on the PhDs being generated; given that governments are looking for money saving measures, this would seem an obvious starting point.
    • Historically university posts were open to people with a BA (e.g. John Wesley and John Newman at Oxford in the 18th and 19th century) That it now takes a PhD and post doctoral work to get the same post means that we are training too many. Therefore the only solution is to row back on the PhDs being generated; given that governments are looking for money saving measures, this would seem an obvious starting point.

      That's a really wonderful idea, except that the universities who train those PhDs have a huge financial incentive to crank them out in the highest volume possible. Try saying, "Fromunda Science has too many PhDs and not enough jobs, so we should accept fewer grad students into our PhD program" to a Dean or a Provost. They don't want to hear it.

    • Historically university posts were open to people with a BA (e.g. John Wesley and John Newman at Oxford in the 18th and 19th century)

      ...and if you go further back to the ancient greeks you didn't even need a degree just a school education was enough. This is not surprising. If I look I my own field of physics by the end of my second year undergrad we had pretty much covered state of the art for the 19th century and even covered basic quantum and special relativity from the 20th century.

      That it now takes a PhD and post doctoral work to get the same post means that we are training too many.

      The point of a PhD and postdoc work is not purely to train people for academic positions. Industry also needs these people. Many of my peers when I was

  • by rritterson ( 588983 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:27PM (#48088185)

    I am a recent Ph.D. graduate in the biological sciences. A few things missing that are important to point out, I think:

    Postdocs have the worst salary to education ratio of just about any position anywhere. You are paid, in some cases, 0-1% more than a first year graduate student, except you have 7 years experience and a terminal degree. Where I live, postdocs are paid a salary so low that they qualify for section 8 housing and a number of low-income welfare benefits. Raising a child is impossible, but by the time your postdoc is finished you may be 35 or older.

    Unfortunately, refusing to do a postdoc is not a tenable position for many because becoming a faculty member absolutely requires at least one postdoc run, often two. Now, industry is recognizing the glut of postdocs available and are requiring years of postdoc experience for even entry-level industry positions.

    • So avoiding a postdoc is very easy, don't be one. Get a job, the market and schools obviously don't want and don't value postdocs.

    • Earning beneath minimum wage with a Ph.D. and without benefits is considerably worse than a postdoc's lot.

    • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @01:15AM (#48089287)

      Am I alone in finding any of this news? I dropped out of academia almost 20 years ago (best decision I ever made, also one of the more difficult ones) and it was clear then to anyone who could do simple arithmetic that most of us (post-docs) wouldn't get faculty positions.

      The calculation is simple: take the number of people your department graduated last year and subtract the number of faculty they hired. This is the number of graduates who won't get jobs.

      Sure it's a first-order estimator, but first-order estimators are robust has hell and give results that are generally accurate enough for going on with. This one makes a few pretty good assumptions, particularly "Your department is typical" (this will typically be the case) and "Last year was typical" (also typically the case.)

      The situation is made worse because the degree of specialization in academia is absurd. Departments are looking for people with experience in Left-handed Galambosian Transformation studies and if you've focused on Abidextrous Galambosian Transformation studies it simply isn't worth applying for the position, because there will be a dozen candidates with precisely the right qualifications. You won't even make the short list (I did a few times, but thankfully was never hired.)

      So unless you happen by pure chance to graduate into a hyper-specialization that is enjoying a year or so of high demand at the moment of your graduation, you are out of luck. Nor can you predict what will be in demand when you graduate: academia is a fickle beast, and fields go in and out of fashion in less time than it takes for the typical PhD. So study what you love, because you love it. That way, and only that way, will you win.

    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      In other countries, we postdocs are paid quite well. Sure we are not rich, but we have a decent lifestyle and i say this as the sole income earner for a family of 3. We moved to Austria when our daughter was 14, and i did 2 postdocs so wouldn't have to make her shift schools again. We went on skiing holidays and traveled around europe and had a really nice place. The pay is fine. If your in science for the money your not as smart as you think you are.
  • If they had to pay their own way, the number of PhD students would drop tremendously and all the postdocs would leave to get jobs in the real world. Problem solved!

  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:42PM (#48088249)

    Welcome to the economy, academia. Cry all you want about funding leveling off. You shouldn't have expected it to grow indefinitely and shouldn't have whipped up class after class of student who will, in the real world, be unemployable to any degree that will pay off their loans before they're dead.

    There are 2 ways to fix this:
    1 - Stop creating students/graduates that no one wants to hire (postdoc or otherwise).
    2 - Stop attracting students you have no intention of turning into graduates people want to hire.

    It's not a university's direct job to ensure someone is employable, but it is their job to ensure that they are educated in something useful. Being unemployable typically means your skills aren't seen as useful enough to be paid to do shit (or unique enough to be the one selected out of many).

    TL;DR:
    Common sense: Too many cookies? Stop making cookies.
    Academia: Too many postdoc researchers? Make more, faster.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Stop creating students/graduates that no one wants to hire

      What people want to hire is telephone sanitizers, because they understand the need. What people need to hire is people building some new technology we've never heard of yet, to stop the equivalent of us being thirty feet deep in horse shit if we retain the status quo instead of trains, trams, busses, cars, bikes etc - but they don't understand the need, hence the "too many graduates" situation.
      If we're not going to be the useless "B" arc we need to

    • And that is why students who can't find jobs [yahoo.com] are now suing their educators [macleans.ca], and so is the government [petapixel.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by waitamin ( 2811853 )

      You are seemingly missing the context here. There is an expectation in todays world that our technology and sciences will continue to grow in leaps, consistently providing us with novel solutions to the problems we are consistently creating. But this progress must come from somewhere, right? Instead, things are only going backwards, if anything. There is already a war on higher education, and even high-school education. It is becoming more expensive, and it is becoming less geared towards science and more t

  • by sd4f ( 1891894 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:43PM (#48088259)

    Maybe, the thing we need is sTEM, or even just TEM.

    How I got taught about how governments determine shortages is, they look at other markets or economies, ones which they'd like to imitate, and see what sectors that market is stronger at. Then compare to their market, and see where the shortages and over supplies are. Strong economies that do well, are going to tend to have high productivity with decent exports of innovative products.

    So, the reason we keep hearing for more STEM is not because there actually is a shortage, but because they think the economy would be better with more of it. It's a matter of, "train" them up and they'll find jobs, rather than jobs and careers are there waiting to be filled. In some sectors, sure there are shortages, but in others, not so much. I'm in Australia, and I keep hearing about engineer shortages, but it's very difficult to find jobs at the moment. Companies aren't training, and just want someone with years of experience immediately. Statistics I keep on hearing that the majority of engineering graduates don't work in engineering here, they end up doing sales or other things where by virtue of completing an engineering degree, likelihood of having a dope is much lower than say an arts degree.

    Science degrees for the most part aren't very useful (in Australia) unless you're aiming to get into academia, or one of the incredibly few research jobs. Because of the loans program for students (no upfront costs for study, minimal interest rate for repayment [below inflation iirc], and minimum income before you have to pay it off), a lot of people study, because they might as well. The issue with it is, a lot of people study things that really won't get them a career. Science is one of those areas of study which has many students, but not many careers afterward.

    Best example I can give is from my university statistics. Science has the worst employment rate for graduates and postgraduates. https://www.uts.edu.au/... [uts.edu.au]

  • Perverse Incentives (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saysys ( 976276 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:50PM (#48088301)
    Universities have a perverse incentive when it comes to producing doctoral students.

    University departments are bureaucratic systems. A bureaucratic system's primary objective is to grow. It may take 20 undergraduate students to 'make' a class. It only takes 10 masters students and 5 doctoral students. The more classes that make: the more professors are needed: the bigger the department.

    This means the fastest way to grow your department is to increase the number of doc students. Since almost every Ph.D. is an industry-useless research degree, this, then, leads to the glut of researchers we see today.

    The solution has already been hit upon by business schools. The AACSB accredits only 120 universities to produce doctoral students. Of those each field (accounting, finance, marketing, management, information systems) has about 80 universities that are accredited for that sub-field. Each field graduates about 3 students a year. Without an AACSB accredited professor-pool it is hard for a business school to get AACSB accreditation. But why does the business school care?

    The masters program produces a degree that is valuable outside of academia and a premium is charged for it. While accreditation is no guarantee that your business school is good, if it does not having it you can be almost certain that it is bad. The MBA is NOT a research degree and in no way prepares you to be a professor.

    What is needed is for the highest caliber departments (in each glut field) in the US to join together in an association. The association limits how many doctoral programs are accredited. The association maintains the highest standards for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs. The association limits how many doctoral students are admitted relative to the number of research active faculty in a department.

    Combine this then with a masters program that is entirely focused on practical work in the field. Do not give doc students a masters and do not focus on research skills that are not valuable in industry in masters programs. Presently: Nursing, Business, and Engineering are all viable directions to go for someone interested in research and teaching. Perhaps you notice a pattern?

    And the pay? 150k is not an unheard of starting pay for an assistant professor of accounting.
    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      Universities have a perverse incentive when it comes to producing doctoral students.

      But they can't force you to become a doctoral student; that's ultimately a decision everybody makes for themselves and has to live with.

      Presumably, intelligent adults ought to be capable of making that decision, and they ought to live with the consequences.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:50PM (#48088305)
    I wonder if part of this PhD glut is a delayed effect of the recession, which decreased employment opportunities over the last 6 years or so. Given the choice between taking your bachelor's to work at Starbucks or living on a similar salary as a grad student but with the prospect of an advanced degree a few years down the road, it was a rational thing to do. Of course, the "best" available option is not necessarily a "good" option.
    • There are also some issues in the way science is done. It's increasingly difficult for a lone researcher to have significant impact, instead you need teams of people. This includes PhD students working on focussed parts of the problem and postdocs coordinating them and working on broader things, and generally one tenured faculty member (or senior postdoc) overseeing the entire thing. This means that you need more PhD students than postdocs, more postdocs than faculty. That's fine, except that there's th
    • by rmstar ( 114746 )

      I wonder if part of this PhD glut is a delayed effect of the recession, which decreased employment opportunities over the last 6 years or so.

      No. [caltech.edu] This has been going on for a long time and is getting worse by the year. From the linked article:

      I would like to present to you this morning a rather analogous theory of the history of science. According to this theory, modern science appeared on the scene, in Europe, almost 300 years ago, and in this country a little more than a century ago. In each case it proceeded to expand at a frightening exponential rate. Exponential expansion cannot go on forever, and so the expansion of science, unlike the expansion of the Universe, was guaranteed to come to an end. I will argue that, in science, the Big Crunch occurred about 25 years ago, and we have been trying to ignore it ever since.

      What is happening now is that the situation is becomming more extreme, and so even the best efforts at denial are crumbling.

  • Same thing happened in the 50's and 60's to Britain. Loads of smart people came here because there were so many jobs here and not at home.

      Now the jobs are in China and the available positions are over there, not here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @08:00PM (#48088371)

    I am a newly tenured faculty in physics at a major DOE national lab. Let me chirp in with a couple of facts:

    a) Biology is absolutely unique. Postdocs there are truly paid peanuts and the ratio of faculty/postdocs is incredible. And faculty don't even have fun since all they do is write NIH grants, most of which don't get through. What they do is really useful -- this is how we will get medicine for the 21st century, but the system is absolutely untenable. On the other hand, a lot of this experiments are really not "cutting science", it is a dumb repeating work where you just need to get a couple of techniques right. Basically, it is one notch above automation, but doesn't require thinking at night.

    b) My postdocs are paid decent salary at around $60k per year. This is over twice what some poor biology guys get and less than what engineering postdoc get. But they are truly terrible, I naively expected my productivity to go up by a factor of 4 with three postdocs and instead it got down by 20%. The bottom line is that over half of newly minted PhDs are not capable of doing independent research. Sure, they might be clever compared to general population, can solve a differential equation if pushed, but not the kind of guys you need to unlock mysteries of universe. The fact is that majority of postdocs don't deserve to become faculty (this is why I am posting as AC :))

    c) Grad schools, at least in physics, don't teach the neccessary skills. 80% of what we do is software engineering, basically a lot relies of simulations and nicely written code. It took me 10 years to become a decent (not great) coder, but it could have taken me 3 if properly taught during grad school. I had a postdoc that ran some of the state-of-the art codes on machines with 120,000 cores running for two weeks, you would have thought that a guy getting access to this kind of resources would know his CS: no, his version control was dated directories with copypasted code left and right in a non time monotonic fashion and his coding style was fortran in C syntax (the MPI/OMP parts were done by others). Go figure it. [Having said that, I tried to work with CS guys and they know their coding, but have no physics intuition, so that didn't work either. You need both, that is why it is hard to find the right people].

     

    • by Mr.CRC ( 2330444 )

      Which DOE lab has tenured staff? Or calls them "faculty" for that matter? The ones here in Livermore have "Technical Staff" and there is no tenure, per se.

      Check out this guy's essays on hiring. Really great insights, and just plain fun to read. Plus you can kill an afternoon reading his other stuff too: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/... [joelonsoftware.com]

    • So what you needed was some bright CS grads with a BS, but they wanted 6 figures, so you grabs some postdocs for half. That pretty much explains it all.

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @08:03PM (#48088381) Homepage

    http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg... [caltech.edu]
    "Actually, during the period since 1970, the expansion of American science has not stopped altogether. Federal funding of scientific research, in inflation-corrected dollars, doubled during that period, and by no coincidence at all, the number of academic researchers has also doubled. Such a controlled rate of growth (controlled only by the available funding, to be sure) is not, however, consistent with the lifestyle that academic researchers have evolved. The average American professor in a research university turns out about 15 Ph.D students in the course of a career. In a stable, steady-state world of science, only one of those 15 can go on to become another professor in a research university. In a steady-state world, it is mathematically obvious that the professor's only reproductive role is to produce one professor for the next generation. But the American Ph.D is basically training to become a research professor. It didn't take long for American students to catch on to what was happening. The number of the best American students who decided to go to graduate school started to decline around 1970, and it has been declining ever since. ...
        To most of us who are professors, finding gems to polish is not our principal problem. Recently, Leon Lederman, one of the leaders of American science published a pamphlet called Science -- The End of the Frontier. The title is a play on Science -- The Endless Frontier, the title of the 1940's report by Vannevar Bush that led to the creation of the National Science Foundation and helped launch the Golden Age described above. Lederman's point is that American science is being stifled by the failure of the government to put enough money into it. I confess to being the anonymous Caltech professor quoted in one of Lederman's sidebars to the effect that my main responsibility is no longer to do science, but rather it is to feed my graduate students' children. Lederman's appeal was not well received in Congress, where it was pointed out that financial support for science is not an entitlement program, nor in the press, where the Washington Post had fun speculating about hungry children haunting the halls of Caltech. Nevertheless, the problem Lederman wrote about is very real and very painful to those of us who find that our time, attention and energy are now consumed by raising funds rather than teaching and doing research. However, although Lederman would certainly disagree with me, I firmly believe that this problem cannot be solved by more government money. If federal support for basic research were to be doubled (as many are calling for), the result would merely be to tack on a few more years of exponential expansion before we'd find ourselves in exactly the same situation again. Lederman has performed a valuable service in promoting public debate of an issue that has worried me for a long time (the remark he quoted is one I made in 1979), but the issue itself is really just a symptom of the larger fact that the era of exponential expansion has come to an end. The End of the Frontier could just as well have been called The Big Crunch."

    See also from 10 years ago!
    http://www.villagevoice.com/20... [villagevoice.com]

    And somewhat more recently:
    http://philip.greenspun.com/ca... [greenspun.com]

    A collection of general links I put together on schooling:
    http://p2pfoundation.net/backu... [p2pfoundation.net]
    http://p2pfoundation.net/backu... [p2pfoundation.net]

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      Nevertheless, the problem Lederman wrote about is very real and very painful to those of us who find that our time, attention and energy are now consumed by raising funds rather than teaching and doing research

      As opposed to what? The 18th century, where you simply had to be independently wealthy? WWII, where biology professors would first do experiments on chicken and then eat them? The late 20th century, where it was all faculty politics? There were brief periods where things may have been easy, but they n

  • With the unemployment rate so high, people need more and more education to find work. Not because the jobs have changed and they require more education (though a few do), it's simply to distinguish one job candidate from another. A person 'merely' qualified for the job stands no chance against the competition. The education, no matter how much money and how many years of a person's productive years were sunk into it, is needed the day of the job interview and at no other time.

    The flip side is that for a

  • As we all know, there's no problem in the labor market that can't be solved with more education.

    As President Obama says at the official White House web site, "Earning a post-secondary degree or credential is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy." Because, as he notes, "With the average earnings of college graduates at a level that is twice as high as that of workers with only a high school diploma, higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class."

    To help sustain this middle class, the President has proposed policies that will:

    - Help Middle Class Families Afford College [bloomberg.com]
    - by Keeping Costs Down [forbes.com]
    - Strengthen Community Colleges [theatlantic.com]
    - Improve Transparency and Accountability [transparency.org]

    Therefore, earning a PhDs must not be enough. What we need is a new credential. Something beyond PhD. A... "Super PhD" that will help high achievers stand out to those employers seeking only the best. Of course, that means longer class schedules, more lab training, in short... more education.

    Don't worry, our financial institutions are here to help. Banks will be happy to lend you more with government backed student loans. [whiteoutpress.com] It's the least they can do for a beleaguered middle class too uneducated to succeed in this high tech economy.

    America is that Shiny City upon a Hill [youtube.com], a place where gleaming gold coins lay scattered about ripe for the picking. You only need more education to find them. A new life awaits you [youtube.com] in that shining city on the hill. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure! So come on America, become a go-getter and land that Super PhD! The Sciences are just filled with Gold Coins of Opportunity in this Shinny City on a Hill for those with the right education.

    • by Mr.CRC ( 2330444 )
      Yes. Don't you just love government backed loans that can't be discharged in bankruptcy?
      • by maynard ( 3337 )

        It's more Cancer Socialism. [youtube.com] Clearly, an unregulated private sector education market would lower interest rates and high college tuition costs across the board by fertilizing fields of opportunity ploughed and ready for planting by the roughly calloused hands of entrepreneur students.

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      The one, solitary answer offered by The Good and The Great — after they finish telling us the jerbs their policies have eliminated are "never coming back" — is "Education." Now our youth are wallowing in a trillion+ of debt to pay for advanced high school "degrees," our campuses are now indistinguishable from the ghettos that surround them and we have thousands upon thousands of surplus postdocs milling around.

    • We need to have more trades / tech schools and apprenticeships.

      The higher level of college are to academic. And even just to days 4 year college plans are loaded with fluff and filler with sides of skill gaps.

      There is to much put on academic / theory. Also at some schools you can end up learning stuff that is 2-4 years old at the start of class and by the time you get to end of 4 years they may just be starting to work on teaching stuff that was new 2-4 years ago.

  • Not a glut - a shortage of jobs and a situation where the leading roles in science and technology are being handed to China and India on a plate.
  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @09:22PM (#48088479)

    I am a scientist and I have been a postdoc (and government grant manager and industrial scientist). This is not new, but is more new to biology than it is to other fields.

    This problem is real. Our best researchers can't find a job and are "sitting on the sidelines." The investment in those folks by the government (i.e. your taxes) is going down the drain the longer they're unable to do meaningful work.

    My feeling is that the underlying problem is the insulation of academics from the commercial world. Most science professors don't know what is involved in commercial work, don't know the relevant skills for commercial work, and don't have a network for landing jobs for students in industry. There are far too many professors who don't know how to train their students for anything other than academic work, and some who are adamantly against training their students for jobs outside of academia.

    The result is that industry jobs that many PhDs expect to get go instead to people who left school with a BS or MS and received more relevant on-the-job training in industry. The truth is that there are very few jobs where the experience of a modern PhD is more meaningful than 6 years of industrial bench work. The government and academia still hire preferentially by degree, but those folks can't hire enough people to put a dent in the supply.

    To fix this problem we need radical changes to the way we pursue science. Some possibilities for the future:

    1) getting a PhD is "for fun." This is the current reality. If we all accept and understand this, that PhDs have no competitive advantage over MS students in the marketplace, there is no problem. If we do nothing, this will continue and will eventually make the PhD system obsolete.

    2) Control of research direction shifts toward industry (i.e. professors become subcontractors on grants to people like Merk and IBM). I doubt many academics would like this, and there would absolutely be problems, but it would generate students with broader skillsets and networks.

    3) Control of research shifts back toward government labs. This used to be the way things were. Government labs sat between industry and academia and facilitated movement of people, ideas and funding. Entire funding agencies that supported these labs are gone. Grant managers and review committees used to mostly be active scientists at government labs, that's no longer the case. This would be expensive to get back to and would really be unfair to the foreign scientists making up the majority of our young scientific workforce.

    4) Set everyone on the GSA scale. Right now you can get a recent grad in his 3nd year of work funded at $60k/year on a grant to a commercial grantee, but it's almost impossible to get more than $25k for that same work done by a "graduate researcher" in academia. (Even if professors want to do right by their employees, they often can't.) So, don't allow any more $20k/year graduate students on grants. Everyone gets paid based on a combination of local cost of living and experience (years & degrees). That's the GSA scale (ok, it kind-of is). Removing the discount for students would remove free grad school for scientists, but would immediately fix the problem that the best bench scientists can't find jobs.

    Whatever happens, the solution is not going to come from inside science. Scientific leaders range from completely disgusted with the human trafficking which is the modern research economy to openly hostile to the idea that this problem needs to be solved. Most people just don't know what to think. There will be no consensus amongst us in science on what, if anything, needs to be done.

    • by Compuser ( 14899 )

      One problem is that the industry today is ruled by Wall Street and has very short term outlook. We know for a fact that most industrial giants have closed their research labs or shrunk them greatly. Just for kicks, which industry will subcontract a CERN collider or a Hubble telescope? We are also seeing this in biomed. Industrial firms were in no rush to develop Ebola cures because they could not see the profit. Now the government is giving tons of money to the few promising leads trying to play catch up an

  • by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @09:29PM (#48088507)

    The Pauper Post Doc Army is collective punishment for lack of significant clinical advancement in Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia.
    The financial state of biomedical science is intimately linked to positive human health outcomes -- not the number of papers published.
    The society will not endlessly support an endless horizon of scientific bio-wimsey. As someone commented, ask what happened to Physics.

    There are ways to keep going in science and you may have to work at the BENCH rather than inhabit an office and lord it over underlings.

    Having delivered all this doom and gloom, I actually think the future for science is bright.

    But smaller. Less is more.

     

    • As someone commented, ask what happened to Physics

      Physics is still on the gravy train created by the Manhattan Project. Each of the large magnets for the SSC (which was never finished) cost more than the US government has spent on computer science research in total, ever.

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )

      The Pauper Post Doc Army is collective punishment for lack of significant clinical advancement in Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia.

      Have you seen the rate of survival of cancer now vs 30 years ago ? Don't say there aren't advances.

  • So what about the STEM shortage I keep hearing about? How is it that we can keep pushing for more careers in STEM but at the same time have a surplus? I've read a number of articles that have touched on this topic but would love to hear some of the opposing arguments by individuals with real knowledge on the topic.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      These are STEM postdocs. They want to go into pure research, not grind out engineering and/or code. Yes, given a shortage of research jobs, they can be employed. But many employers don't want to deal with employees who think the work is beneath them and whowill leave once a research job opens up.

  • The current research University system was designed for a period of rapid expansion. Post-secondary education started as a luxury available to the elite and turned into a standard part of the middle class experience. To expand the supply of teachers each Professor had to train multiple other Professors, even then this was insufficient so you could still get an tenure track position without a PhD.

    But for the last few decades the percentage of University students has stabilized and the number of Professors wi

  • by Steve525 ( 236741 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @10:01PM (#48088641)

    It's simple math really. As someone above pointed out, a university professor will graduate about 15 PhD's. Since the number of professor positions isn't quickly increasing, most of those PhD's aren't going to become university professors. So they either languish as post-docs or have to find a different job (either in or out of science).

    This is good for the universities who can get the cream of the crop as professors. (And considering that getting a PhD in science is no trivial matter in the first place, this is really the cream of the cream of the crop). The bad part is that we've lead a huge number of people down a very challenging path without telling them that their odds of success would have been similar if they chased their dream of becoming a rock star, instead. (OK, maybe not quite, but you get the point).

    On top of that, if they are one of the lucky/hardest working/brightest ones who manage to get a university position, they then face a 5-10 trial period before they get tenure, during which 80 hour weeks are the norm as they teach classes, train grad students, get grants, and publish or perish. After tenure, it doesn't get much easier if they want to keep doing research and feed their graduate students.

    The easiest way to lower the number of science grad students is probably simply to be honest with them, and let them know this going in, instead of telling kids and young adults how important it is that people go into science. But, if we did that... 1 - the current system would fall apart because grad students (and post-docs) form an extremely valuable class of cheap and highly skilled labor for science research at universities. 2 - The quality of research in general would go down dramatically, as some of the best and brightest possible scientists (i.e., the few who make it, now) would choose other fields.

    • And considering that getting a PhD in science is no trivial matter in the first place, this is really the cream of the cream of the crop

      I'm an engineer and I work with a lot of people holding PhDs, as well as "normal" people.
      I couldn't find *any* correlation between "holding a PhD" and "being smart", "being creative", or "being efficient".
      Holding a PhD basically just tells me that they sat down on some problem for a long time, and wrote hundred pages that only 1 or 2 people read.
      Holding a PhD might correlat

  • There needs to be a financial weight that relates to the employment prospects of a university's graduates.

    If a faculty produces too many graduates that are unemployed years after graduating, the university should suffer a financial loss. Perhaps less student funding for a particular course or less government grants.This will incentivise them to make modifications to a program or cut intake.

    Of course, this is a complicated area, but currently it makes no difference to a University if they produce mas
  • It's sad that science don't get more respect. Fanatics of various stripes in Congress, in the Middle East, and around the world are more interested in superstitious beliefs than science. And really, when it comes down to it, aren't almost ALL scientists tedious with their caveats and their statistics?

    One would think that before embarking upon a ten year educational voyage, they might have investigated the prospects for a reward. Any kind of reward- money, prestige, a mention on Big Bang Theory, girls... But

  • Lots of STEM talent, not enough STEM jobs.
  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @10:31PM (#48088741) Homepage Journal
    Even if you feel that funding for scientific research shouldn't grow to at least meet inflation (and NIH funding hasn't grown to match inflation in many years now), there is still a problem in the funding of scientific research in the US. The big problem here comes down to how funding mechanisms pay for people who actually DO research. Grants are, more often than not, structured around the very meager pay that we have for graduate students. Faculty and other Principal Investigators (PIs) often have no choice but to hire grad students as they are the only people they can afford to hire - or are allowed to hire - under the terms of the grant.

    However, PIs are not allowed to keep their grad students forever, either. Those grad students have to be let go (preferably with PhD in hand) at some point; it doesn't look good for anyone to keep a grad student around too long.

    The idea of establishing a new rank of "senior scientist" - with common understanding of what it entails and a livable wage to go with it - is a great one. The problem is figuring out a way to pay those senior scientists.

    That said, i don't have any pity for someone in their late 20s on their second postdoc. I know plenty of people in their mid-30s who are only on their first.
  • Because if they're post docs in some liberal arts pursuit... then they're not really anything society can use. We never needed many such people and if we trained lots of them then they're going to have to get other jobs... anyway.

    If they're in STEM fields then they are useful but they're going to have to justify themselves to industry... not government.

  • This is a situation faced by millions. You want to do something for a living but there aren't any jobs. They should really accept that fact and move on like everyone else. It's particularly hard to have sympathy in that this isn't something that just happened yesterday - it's been a long time since getting an academic position was likely. Longer than it takes to get a PhD.

  • You can't?

    EVERYONE wishes they could choose a career that would go out of its way to manufacture a choice and cushy position for them on-demand.

    Reality is, if you choose to go into a field with a glut of participants, jobs are going to be lower paying and few and far between and it becomes a race to the bottom.

    Do like everyone else does when trying to break into a particular career. Get a job.

  • Back in the day the evil commercial industry saved me from the ivory tower I was heading for. Now if there's much less demand for university trained (not yet|post) docs what do you get?

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