Friday, April 22, 2011

How Many PhDs do We Need?

Interesting feature at Nature on the worldwide problems facing people with doctorates in engineering and science; in some countries there are far more Ph.D.s than jobs that require such an education, while in others, especially China, there are plenty of jobs but people graduating from Ph.D. programs are ill-prepared to fill them. From the section on the US:
The proportion of people with science PhDs who get tenured academic positions in the sciences has been dropping steadily and industry has not fully absorbed the slack. The problem is most acute in the life sciences, in which the pace of PhD growth is biggest, yet pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been drastically downsizing in recent years. In 1973, 55% of US doctorates in the biological sciences secured tenure-track positions within six years of completing their PhDs, and only 2% were in a postdoc or other untenured academic position. By 2006, only 15% were in tenured positions six years after graduating, with 18% untenured. Figures suggest that more doctorates are taking jobs that do not require a PhD. "It's a waste of resources," says Stephan. "We're spending a lot of money training these students and then they go out and get jobs that they're not well matched for."
Academics believe, and it may very well be true, that there was once a time when you could guarantee yourself a good job by getting enough education. Now, according to this story, even a doctorate in a demanding scientific field like microbiology guarantees you nothing. True, almost all people with science PhDs can find some kind of job, but it won't necessarily be one that is interesting, pays well, or provides opportunities for advancement.

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