Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Deconstructing the bad science job market

The New York Times has a good article So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors.

I am happy these issues are getting more attention in the media.
However, I feel that it fits with a common unquestioned narrative:
“The purpose of science Ph.Ds is to train people to be faculty members at research universities.
However, it turns out the Ph.D production rate is vastly greater (an order of magnitude or more?) than the job vacancy rate.
Therefore, Ph.D production rates should be reduced.”

My perspective is somewhat different. I think having a lot of science Ph.Ds is arguably good for society. Here is what needs to change in the three relevant communities.

Politicians, funding agencies, and university administrators and marketers.
Stop lying or being deluded.
There is no shortage of science Ph.Ds.
Tenured jobs in academia are very limited. Most Ph.Ds have very little chance of getting one.
The job market is pretty much like it has been for the past 40 years.
Don't tell prospective students otherwise.

Faculty at research universities.
Give your students accurate job advice. The chance of most of your students being a clone of you is close to zero.
Don’t use them as a sweat shop worker in your paper production factory. Give them a broad education that will equip them for jobs outside academia.

Students and postdocs.
Be realistic. Don’t live in denial. But don’t get depressed and enjoy your life in science while it lasts. Take opportunities to learn a broader skill set that will equip you for broader job options.
Bail out sooner than later. There are many good job opportunities outside academia. You are not a failure if you don’t win the lottery.

How should the system change?
I am not endorsing the status quo.
I would be happy to see some of the money spent on the large numbers Ph.D student and postdoc positions redirected towards longer term staff such as technical staff and junior faculty positions. Shrinking some large research groups might be good for everyone.

I also think some of this problem is an unfortunate reflection of broader issues of increasing inequality, and a "winner takes all" mentality in many Western societies.

I welcome comments.

1 comment:

  1. My PhD advisor was one of the few, since he was a research faculty member who worked in industry before moving to the university, told me pretty much from day one, don't look for a faculty position, go straight to industry. Advice well taken, but on occasion I have looked at going back to teach and I have been pretty much told that I am tainted goods, no one will consider me for a faculty position.

    In a perfect world, all academics would be required to work outside of a collegiate environment to have an appreciation for that world and be able to realistically help and educate their students.