The FASEB folks have collected a large amount of data on training and employment in the life sciences (start here), and see the discussions over here at the AAAS).
Many of the conclusions are not going to surprise people, but it's good to have some data to back up everyone's impressions. I can sum the whole presentation up in a sentence: academic life science is a hard place to make a living, and getting harder every year. For example, the average age of first-time R01 grantees has been going up for the past thirty-seven years. And over the past twenty years, the number of doctorates awarded has roughly doubled, while the number of people employed in tenured (or tenure-track) positions has stayed exactly the same.
So where is everyone going? Well, down the hall from me - industry is where the job growth is. I know that my pharma/biotech readers might be startled by that statement, but compared to academia, we're a boom town. (I mean, look at it, no head count increase since 1987?) The problem is, as far as I can see, many PhD candidates and post-docs have been trained in environments where an tenure-track academic position is seen as the natural and desirable goal, and industry is just the fallback for the also-rans. If this ever was congruent with reality, it isn't now. As a commentary in the latest Nature put it:
More effort is needed to ensure that recruitment interviews include realistic assessments of prospective students' expectations and potential in the academic workplace. And training should address broader career options from day one rather than focusing unrealistically on jobs that don't exist.
Chemistry doesn't have this mindset problem to the same extent. There do seem to be some research groups who don't so much look down on industry as over-exalt academia, but there are plenty of strong people from the top-ranking groups all over the pharma landscape. But the hiring problems, well, I'm sure those track pretty close to the FASEB story.
And that gets us back to the ever-popular topics of medicinal chemistry employment, outsourcing, restructuring, and so on. For now, I'll reiterate my strongest opinion on these subjects, which is that this is not a good time to be an ordinary medicinal chemist in the US. You need skills, you need to keep them sharp, and you need to be ready and able to move into new research areas as they get interesting. It's not easy. But at least it's easier than trying to make it as a professor. . .