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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 22, 2008

More Than This

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Posted by Derek

Science is taking a look at the 1991 members of Yale’s Molecular Biology and Biophysics PhD program. The ostensible focus of the article is to see what the effect of flat federal research funding has been on young potential faculty members, but there’s a lot more to pick up on than that.

The first thing to note is that out of 26 PhDs from that year’s class, only one of them currently has a tenured position in academia. Five others are doing science in some sort of academic setting, but only one of those is tenure-track. And you can tell that for at least a few observers, the response to those numbers is “What went wrong?”

Well, nothing did. As it turned out, the students didn’t necessarily come out of the program on a mission to go out and get tenure. But there was no particular way to blame the research funding environment for the numbers, because almost no one that Science interviewed mentioned that as a factor at all. Instead, many of them decided that there might be something more (or at least something else) to life than going from being a grad student and post-doc directly to. . .supervising more grad students and post-docs:

For some MB&Bers, academia was never really an option. "Even as an undergraduate in college, I never bought into the concept of being a professor," says Deborah Kinch, associate director for regulatory affairs at Biogen Idec in Cambridge. "Being a grad student is the last bastion of indentured servitude, and being a faculty member is pretty much the same thing, at least until you get tenure. Earning the same low salary and fighting for every grant--that was the last thing I wanted to do. . .

. . . Midway through their graduate training, a few MB&Bers hatched the idea of a seminar series to hear from former graduates working outside the academic fold. (Athena) Nagi said the group wrestled with the definition of an alternative career and decided that the answer was, in essence, "anything that didn't involve teaching at a major research university”. . .what (Tammy) Spain remembers most were their reasons for branching out. "They all said they didn't want to go into academia. None of them said, 'I failed.' None had even tried to find an academic job. It was the first time I got the sense that there was no shame in not going into academia."

That heightened sense of empowerment reinforced what some class members were already feeling. "At first, you think that academia makes sense," says Nagi. "But by your 3rd or 4th year, you start to get the lay of the land and look at the options. You realize that a postdoc isn't just for 1 year and that there are multiple postdocs."

I particularly like the way that a third-year graduate student had never realized until then that there was no shame in not going into academia. This is a major problem in academic science – the amount of this attitude varies from department to department, but there’s always some of it floating around. It’s no wonder that some of these people were baffled by the prospect of what they were going to do with their lives, because a large, important range of choices was being minimized or ignored.

But I have no room to talk – by that point in my graduate career, I wasn’t clear about what I was going to do, either. I was getting pretty sure, though, that going off and fighting for tenure at a major university was not in the running. I’d seen what the younger faculty put up with in my department, and it didn’t look much better than the life I was leading as a grad student. In many ways, actually, it was worse. Why would I want to do that?

As it turns out, a good number of the 1991 Yale people ended up at various small biotech companies. Some of them have made a success of it, and naturally enough, some of them are out of science altogether. But the rarest, least likely thing for them to do was to get tenure – or even to try. When I think back on the folks I went to grad school with in the mid-1980s, the picture is very similar. You just wish that there were a way to make this sorting-out process less painful. . .

Comments (50) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Academia (vs. Industry) | Graduate School


COMMENTS

1. Sili on September 22, 2008 8:21 AM writes...

Yeah. I never had any focus at all, and somewhere along the way I grew increasingly disenchanted with academia without ever looking into alternatives - or for that matter looking into what academia would entail.

Never even started writing the thesis ...

Still don't know what to do with myself. Thank GUT for welfare.

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2. FormerMolecModeler on September 22, 2008 8:56 AM writes...

Never even considered academia. The whole thing is a racket.

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3. dave on September 22, 2008 9:06 AM writes...

This seems pretty typical of the grad programs I have been around. For a long time, I thought academia would be great because I enjoyed teaching, and enjoyed research equally. But then I took a step back and looked at it, 5-10 years from graduation I would probably still be working 70 hrs a week, be very stressed out about getting tenure/maintaining grant status, and feel like I would have little to show for it.

I see our Gov. funding of academia as a major problem for our future in the global economy. After India and China really begin to develop more top tier grad programs in more universities, we will have to rest our laurels on having several of the best. It is similar to what we did to Europe in the last 100 years.

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4. Eddie on September 22, 2008 9:09 AM writes...

Mr. D, even you must admit this is not one of your finest works. Since academic programs train people for academia the proof is in the pudding.

Thus academia offered so few opportunities (this is the real FACT you omitted) and or was so burdened with mine-fields and political garbage, or the students were so stunned by the oppressive atmosphere around them they chose to jump off the boat.

Let's get real. Each one of these mega-academic labs imports large numbers of post-doctoral foreigners on visas who compete directly with the students for future positions.

Next your going to tell us we have a shortage of scientists.

The reality is there is perhaps only one job for every four scientist on the doctoral level. Yes, there's more for BS and MS people, so I suggest any who reads this NEVER EVER get a PhD.

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5. Ed on September 22, 2008 9:17 AM writes...

Eddie, cut to the chase and tell us how you really feel!

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6. Brian Orelli on September 22, 2008 9:45 AM writes...

I hope this inspires people to contact their former programs and volunteer for the "alternative career" program. Almost every school has one now as best that I can tell (although academia is still the default assumption).

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7. FormerMolecModeler on September 22, 2008 9:54 AM writes...

Brian,

Great idea. I already list myself in the alum database, but doing what you suggest could have a much larger impact.

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8. MTK on September 22, 2008 10:15 AM writes...

I guess I'm not getting the significance of all this?

The look back found what exactly:

a) grad students aren't sure what they want to do
b) life takes you places you may not have envisioned
c) academia isn't the cat's meow we may have thought it was.

Not real earth-shattering, IMO.

Eddie, what's with the xenophobia? From a US point of view I'd rather have those foreigners working here for our economy rather than working there for someone else's. From a personal point of view, if those foreigners beat you out for a job, who's responsibility is that? Are you advocating affirmative action for Americans? I thought the most qualified person should get the job.

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9. RTW on September 22, 2008 10:30 AM writes...

I am very ambivilent about academic opportunities. Personally I think we curn out too many PhD's many don't have an orginal idea in their heads, and continue with the sam old same old they did in graduate school, Post Doc work. They seldom take the chance and realy stretch their minds outside of the narrow areas in wheich they originally trained. The best PhD's I knew where constantly pushing out into areas interfaces between sciences. Constantly learning and thinking about new things. The bad ones, where the ones that had avery narrow view of their science, and esentially once they recieved their coveted PhD felt that they had all the answers and shouldn't be questioned by mear BS/MS folks... Very bad, as I know quite a few BS/MS scientists that would be better a "professor" than these types... Too many people go to graduate school to put off making a decision about what they want to do, or to get out inb industry. The PhD is unfortunately being watered down as much as the BS/MS degree is but since its the highest degree one can obtain, its a little insulated from critisism. The BS degree now a days in industry almost equites to being monkey hands! Check brain at door before entering the lab. Young Herr Doctor will tell you everything you need to do, even if you have 20 to 30 years experence on them.

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10. Roadnottaken on September 22, 2008 10:51 AM writes...

I don't really see what's so strange about this. How is it any different from any other creative profession like music or acting or writing? Most people who enter those careers do so because they love DOING it and are well aware (if they're the realistic sort) that the chances of making it as a professional actor/athlete/musician are pretty slim. To me science is the same, except that, fortunately, there are lots of lucrative alternatives if you don't find that you're one of the best or the sort that is willing to spend your whole life competing.

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11. Derek Lowe on September 22, 2008 11:28 AM writes...

Road, I think your analogy goes off the rails.

To me, industrial research isn't just a "lucrative alternative" if you "don't find that you're one of the best". Working in industry isn't something that you do if you can't make it in real science.

That seems to assume that academic positions are (naturally!) where the best people will go - and that's the attitude that I think needs to be changed inside academia. There's a real tangle of self-regard that needs to be worked on.

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12. Roadnottaken on September 22, 2008 11:59 AM writes...

That's fair. I did not intend my comment to be read that way. I guess I was responding mostly to the sentiment that people didn't want to spend their whole lives competing for grants. What I was trying to say was that academia is SUPPOSED to be competitive and that it's supposed to filter out all but the most-competitive people. Anyone that doesn't recognize that early on has no-one to blame but themselves. It's not for everyone (I'm not sure it's for me) but that feature of academia is hardly hidden either. There's definitely the sentiment in these comments that people were somehow deceived or scammed by the whole academic education process and I don't see it that way. Or at least, that has not been my experience. It seems pretty obvious to me that, all things being equal, one's chances of attaining a good academic position are 1:20 or worse. And that doesn't strike me as inappropriate, either.

I did not mean to imply that academia is where the best scientists go. But it is (naturally) where people that are willing to put in 70-hour weeks for small compensation go. They are definitely not necessarily the best, but there is a different kind of motivation driving them, I think.

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13. Derek Lowe on September 22, 2008 12:28 PM writes...

That all makes sense to me - thanks for clarifying!

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14. Fred on September 22, 2008 12:40 PM writes...

"From a personal point of view, if those foreigners beat you out for a job, who's responsibility is that? Are you advocating affirmative action for Americans?"

The reason the financial system is breaking down is because our business elite have the very same attitude. There are no perks to citizenship, only voting and dying in foreign wars. Hey, you're all just cattle who don't give a darn about your country, right? You don't care if your kids should have jobs, right? You're just a greedy hoe looking to line your pockets just like us, right? You see the results on the front page of the New York Times.

I think you miss the major point that there are few positions beyond the academic training period. Why labs glutted with cheap foreign labor should have a crack at my tack dollars is beyond me. No, MTK, not every person on the globe is an honorary American citizen, any more than I 'own' your children or can claim your mother as my own. Please take your basic civics lessons over again.

And yes, Academia's desires reside in a la-la land where everyone works for free (except the PI) and
jobs that make 150K abound.

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15. Jose on September 22, 2008 12:46 PM writes...

Is that a sly Roxy Music allusion ?? Sweet.

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16. MTK on September 22, 2008 1:11 PM writes...

So Fred,

You are advocating affirmative action for Americans? Why bother with merit, when where you were born is more important.

Just wanted to confirm.

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17. Anonymous BMS Researcher on September 22, 2008 1:16 PM writes...

I tried the academic route for a while, but learned that I lack the original thinking needed to do well in that world. I'm not very good at coming up with interesting QUESTIONS, but if somebody ELSE comes up with a question I am pretty good at figuring out how to answer it. Such a personality, I have learned, is much better suited to the team-oriented approach of industry than to the more individualistic approach of academia. Which is better? That's like asking whether plumbers or electricians are more important -- we need both.

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18. Chrispy on September 22, 2008 1:36 PM writes...


One thing which is nice about academia is that it can be a great launching off point for starting your own company. It seems that most small biotechs are spawned this way. If you are in industry already and have great ideas but are not C-level then you will likely have a much harder time attracting venture capital, etc. One of the issues is probably that in academia one can build the story and even pile up some IP which can be used as the underpinning of a new, private venture.

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19. CMC guy on September 22, 2008 2:10 PM writes...

It may be somewhat different now but when I went to school starting in undergrad and more so in PhD program the emphasis and training was more aimed to pursuit of academic career. The attitude of many (Profs mainly) was that being in Industry was a "lesser" occupation. There were little "practical" skills taught beyond bench research, which was normally done for "pure" research's goals, so usually much reorientation necessary when you joined a company. There is active self-perpetuating model which is why I cringe when I hear about people who believe we can do away with industry and leave in to universities to discover future drugs (I don't discount that drug can rarely come that way but the typical path is that industry builds extensively on basic stuff coming from academia/government labs).

I agree that some are not cut out for academia, by creativity and/or temperament, and it can be tough pre-tenure years but many Profs earn large amounts in consulting fees so their incomes do not suffer relative to industry. I am bugged by those who are often very poor teachers and do not balance the research efforts with instructing students.

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20. Gene Jock on September 22, 2008 2:28 PM writes...

MTK said-"You are advocating affirmative action for Americans? Why bother with merit, when where you were born is more important.
Just wanted to confirm"

You obviously went to the Phil Gramm, 'American's are whiners school of debate'. You are a clueless, and have no argument. The tide is turning against your ilk.

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21. MTK on September 22, 2008 2:50 PM writes...

Look, why don't want to hijack this thread, but...

We're not talking about illegal immigrants. We're not talking about outsourcing jobs to different countries. Eddie's original contention, backed up by Fred, and seemingly backed by you Gene Jock, is that you are entitled to special consideration due to origin of birth, regardless of individual merit.

I made no mention of whining or other personal characteristics. I'm merely stating that that is what you are espousing, entitlement vs. merit.

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22. Mark M on September 22, 2008 3:20 PM writes...

Deja Vu.

I just received this email from a someone at a major US University on the east coast:

" I am a life-long academician, but I am now helping Postdocs (and Graduate students) who want to find jobs in the private sector. My advice is not as on target as I would like it to be.
I was hoping that you might have some input for me in terms of how to help our postdocs prepare and market themselves to the private sector.

Whenever I run a session on jobs outside of the usual academic track, there is great interest!"

Oh yeah, I have a laundry list of tips I can give to those new PhD's who aspire to positions in industry, the first of which is to master communication in English. Practice makes perfect, right?

I read a very disturbing article in Forbes last month that said the main language in the labs at a Boston biotech was Mandarin--the CEO even boasted that this was a plus because it helped the information flow with CROs in China doing the outsourced med chem work.

Heaven help those scientists if they get laid off and have to sell their abilities to a new employer.

I cannot tell you how many times I have represented candidates with high levels of expertise (many with solid track records in Big Pharma) who struggle to find a new job in this competitive job market solely because of sub-par communication skills.

Advice to any in the lab getting your PhD who desire a career in the US: each and every day, work on your language skills if English is not your mother tongue. To not do so is a waste of valuable time.

Sorry if this is off-track a bit, but it is painful to see so many go for so long without a job because of this.

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23. Ali g on September 22, 2008 3:30 PM writes...

MTK,

You must believe that unions should not exist and that owners are kind and benevolent. Outsourcing to foreign countries with lower protections for employees and the environment or importing labor whose status in this country depends on their supervisor erodes the fair balance of wages. This is not about entitlement, this is about fair payment for work performed.

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24. Mark M on September 22, 2008 4:06 PM writes...

CMC wrote:

"The attitude of many (Profs mainly) was that being in Industry was a "lesser" occupation. "

Oh, and it gets better. Quite a few profs still hold that any posn outside of Big Pharma is a waste of your efforts (and somehow denigrates their family tree).

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25. MTK on September 22, 2008 4:48 PM writes...

Criminy,

Do you guys read?

This isn't about outsourcing to foreign countries.

My response was to Eddie who complained about foreigners on visas competing for jobs here in America.

This is about people here legally. People who are legally allowed to be employed in the US. People who have abided by all the laws. People who Eddie, Fred, Gene Jock, and you Ali G, until you say differently, you believe should not get the same consideration for a job not due to any individual merit, but merely due to where they were born.

If that isn't entitlement vs. merit, then what is?

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26. pete on September 22, 2008 6:34 PM writes...

For me the relative attractiveness of Academia vs BioTech/Pharma has gone through cycles. Meaning, I've always been attracted to aspects of Academia but didn't make the jump because at the key times when I was considering career change (out of BT), grant-rates were in the dumps and friends from Academia were politely steering conversations toward asking me about available BT openings.

But with R&D increasingly viewed as overhead in the land of domestic BT/Pharma, sensible folks with respectable academic posts may take heart that life ain't completely bad.

(Of course that's despite the fact that grant rates are not lookin' good- or that the process of getting an oversized broom closet turned into a microscope room may require deliberations by 5 Academic committees and a wait of 40 weeks!)

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27. ali g on September 22, 2008 6:44 PM writes...

MTK,

A person here on a work visa or student visa is at the mercy of their employer/ professor. They get fired/kick out of school, they get sent home. Therefore the employer/professor has great power over those individuals that we would not afford citizens. My complaint is that situation further erodes the rights of labor in a society where management already has too great of power. If domestic labor asserts its rights, they get replaced by foreign labor.

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28. 2cents on September 22, 2008 10:40 PM writes...

Geez, here are native born americans with access to some of the best schools in the world whining about competition. I know of plenty of foreign born scientists paying >50K in taxes to uncle sam every year. Believe it or not, being foreign is actually a handicap while looking for a job. I have yet to come across a personable native born well qualified American not being hired in preference to a foreign born person (alien). Maybe if you come across as a pain in the ass person who wants to come in and start running the department (most foreign scientist do not have that attitude and are generally happy to work and contribute), then you will have a problem. Look at big pharma, there are many many more native born scientists working there - you find more foreign born scientists at small biotechs! So really, get papa Bush or McCain or Obama to institute an affirmative action program for native born loosers. Way to go.

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29. London on September 22, 2008 11:12 PM writes...

This is a great thread. All the foreigners who left their own defective cultures and societies are pining that Americans want some order in the number of scientists allowed into their country. And remember, visitors, it's their country, not yours! Yes, there are rules, and your primary virtue is that you work on the cheap and are fearful of deportation. Obviously if everyone was trained as a brain-surgeon, then those guys would work for minimum wage. Which would be fine with Academia. This is probably less a problem for industry than academia.

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30. MTK on September 22, 2008 11:21 PM writes...

I'm going to say it once more, and only once more, ali g. This isn't about foreign labor vs. domestic labor.

This is about someone complaining about domestic labor that is not born in the U.S.

Can you not understand the point? Can you not see that denying a person who has followed the law an opportunity regardless of their ability is un-American? This is a country that based on equal opportunity. Based on the concept that it doesn't matter which class you were born into that each person's ceiling is limited only by their own ability and ambition. We are a meritocracy. If you want it to not be a meritocracy, then you devalue everyone.

If you think otherwise, be my guest, but I will have to disagree.

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31. CMC guy on September 23, 2008 12:44 AM writes...

MTK you would be correct that merit should be the dominate mode for selection of job candidates in US but unfortunately it rarely really works that way IMO. Rather than entitlement I see comments as protectionist which is slightly different and comes from real or perceived unfair competition. There are limited job opportunities and situation seems to be getting worse (as more outsourced overseas). Foreigners typically will accept lower pay, longer hours and "poorer" work conditions even in industry because circumstances "back home" are worse. Employers take advantage of this which results in less wages/more demands for everyone and that too I guess exploitation is part of the American way.

I also agree that often Americans have a bit of attitude problems and could learn from others. Among scientists these days I think is partly frustration because usually work "harder and longer" in school and see that some other groups (business/MBAs) get greater rewards for less work (so question ourselves why we didn't choose that course). Foreigners can bring a sense of hunger and commitment that should remind Americans they can focus elsewhere than just money and also how to endure limited resources. At the same time the interaction, combination and working together from different cultures is frequently a positive experience.

I don't have good answers as not sure would be good to overly control H1 Visa's but should we be so absolutely open that end up undercutting qualified US born workers who can't find suitable jobs? Is there a balanced immigration position available that benefits everyone involved?

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32. MedChem on September 23, 2008 10:56 AM writes...

Being a foreign born scientist, not one day goes by when I'm not purposely grateful for the opportunities this great nation has given me. I'm glad the US still accepts people like me, although I wouldn't call that "welcome" anymore. It's so extremely difficult to get permanent residency that I for one am still waiting for mine after being in the US for more than a decade.

On one hand, I totally synpathise with the protectionist stance some folks take here on this board. I'd be unhappy too if I had to complete with so many foreign born people for limited positions. On the other hand, the US does benefit tremendously from having brains of the best and the brightest of the world.

But it's a legitimate question how the US should treat these people? Should we tell them that they cannot compete for good jobs to realize their American dream, provide for their American citizen children, contribute to great science after they have been exploited for 7+ years as graduate students and postdocs? That they're only fit to go back "home" or work the worst science jobs that no Americans are willing to take? The current collective answer is shifting more and more towards an "yes" to the above, as if thigns are nto already hard enough for foreign born scientists.

If as a society we really want to eliminate this moral dilemma on both sides, we should 1). limit the ratio of foreign student recruitment to 5% of the incoming class at all schools and thus reduce academia's reliance on cheap foreign labor and reduce the headcount of future job seeking foreign scientists; 2). treat the scientists who are already here humanely and make it easier for them to stay permanently. Alternatively, if the US wishes to take the protectionist route, they should 1). eliminate citizenship by birth; 2). make it clear from the beginning that "you're welcome to study and postdoc, but you can't work afterwards."

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33. Retread on September 23, 2008 3:02 PM writes...

Back in grad school in the early 60's we used to say that the universal scientific language was broken English. The country was not noticeably harmed by this.

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34. postgrad on September 24, 2008 2:01 PM writes...

MTK,

If you don't believe in throwing the borders open and admitting whoever wants to come in (and I think this applies to almost everyone, including most legal immigrants), then you believe in some kind of distinction between those born here and those who weren't.

Given that industry and academia have aggressively lobbied for the ability to bring in more foreign (and cheaper) workers than would otherwise be allowed, making a distinction between legal/domestic labor and outsourcing is a red herring.

I am personally convinced that the influx of foreign scientists has lowered the pay and working conditions of scientists in this country.

However, in so doing, it *may* have slowed the progress of outsourcing to foreign countries. It certainly has allowed the US to benefit from the talents of some of the world's best people.

So there's a dilemma. I think anyone who can't acknowledge that isn't thinking hard enough.

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35. postgrad on September 24, 2008 2:09 PM writes...

And in response to Medchem and some others: the only thing I am sure of is that everyone here, citizen or not, foreign-born or not, needs to be treated equally. Which will probably require altering the student and H-1B visa programs.

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36. MedChem on September 24, 2008 2:45 PM writes...

I think the key is to reduce the number of foreign studetns and postdocs, which will wane academia from cheap labor and reduce the number of PhDs and job seekers. Interestingly, that also means a scaling back of academic research as a whole, which in turn should alieviate funding difficulty-same money, fewer applicants.

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37. eugene on September 24, 2008 6:32 PM writes...

postgrad, while the influx of foreign scientists may have lowered pay for the natives, the influx of international 'stars' and people with actual ideas and the knowledge and drive to see them put into action, has disproportionally increased the wages for the natives on the other end.

Without an attractive and dynamic science environment for the best and smartest people in the entire world (not just poor old America), the information revolution happens in Japan and the biotech revolution happens in Europe. It's their GDP that grows and the US gets left behind. All that growth would have taken place somewhere else. Here is a good link, but you have to read to page 3 at least to get the good part.

http://gmj.gallup.com/content/101680/Global-Migration-Patterns-Job-Creation.aspx

The illegal farm workers who are high school dropouts on the other hands, now those are 'real GDP drivers' according to the Bush administration and other pro-amnesty politicians. Yes, why let all those smart people into the country that actually create jobs, there is already 10 million people there and it's too confusing to deal with the rest. After all, the smart people will keep coming no matter what obstacles are put in their way because USA is the best country in the world. Obviously. It's not like Europe or Canada with their more liberal immigration policies for scientists and socialized pinko commie medical care and pension plans are ever going to become viable choices. That can never happen!

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38. Randolf on September 24, 2008 10:59 PM writes...

"the influx of foreign scientists may have lowered pay for the natives, the influx of international 'stars' and people with actual ideas and the knowledge and drive to see them put into action, has disproportionally increased the wages for the natives on the other end."

No offense Eugene, but you write like a novice wordsmith working in a low-scale Delhi call center. The US market for technology is contracting, hence flooding it with more low-grade foreign labor workers is counterproductive to US society.

Societies are created over generations, not fiscal quarters. You seek to destroy American society and replace it with "Delhi, new deal socialism for Indians".

Please try to repair your own country before you seek to mismanage another.

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39. eugene on September 25, 2008 1:15 AM writes...

Scientists are not low-grade foreign labor. Many of them are higher grade than you. If anything, your attitude is the one that's bad for American society in the long run.

Besides, Eugene is a proper American name. It reflects the Oregon origins of the entire Eugene clan. Randolf on the other hand... definitely sounds real fishy. Never met a Randolf at the pub beside my work. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Sounds made up if you ask me. Probably one of them Indians from Bangalore.

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40. Hap on September 25, 2008 10:00 AM writes...

Science had a "Policy Forum" article ["Structural Disequilibria in Biomedical Research", Science, 321(2008)(1 August 2008), pp. 644-645] that seems to deal directly with this. The article asserts that increases in funding for NIH have been counterproductive by generating a pool of science workers with not enough jobs to support them, while generating an infrastructure dependent on continual increases in real funding. (again, unless I'm misreading it)

The research schools (and NIH, NSF, etc.) put out is beneficial, but if there aren't jobs, the people we've trained will go elsewhere, and the economic benefits of the research will end up in other countries.

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41. eugene on September 25, 2008 11:19 AM writes...

Those jobs still have to be created even in other countries. You can't sit back and wait for jobs to magically appear. That only happens to medical doctors who have assured numbers. If every single scientist trained by the NIH is not an enterpreneur, then there will be trouble.

A lot of the jobs are created by furriners who can't find employment despite their advanced degree, and decide to start up a company based on their training and ideas. This generates jobs for the natives who are not taught to take risks and graduate expecting a safe 9-5 job that actually utilizes all the stuff they learned in grad school. Like me of course. I'm not planning to start a business, but I'm not naive enough to think that shitting on the people who can create jobs and value will make my life easier.

As a full disclosure, I was born overseas and came here as a kid. But if that makes my views more enlightened than those of a third generation American, that can only be a plus. That has nothing to do with it of course. A lot of people, no matter their background, agree with my views on immigration reform.

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42. Hap on September 25, 2008 12:14 PM writes...

The thesis (of the article) would be that funding increases weren't productive - the research isn't generating jobs (at least not here), but it creates a whole bunch of people trained in specific areas (and that is what people seem to want, though the degrees are supposed to be more general) who aren't likely to have jobs. The education generates opportunity costs, and while other fields have higher opportunity costs, they also have more chances to recoup them - thus risky jobs are harder to take because you have more to risk. In addition, the desires (family, etc.) put off for grad school aren't compatible with the jobs people are likely to have, and the training for those jobs is rare to nonexistent. It's sort of like breeding cats as companions and then unleashing them in the Serengeti, or being unwilling to pay teachers enough and then asking people to sacrifice themselves to do what you are unwilling to pay for.

If you're spending money to develop research and the accompanying skills, and they aren't going to be used (or be helpful), then why is spending more for them good? The article doesn't argue that the US government can magically create jobs for scientists (other than some staff positions to replace some of the graduate student pool), but that its policies create demand for more jobs than can be fulfilled, and thus spends money generating skills that can't be used (well, other than to depress wages). [It also creates an infrastructure that demands more money (that you don't have)].

Jobs don't come from nowhere, but the people who would hold them aren't immune to logic either. If people wanted to start a business, they could have done it a lot more cheaply than spenidng six years of grad school (and some postdocs, perhaps) to generate the ideas needed to run one, and without the knowledge needed to sustain it. As noted before, the early investors aren't assured of the opportunity to make money either - the late funders and VCs are likely to get most of it. If the risks accrue to scientists and the benefits accrue to others, why start a business at all? If the logic for starting a business is this deficient, then how exactly will the ideas NIH, etc., fund be used, and what then would they be paying for?

The people who engineered many of the economic problems haven't been creating value, but packaging what they have, claiming it has value, and selling it before anyone realizes its actual worth. There has been precious little value to be found - and only now are the people who bought into it realizing that. Getting rid of the people who can generate value doesn't seem to help improve things - it seems to correlate to a commitment to looting what is left of value in the economy and selling it before everything falls apart. It would seem like you have the identities of those crapping on the people who generate value wrong.

Just because lots of other people think something is right doesn't make it so. A majority of voters elected W (well, at least the second time). You can see where that got us.

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43. Canuck Chemist on September 25, 2008 1:07 PM writes...

Based on the lack of industry and faculty jobs for highly-trained Ph.Ds, but the shortage of good skilled bachelor and masters level scientists, I would recommend the following:

1. Start providing funding incentives for schools to graduate more trained masters level scientists. In the U.S., the masters degree in the sciences is generally perceived to be a failed Ph.D. This has come about in part because too many faculty benefit from the "indentured servitude" of having grad. students for extended periods (e.g. 5+ years for a Ph.D). I see too many Ph.D grads today who are far from exceptional and would be better off (and likely quite happy) with masters level jobs, rather then being sub-standard Ph.Ds with few options other than post-doc jobs.

2. Fund fewer graduate students (at least in some over-supplied areas like molecular bio.), and fun more legitimate, respectable academic staff scientist positions for either masters or Ph.D level people who could be MUCH more productive than a starting grad. student. This would keep the faculty happy.

My two cents...

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44. eugene on September 25, 2008 1:33 PM writes...

Hap, I think we are arguing two different points and we're speaking past each other here. I agree with you that the actual people who take risks don't get enough benefit then that is a problem. You blame the current business model and I agree that it is a problem, but beyond that I have no intelligent comments on the issue.

What I, and the Gallup article I provided argue is something very different. Educated foreign immigrants are not a problem. A lot of immigrants are inherent risk takers in that they already chose to move to a different country and have a more adventurous mindset. Limiting opportunities for educated immigrants to get citizenship or to work here for a long time because of protectionist sentiment is a really bad decision and will reflect very poorly on the innovative strength of the country in 20 or 30 years if not sooner. But I agree that if the financing system towards supporting small start-ups is screwed, then that is a problem as well. It's a different issue however.

My comment on others agreeing with me was to tell Randolf that even red blooded Americans going back 10,000 years and whose ancient ancestors spoke nothing but English can be traitors. The protectionist attitude against educated immigrants is really stupid when you decide to look at the nuts and bolts of the matter and see all the benefits accrued over the last 50 years. We don't have a farming based or resource based economy anymore.

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45. eugene on September 25, 2008 1:46 PM writes...

I have to agree with Canuck Chemist. Quite a number of people who graduate from my university probably should have quit with a Masters. But there are always going to be jobs for those who can get a security clearance and have a brand new PhD these days it seems.

Also, "staff scientist" sounds like a dirty word or something. It seems to work pretty well in France and in National Research Labs, so let's try it out on a wider scale.

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46. Dana H. on September 25, 2008 2:41 PM writes...

I agree completely with Eugene on the benefits to all of us of educated immigrants. And as an American and an individualist, I'd like to apologize for the xenophobic comments here from some of my countrymen, who seem to confuse patriotism with collectivistic nationalism.

I suggest that Fred take his own advice with respect to civics lessons, in particular by reading the first few sentences of the Declaration of Independence.

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47. Hap on September 25, 2008 3:34 PM writes...

I don't think immigrants are a problem - America is mostly the idea that anyone can succeed, and that we should try not to hinder those who try, and limit access to it as little as possible. Anything that disconnects them from America and its culture will diminish the ideal, and eventually the substance, of America. I can also see the culture of entitlement rearing its head - people didn't believe they deserved things because they were American, or educated - they earned them.

The only factors I can understand for feeling the way some people do about immigration and jobs are the previous policies and the lack of common ground. I think there may have been an expectation that people came to America for something besides labor/economic opportunity - at Ellis Island, one of the parts of the immigration exhibit talks about authorities generally refusing immigration as a means of importing labor (without something else, I think). The immigration unease seems to hinge on this - most of the recent immigration appears to be exclusively economic in nature. Most people don't have the option of moving where costs are lower, so the ability to import labor without being able to move elsewhere (while requiring consumption of goods whose costs are unlikely to decrease) makes the economy a rigged game. We also don't know anymore what people should expect to get along in culture and how they should play with one another - we have duties to one another and roles to play in a civil society, but the concept of a commons is diminished enough that we (I?) don't know what to expect or do. (Why would people be patently dishonest about their political goals and plans at election time if they thought there was something to the process other than winning?) Without the commons, it hard to see immigration in other than economic terms, and the economic terms are bad for lots of people.

Shutting the doors to immigration is spiritually and financially ruinous, but the system in place is hard on individual scientists, and with the contraction in jobs here (and the increase in education and its cost to get one in the first place) there isn't any place to go. Creating businesses is always difficult, and lots of people are unfit for it. (The way people are trained doesn't help.) I think the rivalry between some Americans and immigrants is caused by the lack of common ground and by economics (derived from a system manipulated by some to their advantage). I was trying to use the Science article to argue for a systemic aspect to the problem, rather than to "pin the blame on the foreigners".

I didn't mean any personal aspersion on you Eugene. Sorry.

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48. MTK on September 25, 2008 4:17 PM writes...

Hap wrote: "America is mostly the idea that anyone can succeed, and that we should try not to hinder those who try, and limit access to it as little as possible. Anything that disconnects them from America and its culture will diminish the ideal, and eventually the substance, of America. I can also see the culture of entitlement rearing its head - people didn't believe they deserved things because they were American, or educated - they earned them."

Well said, Hap. I concur 100%. You too, Dana H.

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49. Corrie on September 26, 2008 4:17 PM writes...

Dana H said-

"And as an American and an individualist, I'd like to apologize for the xenophobic comments here from some of my countrymen, who seem to confuse patriotism with collectivistic nationalism."

I think you are unpatriotic. You must be a tenured professor.

Need more slaves?

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50. Dana H. on October 1, 2008 1:38 PM writes...

In response to Corrie's well-thought-out and articulate response, in which he takes great care to avoid logical fallacies such as ad hominem:

I am an individual contributor at a company outside academia. In principle, a well-educated immigrant could replace me. However, I have sufficient confidence in my abilities that I do not fear this.

I am also a patriot, who loves America as the first and only country founded on the principle of individual rights based on Enlightenment philosophy. And I hate seeing it being taken over by people who seemingly know nothing of this glorious history and who treat "American" and "entitled" as synonyms.

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