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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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January 7, 2011

The PhD Problem

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Posted by Derek

We've had the too-many-doctorates discussion around here a few times, from different angles. The Economist has a good overview of the problem - short on solutions, naturally, but an excellent statement of where things are:

Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

One thing for those of us in the sciences to keep in mind is that we still have it better than people studying the humanities. Industrial jobs are in short supply right now, that's for sure - but at least the concept of "industrial job" is a valid one. What happens when you take a degree whose main use is teaching other people who are taking degrees?

roponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrolment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off.

(See this post for more on that topic. And this inevitably leads to the should-you-get-a-doctorate-at-all discussion, on which more can be found here and here). In the end, what we seem to have is a misalignment of interests and incentives:

Academics tend to regard asking whether a PhD is worthwhile as analogous to wondering whether there is too much art or culture in the world. They believe that knowledge spills from universities into society, making it more productive and healthier. That may well be true; but doing a PhD may still be a bad choice for an individual.

The interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned. The more bright students stay at universities, the better it is for academics. Postgraduate students bring in grants and beef up their supervisors’ publication records. Academics pick bright undergraduate students and groom them as potential graduate students. It isn’t in their interests to turn the smart kids away, at least at the beginning. . .

And I'm not sure how to fix that. Talk of a "higher education bubble" may not be idle chatter. . .

Update: more on the topic this week from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Comments (89) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Graduate School


COMMENTS

1. Anonymous on January 7, 2011 10:41 AM writes...

Even those who really want to stay in academia and do an academic career are sent away on an ultra-boring industry job. It drives me sick.

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2. RB Woodweird on January 7, 2011 10:44 AM writes...

Don't get me started.

The short version is that the PhD - in chemistry, at least, and no doubt in other sciences - is a byproduct of the work, not the point of the work. After I had been in graduate school for a while, I told my jerk PI that this system of training - tossing people into a lab with minimal direction and letting them sink or swim - was insane. You would not train doctors this way. If you wanted to teach advanced chemical techniques you would do it sytematically and document it, but teaching the PhD students anything is not the point in graduate school, no more than teaching slaves how to properly pick cotton was on the plantation. You just kept beating until the desired results were obtained.

And this:"...a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia..."? is a symptom of the disease. PhDs are granted in a system run by academics who would crap themselves if they had to live with the real-world demands of an industry job. Of course they are going to assume that all their issue are going to want to emulate them in academia and not soil their hands by actually solving real problems. It did not take me long to realize that an academic lifestyle was one of the least desirable ways to spend a life.

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3. Anonymous on January 7, 2011 10:51 AM writes...

One thing for those of us in the sciences to keep in mind is that we still have it better than people studying the humanities. Industrial jobs are in short supply right now, that's for sure - but at least the concept of "industrial job" is a valid one. What happens when you take a degree whose main use is teaching other people who are taking degrees?

Although true, you don't hear the President or other councils publicly crying about how we need more Ph.Ds in liberal arts because there aren't enough of them. Most people going into liberal arts Ph.D programs KNOW that they will have a very challenging path. I think science Ph.Ds believe that grad school will be hard, but that it will be easy to find a position afterwards (at least that's what every university science professor says).

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4. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on January 7, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

I presume most of us who earned a PhD did so with our eyes wide open. We knew there were two primary career paths at the other end: industry or academia. Most people who tend to follow this blog either chose or ended up on the industry path.

Most of us did pretty well and had a great time doing work we loved, at least for a time. Then the landscape shifted, and now everyone bemoans the fact there aren't that many jobs available in the US or Western Europe for PhD chemists. Such is life in many industries. Law? Plenty of unemployed lawyers. Doctors? There are jobs, but I know many doctors highly unsatisfied because their jobs have morphed into recordkeeping tasks to justify billings. Or work in doc-in-the-box stripmall urgent care centers. Bleh.

Everyone should be able to pursue whatever career path they choose, that's freedom. It would be a shame if limits were set on the number of PhD slots simply because someone supposedly has the ability to foresee the number of positions that will be available in 5-10 years. That's called centralized planning (remember the Soviet Union?). So I'm not working as a chemist anymore, but that doesn't mean the skills and temperament I learned training to be a chemist aren't useful elsewhere. They are. Sure, I'd love to be a chemist again. Do I regret the time I spent earning a PhD? Some days, when I'm feeling sorry for myself, but I then think of the 15 years I really enjoyed my work in industry, and also realize my PhD and experience truly did help me get my current position. Not nearly as satisfying or interesting as my work in drug discovery and development, but hey, I've created other enjoyable, interesting activities in my life to fill the void.

These are not great times to get a PhD in chemistry, no one could easily argue against that. But what is it a good time to do? Opportunities are tight everywhere.

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5. student on January 7, 2011 11:13 AM writes...

"What happens when you take a degree whose main use is teaching other people who are taking degrees?"

The idea of a self-licking ice-cream cone comes to mind.

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6. Anonymus on January 7, 2011 11:16 AM writes...

The field or organic chemistry is sick and dying. Most professors (even at top-10 schools) don't see it and some professors are not understanding science in general. No more innovation is seen in this area. When it's not publishing a pointless total synthesis, professors are doing tiny improvements on useless reactions. That is why JACS is becoming a real joke. All actual interesting chemical problems pharma industry faces are completely ignored by academics, not enough "sexy" they'll say...
It is not true that there's too many Ph.D's. There's is too many similar Ph.D's.
Universities should severely diminish the funding and hiring of organic chemistry professors.

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7. dave on January 7, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

The money to fund PhD students comes out of general taxation and one of the major reasons it continues is because industry complain they have a skills shortage that needs to be filled.

So how come with a PhD 7+ years in the lab i'm considered 'entry level' and in no better position than it was before.

There is obviously a massive disconnect between what industry wants and what the government think they are providing. Maybe if industry hadn't abdicated their responsibility in training people they would get the skills they need?

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8. Anon PhD student on January 7, 2011 11:29 AM writes...

While much of this is chemistry-related, I was wondering if any bio readers might be able to shed light on a question I have.

I'm currently in my 2nd year of PhD program in environ. microbiology/molecular biology, and I'm hearing the clamor from the death throes of the PhD system. Given personal reasons, I know that once I obtain my PhD I will want to find work in industry, preferably in the UK/ Western Europe.

I can't help but wonder if I might be better off stepping down from the PhD to a MS. I enjoy problem solving and labwork, but I'm not so keen on fighting for every grant and every scrap of funding. If someone has some advice as to how UK/Europe industry works and/or job market for MS vs. PhD, that'd be awesome.

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9. Hasufin on January 7, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

It's worth noting that in some fields - Computer Science, for example - a PhD actually reduces an individual's employability. Candidates with PhDs are seen as overqualified, but lacking in experience. The assumption - probably valid - is that once the employee gains the experience to match the education, they will leave.

This is, I think, a product of the modern "widget" school of management, in which employees are valued for being plugins to perform specific functions; there is no desire to train employees, foster growth, and have a career path. The employee is valued strictly for the specific skills which they hold at the time of hiring, and nothing more.

Which, when I think about it, seems to be the basic disconnect in which there are too many PhDs, but the industry complains of a lack of skilled candidates: what the industry values is *skills*, not *knowledge*. They don't, as a rule, want a PhD; they are mostly after technicians. What they are finding is that they cannot find someone who can perform scientific tasks but who is not also a scientist.

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10. luysii on January 7, 2011 11:52 AM writes...

# 7 -- 'The field or (of ??) organic chemistry is sick and dying." Take heart lads. There's a whole new set of potential drug targets out there which will require organic chemists to synthesize them. Even better, rather than putzing around trying to find a compound which you hope will bind to a site in your target protein, you have a naturally occurring example which does exactly that. With that kinf of head start, all you have to do is make a clever analog. For details see http://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/tidings-of-great-joy-for-synthetic-organic-chemists-anyway/

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11. K on January 7, 2011 11:58 AM writes...

Hey Anon PhD student. UK-based ex big pharma here.

I'm going to be completely honest with you - you are going to have serious problems, PhD or not. I am making the assumption that you are a non-EU citizen. If that's the case, you are immediately at a disadvantage. To legally hire from outside the European Union, you need to prove that there are no candidates suitable for the job from the European pool of applicants. In the current climate of hundreds of applications per position (many with experience because of all the layoffs), that ain't going to happen. It never happened all the years I worked there, and it's even less likely to now. And that's in the UK (probably the softest of the Western European countries). I'm not sure what the deal is in Switzerland, but I suspect that is worse than the UK.

And anyway, at the moment there are no jobs. So I probably need not have written the above.

It may improve one day I guess, but the situation right now is dire. Sorry there's no good news here.

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12. coprolite on January 7, 2011 12:16 PM writes...

Woodweird, you seem like an intelligent person, but making PhD students analogous to slaves (and furthering that point with picking cotton) is nothing short of ignorant, you can do better.

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13. johnnyboy on January 7, 2011 12:20 PM writes...

to #8:
I think you need to figure out what is the situation in the specific field of employment that you are interested in. And not figure it out by asking your PI or other academics, but people working in the field itself.
I myself was told repeatedly in grad school that a PhD was necessary to get an industry job in my field. For personal reasons I decided to ditch the Phd and just do an MS. I later made 3 job applications in pharma and received 3 job offers. But that's just the particulars of my field, that's why you need to get specific info for yours. But don't trust what academics tell you, because 1) they have no clue about industry, and 2) they're in a complete conflict of interest on this matter.

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14. DV Henkel-Wallace on January 7, 2011 12:35 PM writes...

To follow up on Hasufin's comment from the perspective of hiring in industry: so many candidates have PhDs that anyone without one is often ruled out (I don't but I think I may be the exception). And these are not for fun research jobs, this is just for supervising lab techs and the like. The fact is, a middle mgmt postion in QA doesn't _require_ a PhD, but if 80% of the candidates have one, the chances are better than 80% that the one who gets the job will have one. Frankly these jobs require little more than a solid undergraduate foundation supported by either a practice-oriented masters or a few years working your way up in industry.

Which is sad on several levels: if you get your doctorate because you want to explore something fun and interesting, even if you don't get discouraged by the time you graduate, the job won't challenge you; yet if you skip the soul-killing academic path you may not get a job!

When looking for someone for the interesting jobs (actual open-ended research jobs) it's all via whom you know, since the degree is no predictor. Which generally means you're hiring folks who've had one (or two!) post-doc positions as well, making the PhD treadmill even more discouraging. This unfortunately also makes the elite schools even more valuable.

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15. Javaslinger on January 7, 2011 12:36 PM writes...

It's pretty clear that PhD students are vastly over abundant in most universities. I don't think even the faculty would not argue with that. They accept students who they know are not cut out for PhD work - whether or not there are jobs afterward is a moot point.

The simple fact is university chemistry departments are exist in large part to teach Ochem to pre-meds, pre-vets, pre-nursing and for that you need TA's... Lot's of 'em

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16. Marcus on January 7, 2011 1:02 PM writes...

Go to Business School and get an MBA!

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17. bbooooooya on January 7, 2011 1:21 PM writes...

"but making PhD students analogous to slaves (and furthering that point with picking cotton) is nothing short of ignorant"

Maybe a little hyperbolic, but is it really that far removed from reality, at least in some (of the 'big gun') labs?

Perhaps 'indentured servant' is closer to the truth?

I'm sure every one's seen it: the PIs that threaten to withdraw J-1s for foreign PDFs and grad students if they aren't in the lab 80h+/week, who meet with students to tell them which reactions they are to do the following week (great educational value there, for a technician....).

The unfortunate reality is one's PI has an inordinate amount of control over a student's future (graduation time, and let's not forget that most jobs will require a confidential letter of recommendation): piss off the PI, regardless of whether you're right, and don't expect an easy start to your career, which makes a good mid career tougher. Many PIs seem to have been brought up in the "well, that's the way we did it when I was in school" philosophy, so the system propagates.

For me, I'm just thankful I had a decent PI, but many I know were not so lucky.

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18. RB Woodweird on January 7, 2011 1:26 PM writes...

Golly, coprolite, you are entirely correct. My comparison of graduate students to slaves was off base. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to slaves everywhere for comparing them to graduate students.

Because why? Because slaves were always valuable property. Good management would not deliberately mistreat their slaves any more than they would leave the mules out in the freezing rain. On the other hand, if the antebellum plantation overseer looked out the window and saw some graduate students shivering on the edge of death he would not be roused from his warm chair. There would be another boatload in the harbor soon.

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19. Luke on January 7, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

@coprolite said "Woodweird, you seem like an intelligent person, but making PhD students analogous to slaves (and furthering that point with picking cotton) is nothing short of ignorant, you can do better."

I think RBs comments are understated. His statement that slaves were considered far more valuable than grad students is spot on (cattle, sheep, etc are also more valuable, possibly very large tuna as well).

What's funny is that I've been reading about the PhD glut on this blog for what, 7 years? And only now the media is focusing on it (with the exception of our friends at the ACS who say jobs are always plentiful).

You need a professional union to counter the evil academics. You may not stop outsourcing but you can get rid of tenure and claim a bigger piece of the R&D pie from the despicable fiends that control most universities.

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20. Anonymous on January 7, 2011 2:00 PM writes...

Industry wants a glut of new PhDs to replace some of the ones they layed off. My observation, over 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry, is that companies typically over fire when they get the chance, getting rid of the higher paid scientists. Then six months to a year later they'll replace some of the people they layed off with fresh PhDs. Another round of layoffs keeps the cycle going.

And if you think it's hard for a PhD to find employment, imagine being a B.S. chemist with 25 years of experience who made it up into the middle PhD levels in research. No one will hire you for an "associate" level job because they know you're overqualified and no one will hire you at a PhD level because you don't have one so you don't even have a shot for an interview.

Believe it or not, it's not just the PhDs who are getting the shaft right now. But the grass is always greener..........

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21. anchor on January 7, 2011 2:08 PM writes...

@RBWoodweird: I got booted out long back from big pharma and had it good. But, I am concerned with the direction organic chemistry is headed. I wonder if it is going to be same scenario as with getting PhD in physics (meaning there were plenty of jobs for a physics graduate of then era that we can only reminiscence today). What will happen to all those organic chemists (not one but dozen(s) graduate students and PD in each group) trained in the laboratories Baran, KCR etc. It is scary as to what the future holds for them. Your thoughts.

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22. EU_PhD on January 7, 2011 2:28 PM writes...

@Anon PhD student.

I am an EU citizen and electrophysiologist specialising in ion channels. I finished up my PhD a couple of months ago.

My spreadsheet tells me I have applied for 45 positions - including speculative CVs - across europe and have heard almost nothing. I am aware we are in a recession but hopefully some of our other readers may enlighten us to whether or not the industry has just decided to give up.

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23. Anon PhD student on January 7, 2011 2:40 PM writes...

Thanks K and EU_PhD student.
Your words are quite disheartening given that the deal with my spouse (a UK citizen; I'm American) was that after I get the PhD, I will look for work over there, so we can move back.

Makes me wonder if I should just do the M.S. and look for lab tech jobs instead. I'd hate for the homesickness to continue for another couple of years only to come up short.

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24. EU_PhD on January 7, 2011 3:21 PM writes...

Do you know what I would consider it. I have been told - off the record - that a CRO wouldn't even talk to me purely because of the wage expectations a PhD brings. (As far as i can make out post-doc salaries here are above the national median, rather than largely below which they seem in the US). I was told they would rather have a competent BSc or MS which they can pay a relatively low wage to (around £18k) to.

I guess you have to weigh it up yourself. There does seem to be a lot of antibody/protein work about, but it does seem to be on the basis I described going by the wages offered and educational requirements i've seen.

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25. coprolite on January 7, 2011 4:21 PM writes...

I guess if everyone says I'm wrong then I'm wrong, but I think you all are being fairly offensive. You won't be bothered by me and my opinions any more.

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26. Fear on January 7, 2011 4:53 PM writes...

Scientist - Just Another Debt Serf

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27. AnotherChemist on January 7, 2011 5:57 PM writes...

Apparently some "Chemistry Elders" have previously warned of the fruitless venture that is the PhD track. I just read these articles listed on Chemjobber's blog:

Meloan, C. E. J. Chem. Ed. 1993, 70(3), 469.

Dietz, M. L. J. Chem . Ed. 1995, 72(1), 41-42.

Although lawyers and medical doctors are starting to complain about the "cheapening" of their professions because of worker over-supply, they will always have more career options than over-specialized science PhDs. Anyway, I've always found J. Chem. Ed. procedures to be surprisingly reliable.

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28. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on January 7, 2011 6:33 PM writes...

There will always be too many PhD's as long as the government funds science. It's all subsidized and no one that matters cares about the collateral damage. Many people with PhD's are or will be collateral damage and they'll have to pick up what's left of their future earning potential and make the most of it.

It's no use in trying to warn undergraduates about the uselessness of the degree outside academia for this simple reason:

"There's a graduate student born every minute!"

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29. Anonymous on January 7, 2011 6:52 PM writes...

Professors are just human beings, some are more flawed than others, and some are downright evil to their students and post-docs. The system is corrupt, yes. But for decades it was worth the agony to get the PhD, knowing that the vast majority of PhDs would find valuable, rewarding, lifetime employment in industry. However, the despicable fiends are now controlling the few remaining pharma companies.

#9 is completely correct: management does not want to pay for experience, as scientists are not trusted to make any judgements whatsoever! All the talk of metrics and six-sigma are symptoms of the lack of trust management has for scientists. We have become the widgets. And widgets are designed to be replaceable parts, with no intrinsic value.

Unfortunately, middle management is made up of those few lucky scientists who are not creative scientifically, but have figured out ways to make up for their intellectual deficiencies in ways that ingratiate them to upper management (behaviors too disgusting and reprehensible to discuss here - and yes, I've witnessed this array of sickening behaviors). If one's work life satisfaction is directly related to the micro-environment one works in every day, then the required dealings with and fawning of the sleazy middle manager scientists are gutting the industry of the creativity, project progress, and problem-solving abilities of the staff they are trying so hard to squeeze the elusive solutions from. And we all know the solutions won't come from them - that inability was one of the requirements of their promotions it seems. Reaganomics works just as well in pharma - greed in upper management trickles down to nefarious behavior in middle management trickles down to abject misery at the bench.

The pie is simply too small now - only the lowlifes prosper. Until western consumers are willing to value medicines and treatments that improve and lengthen their shallow lives, the downward spiral will continue for scientists in general. And for all of society.

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30. Pharmadude on January 7, 2011 9:49 PM writes...

I am amazed that granting agencies keep giving money to synthetic chemistry groups. Most do not do even remotely interesting/novel work. Indeed the only purpose most synthesis labs serve is to train more chemists to do exactly the same work, in exactly the same way, as all other synthetic organic chemists. Indeed, if you're a synthetic chemist and you don't know all the 'standard' stuff and do all your work in the 'standard' way, then the other chemists will laugh at you. This is NOT exciting ground breaking research...its just technical training.

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31. Shannon Love on January 8, 2011 5:02 PM writes...

I know its just the Chicago School of economics in me but we should look at the economic incentives that universities and PhD programs face.

The truth of the matter is that the incentive structure of a modern university drives them simply herd the students through like cattle in a chute regardless of the well being of the student. The university gets paid based on solely on how many hours of class time the students take. They don't get paid anything for graduations much less when an ex-student finds a job. They have an institutional incentive to persuade to students to beg and borrow as much money in order to take as many classes as possible regardless of whether that makes sense for the individual students.

By socializing the cost of education, we've destroyed any feedback between the consumption of educational resources and the economic and personal good that use of educational resources. Universities at all levels now exist primarily to farm government educational subsidies.

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32. pashley1411 on January 8, 2011 5:05 PM writes...

I'm reminded in these posts that government is where temporary problems become permanent, in this came, PhD's with minimal economic utility. Many of the above posts see that. Had the discussion with my sister over the holidays with the employment opportunities of her philosophy PhD program (not).

Just for thoughts, an alternative might be to defund university PhD programs and turn it over profession-based professional guilds, a National Science Council for areas of science. I'm not telling you this wouldn't replace one bureaucracy for another, it will. But whereas university PhD programs exist without regard to the economic utitily of their programs, (university-based socialistic science is, still, socialist) a certain field of science would have concern for the relevance and employability of its research and members.

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33. Thomas Hart on January 8, 2011 5:25 PM writes...

Has anyone given any thought to the idea that there might be too many PhDs because a good portion of the customer base has been destroyed? If 1.5 million people a year get destroyed prior to birth that means that there are 4-6 million children who could be attending college at the undergraduate level, and who aren't there to get an education.

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34. flrufm on January 8, 2011 5:31 PM writes...

If you aren't black or female, your PhD is worthless in academia.

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35. Rex on January 8, 2011 5:38 PM writes...

I don't know anything about the chemistry field, but I can offer a few relevant observations.

1. Law schools teach students as if they were going to be law professors. The adage has it that if you get A's in law school, you'll be a professor, if you get B's, you'll be a judge, and if you get C's, you'll be a regular attorney and make money. (Actually, law professors and judges make far more than the average lawyer.)

2. One brother who is a chemist started working with a B.S. After leaving one company and joining another, the new company paid for him to get his M.S. He survived two or three corporate takeovers but not the last. He's not quite 60 yet, but instead of retiring, he got a job teaching at a community college. He enjoys it.

3. Another brother got his M.S. in engineering physics before getting a job. Eventually his company paid him (ongoing pay plus tuition) to get his PhD, also in engineering physics. He is still with the same company he started with.

4. A brother-in-law did 2 years post-doc in entomology before being hired by a company which made pesticides. Left there about 5 years ago, much to his delight. Working at a different company now.

5. Sister who got her M.S. in radiation physics who went to work for the FDA. They eventually paid her to get her PhD in medical engineering.

Conclusion: if you want to work in industry, start with a master's degree, and only advance to a doctorate if the company will pay for it.

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36. Swen Swenson on January 8, 2011 5:40 PM writes...

"What happens when you take a degree whose main use is teaching other people who are taking degrees?"

You see a proliferation of obscure "Studies" departments all of which push to offer advanced degrees, the better to employ more PhDs with degrees in "Studies". You also see a proliferation of community colleges -- every town of over 5000 seems to have one. You see a dumbing down of the curriculum and grade inflation because all those "Studies" departments, graduate programs, and community colleges need warm bodies in their classrooms to justify their existence and even a lukewarm body is better than no body at all.

Finally, you see "degree inflation" in hiring institutions -- particularly government agencies -- hiring PhDs to do the scut work that used to employ someone with a BA/BS, partly because they can find PhD's willing to do scut work, and partly because thanks to grade inflation there's no guarantee that someone with a BA/BS has the native intelligence to tie their shoes.

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37. Hucbald on January 8, 2011 5:50 PM writes...

You guys have it easy. Try music or the fine arts. There has been an impossible glut of music theory PhD's and composition DMA's (Doctor of Musical Arts) since the late 80's. I call music and fine arts doctorates, "vanity degrees" now for just that reason: One has just about a zero percent chance of gaining employment with such a degree unless you happen to have had all the right teachers at all the right schools in addition to the requisite talent.

For some fields, a master's degree ought to be the terminal degree. Anything more is really just educational institutions taking advantage of the gullible.

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38. John on January 8, 2011 5:59 PM writes...

>>> Even those who really want to stay in academia and do an academic career are sent away on an ultra-boring industry job. It drives me sick.

Yeah, all that "actually produce something" nonsense really gets in the way of lollygagging your way endlessly through college.

We really need a government program where the tax dollars of the productive class are used to compensate the academic class for reading books and magazine articles all day.

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39. PacRim Jim on January 8, 2011 6:03 PM writes...

Nobody whines quite like an academic.
Life's tough. Grow up.

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40. M. Simon on January 8, 2011 6:07 PM writes...

"This is, I think, a product of the modern "widget" school of management, in which employees are valued for being plugins to perform specific functions; there is no desire to train employees, foster growth, and have a career path."

Train yourself. I went from bench technician to aerospace engineer by training myself. No degree in anything. Ever.

======

"If 1.5 million people a year get destroyed prior to birth that means that there are 4-6 million children who could be attending college at the undergraduate level, and who aren't there to get an education."

And who exactly is going to pay for raising those children until they get to college? Most abortions are for economic reasons. You can look it up. And abortion is mainly a lower class phenomenon. A lot of college material there?

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41. M. Simon on January 8, 2011 6:19 PM writes...

#9 is completely correct: management does not want to pay for experience, as scientists are not trusted to make any judgements whatsoever!

Engineers are hired to make judgments. Why? Well engineers are trained (one way or another) to make economic decisions. Generally the closer you are to the money the more money you make. Which is why - generally - salesmen are paid better than engineers.

Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

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42. Pliny the Welder on January 8, 2011 6:26 PM writes...

@29 - A beautiful rant sir, most well done! I could have written it myself, and in some form or other probably did, when I left my position in a very large US multinational back in the late 90s.

Please do realize, however, that those ills are symptoms of other far larger things many of which are external to your organization. Among such factors are the costs imposed on your organization by, for example, regulatory bodies, taxing authorities, and the legal community. Such costs are immense and growing almost exponentially at present. It's not that, "... western consumers are [not] willing to value medicines and treatments that improve and lengthen their shallow lives," it's that those who regulate the markets into which your products flow do not value the lives of consumers highly enough to reduce the billion-dollar regulatory bar to a new product's entry into the marketplace, to control the cost of product liability litigation, etc.

Don't expect that to improve in pharma as we move from nearly-impossible barriers to entry but significant potential for profit to a marketplace that features nearly-impossible barriers to entry, capped prices for all, rationed care and almost no potential to recover research, regulatory & legal costs of new products. If research is drying up it's because the imposed costs are so high that the expected return on new products is tending towards zero if it's not already negative. There's a fix for that but it has nothing to do with consumers, middle managers or greedy executives.

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43. Craig on January 8, 2011 6:59 PM writes...

The problem with even identifying the current situation as "a PhD glut" is that ab initio the discussion highlights the collision of idealism and the "real world" as measured by productivity. In an idyllic world, Magister Ludi (remember the H. Hesse novel?) taught a purer form of knowledge for something even beyond knowledge's sake - the Glass Bead Game, for those that remember. Knowledge was pure and merited pursuit for its own sake.
In the "real world," however, knowledge is valued for what it can do, for how it can empower or how it can satisfy some human need. We've always known that this was the tension in education, pure knowledge vs. the application of knowledge.
Society, in general, wants the benefits that come from an educated class - one that applies the education to creating societal benefits (i.e., productivity). Hence, there has always been public support for education - and not even just financial support, but social support as well evidenced by the relative esteem conveyed to the educated.
None of us would ever even apply the term of "glut" to benefits, nor would we complain of having too much wealth and we also would never say, "We have too many gifted, talented people." The fact that we see the word "glut" attached to a degree means that there is not enough productive benefits associated with that degree to merit its cost. Regardless of how profound the pureness and beauty of the knowledge gained, a "glut" of an educated class says that there is little or no marginal benefit to the next incremental graduate.
Thus, this sounds like a productivity argument at root (as in "we have a glut of chain-saw jugglers"). The complaint is about a surplus of unproductive PhD owners, not of productive ones.
Having our education discussed anywhere in the same sentence with the term "glut" simply proves that we have not proven the productive value of our education. Alas, we the previous generation are indicted.

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44. Thomas Hart on January 8, 2011 7:57 PM writes...

#41 "And who exactly is going to pay for raising those children until they get to college? Most abortions are for economic reasons. You can look it up. And abortion is mainly a lower class phenomenon. A lot of college material there?"

Isn't paying for their upbringing the parents' responsibility? As for being a lower class phenomenon, absent hard evidence, which is not cited, I would tend to believe that what is historically true, that upper class people have fewer children than lower class people, is still true. Whether through contraception or abortion is irrelevant. The 1.5 million per annum still constitute students that are missing, workers that are missing, support that is missing.

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45. Michael Williams on January 8, 2011 8:55 PM writes...

I haven't read all the comments, but I'll say a little about my experience. I have a Ph.D. in computer science (artificial intelligence) from UCLA and I knew from the get-go that I wanted to work in industry. I can say without a doubt that my Ph.D. has opened doors for me and given me opportunities that I never would have had with just a M.S. Getting my Ph.D. was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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46. BeanersSpace on January 8, 2011 9:28 PM writes...

Am I imagining something: those comments that go one for paragraph-after-paragraph are written by Ph.D.s.

Those that are short, concise, readable and to-the-point are written by folks making it happen outside the confines of academia.

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47. Algirdas on January 8, 2011 11:06 PM writes...

I agree that government funding for university research is large contributing factor to overproduction of science PhDs. Universities keep admitting people into graduate programs not because more people with advanced degrees are needed by society, but because someone has to do actual research in the lab. And why not, since the govt is footing the bill? Just cutting science funding will not work - too much political backlash. However, there is another political solution: keep funding, but demand that universities start hiring some of those PhDs they produce. Grant agencies are positioned perfectly for this task - he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Grant applications generally do include detailed budgets. NSF and NIH should cut down sharply on grant approvals that budget for PhD candidates or for postdocs unless, in the opinion of granting agency or policy makers, MORE TRAINEES ARE NEEDED in this area of research. Only grant proposals with personnel section consisting of full-time research staff should be funded. "You want to do some research? Fine, show me that you have or will hire some trained professional scientists to do that for you!"

The rest is just details. Policy discussion can (and should) be had, with regard to how much socialism do we want to introduce into such system. Should granting agencies setup requirements as to salary levels (akin to NIH postdoc fellowship guidelines)? Or perhaps demand that "full-time research staff" be hired as permanent employees? Since there is oversupply of PhDs and postdocs at a moment, if left to market forces (read "university HR bureaucrats and faculty"), there is risk of "full-time research staff" degenerating into some glorified postdoc with minimal benefits and a disposable 3-year contract. These details can be hashed out in a year or couple by stakeholders. The only thing that is needed to implement this system right now is political will for reform, by research sponsors (which may well be lacking, mind you).

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48. myth buster on January 8, 2011 11:17 PM writes...

Of course, if there are no jobs available upon completion of a bachelor's or master's degree, people are going to stay in school for survival reasons, whether or not it is economically productive. I'm a master's candidate in nuclear engineering, and I decided to go to graduate school because industry wasn't giving me the time of day with my BSE. I went back to school and got a job as a teaching assistant for Quantum/Nuclear Physics, and it pays the bills.

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49. myth buster on January 8, 2011 11:29 PM writes...

Of course, if there are no jobs available upon completion of a bachelor's or master's degree, people are going to stay in school for survival reasons, whether or not it is economically productive. I'm a master's candidate in nuclear engineering, and I decided to go to graduate school because industry wasn't giving me the time of day with my BSE. I went back to school and got a job as a teaching assistant for Quantum/Nuclear Physics, and it pays the bills.

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50. Thomas Hart on January 9, 2011 6:42 AM writes...

#46 "Am I imagining something: those comments that go one for paragraph-after-paragraph are written by Ph.D.s.

"Those that are short, concise, readable and to-the-point are written by folks making it happen outside the confines of academia. "

Some of us who have Piled Higher and Deeper have learned the value of concision. As to whether my comments are to the point I leave to the gentle, or not, reader to decide.

You can't look at the Ph.D. glut apart from other issues that are related to it. These include spending on higher education, tax policies, birth rates, and any number of other related issues that affect people's choices. Public spending on education can't be discussed apart from the issue of inflation and monetary policy and the difference between inflation in the general economy, which has seen a sevenfold increase, and inflation in the education sector which has seen an increase of thirtyfold.

The Ph.D. glut is only part of the larger problem; the overall mis-allocation of resources. Once that mis-allocation is resolved, the Ph.D. glut will take care of itself.

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51. Dictyranger on January 9, 2011 6:43 AM writes...

Sorry, late to the party:

Anon_PhD_student: I'm in your field, but I don't know the European system well, so take with a grain of salt. I always give my undergraduate (American) mentees the "Academia Safe Sex Talk", which is:

1) For the love of God, do not go to grad school.
2) If you must go, take a Master's in a field with obvious industry applications.
3) If you feel you need a Ph.D after that, get at least a couple of years of non-academic experience before you do.
4) If you absolutely, positively have to go straight through for your Ph.D, find a successful (or soon to be) mentor with a real commitment to students, and don't leave until you have multiple high-profile publications.

Do they listen? Well, they're doing #4. (Sigh.) I can't say too much against them, as I was exactly in myth buster's position back when I finished my bachelor's, and did exactly the same thing.

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52. Dictyranger on January 9, 2011 6:44 AM writes...

Sorry, late to the party:

Anon_PhD_student: I'm in your field, but I don't know the European system well, so take with a grain of salt. I always give my undergraduate (American) mentees the "Academia Safe Sex Talk", which is:

1) For the love of God, do not go to grad school.
2) If you must go, take a Master's in a field with obvious industry applications.
3) If you feel you need a Ph.D after that, get at least a couple of years of non-academic experience before you do.
4) If you absolutely, positively have to go straight through for your Ph.D, find a successful (or soon to be) mentor with a real commitment to students, and don't leave until you have multiple high-profile publications.

Do they listen? Well, they're doing #4. (Sigh.) I can't say too much against them, as I was exactly in myth buster's position back when I finished my bachelor's, and did exactly the same thing.

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53. moto on January 9, 2011 7:49 AM writes...

I'm a PhD (chemistry, did a successful one year biochemistry postdoc) and the only job I could get was a second "postdoc" except that the posting was on craigslist and it was actually supposed to go to a BA/BS/MS biologist. Amazingly enough, I got a 25% raise from my postdoc postion, which shows you that 4 years practical lab experience is approximately worth 25% more than 6+1 years as an airy academe.

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54. Laurian on January 9, 2011 9:39 AM writes...

PhD macht Frei

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55. Curt F. on January 9, 2011 12:08 PM writes...

Isn't it possible that the glut of Ph.D.s flooding the job markets is really a glut of non-relevant skills? If so, curricular changes in Ph.D. programs could make a big difference.

For example, it would make a lot of sense if organic chemistry Ph.D. students had to take a course or two on the law and policy of FDA approvals, the law and policy of drug patents, and the history of the cash flow through publicly traded pharma companies.

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56. Mr. Jones on January 9, 2011 2:24 PM writes...

Curt F:

you always astonish me with your vapid 'gut feeling' analysis of problems that are easily understood by those of us in the real world. I assume you are one of those pie in the sky academics.

The FDA approval process does not require a PhD in chemistry.

You simplify the needs of the legal profession by stating that PhDs with a few classes in 'the law and policy of drug patents' fulfills any wide-scale use. What you fail to understand is that such positions are held by attorneys with many years of experience.

All fields are highly competitive and require increasing amounts of specialization. Your time in the lab counts for squat in most of them.

Perhaps you can point us to the thousands of unfilled chemistry jobs that are suffering from the absence of the appropriate skills?

The reality is (as elegantly stated in the Economist) that academia is not in equilibrium with the real world. If University X produces 10,000 chemists, there's no negative feedback to the University. Since foreign students can easily fill any quota the University desires, they are not influenced by a fall off in American applicants.

Thus we see a flagrant waste of the American tax-payers money and the destruction of US citizens attempting make a living in the field. Except of course the tenured elite who willfully perpetuate the system.

Add in outsourcing (due to currency differentials), temp visas and an economic depression and you can readily see how and why we have a glut of chemists.

P.S :all the bogus employment data concocted by the American Chemical Society does not help.


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57. CB on January 9, 2011 2:38 PM writes...

As far as I see these scare stories, I figure I might as well give you my perspective as a 22-year-old woman enrolled in an organic chemistry PhD program.

As far as things go, the ~21K I make a year more than covers my living expenses and I don't go into debt from attending school. As a young single person who came straight out of undergrad, my standard of living is not terribly high. I'm able to live an adult, independent life where I pay my bills without support from my parents. I'm not looking to support a family anytime soon. People keep talking about taking time off to work in industry or as a lab tech to "really figure out whether you have a burning desire to go to graduate school," (I'll come back to the "burning desire to go to graduate school later). But the way I see it, launching straight after school means that I will receive my PhD by the time I am 26-28. Pragmatically, If I'm at a stage in my life at that point where starting a family becomes a priority, then I'll be able to (which might be more difficult if I spent 3-5 years working before starting grad school). Or if I feel that science is not for me, it's young enough to switch careers.

When I look around at my peers (with science degrees, some with other degrees) one or two landed a nice coorporate entry level job that pays 30-70K (although in some cases they find their work pretty boring and go home and drink themselves to death playing videogames afterwards out of depression), but most of the rest of my friends are working random jobs to pay the bills (many part-time) or are unemployed or move back home as they search for a job. Very few have the awesome university benefits plan that I have, and some don't have health insurance at all. If I worked as a lab tech or some other bachelor's level job in the sciences, I suppose I could have saved a bit more to have a bit of a nest egg making 2-10K more than I currently do (although that's such a subjective number because the cost of living varies so much from city to city) before starting school, but to be honest--what 22 year old is mature enough to think about that?

Coming back to why I went to graduate school in the first place--I went because I have a burning desire to do science. As an undergraduate I spent quite a bit of time in research labs, and I literally cannot imagine myself doing anything but what I am doing right now. There are times when I am stressed, sure. There are times when I feel pretty lost. I see these career paths open to me (academia--either research based or at a PUI institution, industrial, government, consulting) and some seem more appealing than others. Which of those are open to me largely feels out of my control--both in that I don't know what my publication record will be like in 5 or so years (as a first year graduate student) so which of these opportunities are feasible is up in the air, and it's impossible for me to know how my priorities will shift as I become older. Starting a family is not a priority now. Will it be in 5 years? Ten years? Ever? I'm not going to stop pursing something I'm passionate about for a life that I'm nowhere near living yet and not even sure that I will ever want.

As far as my academic choices have come so far, I made the risky choice of working for a young assistant professor. With these obvious risks comes the benefit that I have a very close mentoring relationship with him, which means that I don't feel abused in graduate school and he's as reliant on me for establishing his career as I am him.

I work my butt off--nights and weekends, 10-12 hour days, often doing things from home even when I'm not physically present in lab (sending emails, reading papers, homework, grading). But as far as someone who is "pursing a passion" goes I think I'm doing pretty well. Certainly better than my hipster musician/freelance graphic designer/writer/artist friends. At least I don't need a day job to support myself.

I feel like most of the markers of the adult lifestyle (living on my own, supporting myself, making important career decisions, being in serious romantic relationships) I've hit, and I'm not the stereotype that the new york times keeps harping on about aimless people in their 20s.

I consider my PhD to be "work" rather than "school," although I don't treat it at all as a 9-5 job, because I'm not really a 9-5 person and wouldn't really be happy in a job where I was expected to shut thinking about work off all the time when I went home for the day.

I think there are a lot of reasons to go to graduate school after you graduate, and they are not just aimlessness and a lack of idea of what else you do after you graduate with a degree in Chemistry and are pretty good at it.

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58. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on January 9, 2011 4:56 PM writes...

@56 CB

You sound like someone in their twenties. Actually, you sound a lot like me at that age. I thought what I was doing was so important and everyone would be thrilled when I graduated. When the recruiters came around to interview the graduate students, few or no people with PhD's were offered jobs. I went to one presentation by a recruiter from the pharmaceutical industry and he largely ignored the audience except the person with the Ph.D. from Harvard.

In love and in your vocation, passion is a temporary thing, to be replaced by a long-term love or interest. Let's hope you don't get burned out or used up.

In the job market, you are a commodity, as replaceable as a lightbulb, regardless of your passion, unless you have a very rare intellect or own the company.

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59. CB on January 9, 2011 5:13 PM writes...

I'm not convinced that what I'm doing is particularly important (beyond indirectly, or to the small group of people who also work in this field), but what I do think is that exploring one's passion in science is a more productive way to explore "youthful passion" as you put it, than many in that you aren't going into debt, you're getting trained in something that has concrete job opportunities, however scarce, and that no one is in any position to plan long-term in their 20s anyway.

I'm well aware that the job market is crap. I'm also well aware than in most fields worth doing (especially white collar jobs), the job market is crap and you have to be in the top 10% to really have a shot at making it. My dad is a partner in a law firm, and he says that pretty much if you're not at the top of your class at a top 10 law school, you have to be unconventionally brilliant and networked to get a job at a high profile law firm--everyone else makes shit money and has trouble finding a job at all.

Am I a replaceable commodity? Possibly. I would rather be a replaceable commodity chemist than a replaceable commodity working in retail, though.

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60. CB on January 9, 2011 5:27 PM writes...

I guess what frustrates me is that everyone gives all these warnings about how getting a PhD is not worth it to most of the people who are getting trained. The only way to know if you're in that top 10% is to give it a shot, and give it your best shot.

What else do you expect smart, motivated, passionated people with flexible life options in their early to mid '20s to be doing with their life? Dare I say that if it doesn't work out, 26-27 doesn't seem too old to start over in your career--I know plenty of people who have just held odd jobs that pay the bills until their late '20s/early '30s anyway.

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61. RIPete on January 9, 2011 6:17 PM writes...

Expect to see a revisiting of employment opportunities (or lack thereof) from ACS/C&EN in the coming weeks. I don't know if Rudy Baum was knocked off his horse with a flash of light, and I don't expect to hear any mea culpas, but the reality if finally starting to get thru to the some of the ACS folk.

How long it will take for them to realize that asking us to call our Congressmen to provide more and more federal funding (more grad students! more post docs!) is slitting our own throats is anyone's guess.

The problem is ACS does not see the economic well being of Joe or Josephine Chemist as part of their mission. But I digress...

On a personal note, I very much enjoy solving the very real world problems our customers have. Letting a plant manager sleep a little better at night since he knows a batch will no longer become $250K of scrap overnight is a good thing. Problem solving has to be very creative, and done in a timely manner, since the pot of $$ at stake grows pretty fast.

I had always seen my Ph.D. training not so much as becoming an expert in a set of metal catalyzed reactions but as training in how to identify the issue, organize oneself and know how to tackle a problem.

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62. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on January 9, 2011 6:46 PM writes...

@45 Michael Williams
We are so happy for you! It's a good thing that you selected a field where you can make predictions about future technology that never materializes and still get funding.
Actually, in regard to the flow money to that field, it's as good as the drive to end World Hunger.

@57 CB (Sorry for my numerical error in the earlier post.)

Maybe you did not read the Economist article? One trend that was noted was the increase in the number of PhD's produced in other countries. Given the nature of the global job market, it looks like the glut of the over-educated and underemployed will get even bigger. Competition will only get worse as more and more outsourcing
occurs. Since you are 22, the cohort that was born later than you, will only get bigger up until the year 2007.
So, there will be no shortage of workers younger than yourself for quite some time. (I'm assuming your are based in the US.)

It's nice that you will finish in 4 years with your organic chemistry PhD. You'll have more time to look for a job or switch fields!

As for my situation, I've been sleeping my butt off-nights and weekends, 10-12 hours at a stretch, sometimes dreaming, sometimes not. I'm not just doing something that's necessary, but pursuing a passion! I'm passionate about getting my rest and have even taped dark paper on the windows to keep out the light. My reward at the beginning of the day is to be fresh and rested so I can interview for those retail jobs that
require you to speak English. Finding any legal employment is my top priority. Leaving the PhD off the resume is essential in this quest. We must put our mediocre-est foot forward. Onward middle-aged entry-level retailers!

Unlike me, you are in a good situation in that you are female. If you are an over-represented ethnic group older male, you are disadvantaged in the hiring process vs. people who are younger, browner, and femaler than you are.

Being married is an important factor in staying out of poverty. If you are a woman in science, marriage is always an option, no matter what you look like.

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63. CB on January 9, 2011 7:03 PM writes...

@67

Well I'm not probably not going to finish my degree in 4 years, but 5 years is pretty typical in this department, and since my birthday is later in the year, that would put me at ~26-27

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64. Anonymous on January 9, 2011 10:08 PM writes...

#29 has accurate insight. He/she is completely spot on and the candor should be respected. Roche is a clear example. For those med chemists over there, watch out for your future....you'd better get into the lab or you may find yourself on the street (you know who you are). Also those with 10+ years that haven't contributed to a clinical compound...better get your work on....

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65. Anonymous on January 9, 2011 10:24 PM writes...

@#65 Actually, I heard that there number of non-PhD's over there that have issues from a managerial standpoint. So, what degree does the current head of Med. Chem. at Roche Nutley have....hummmm..............

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66. Curt F. on January 9, 2011 11:03 PM writes...

Mr. Jones:

I am not an academic (anymore), and your characterization of what I "fail to understand" is way off base.

I have a question for you: what do you think the ratio of the number of organic chemistry Ph.D.s who have never had a class related to patents to the number of drug industry patent attorneys who have never had a class in organic chemistry is?

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67. bbooooooya on January 10, 2011 8:36 AM writes...

"As for my situation, I've been sleeping my butt off-nights and weekends, 10-12 hours at a stretch, sometimes dreaming, sometimes not. I'm not just doing something that's necessary, but pursuing a passion! I'm passionate about getting my rest and have even taped dark paper on the windows to keep out the light. My reward at the beginning of the day is to be fresh and rested so I can interview for those retail jobs that
require you to speak English. Finding any legal employment is my top priority. Leaving the PhD off the resume is essential in this quest. We must put our mediocre-est foot forward. Onward middle-aged entry-level retailers!

Unlike me, you are in a good situation in that you are female. If you are an over-represented ethnic group older male, you are disadvantaged in the hiring process vs. people who are younger, browner, and femaler than you are. "

Wow, now that's bitter.

"@57 CB (Sorry for my numerical error in the earlier post.)

Maybe you did not read the Economist article? One trend that was noted was the increase in the number of PhD's produced in other countries."

Have you ever interacted with a PhD from a non top tier Chinese or Indian school? They may have papers that say PhD, but little of the knowledge or ability commensurate with the diploma: no competition for actual PhD that University of Pheonix MBAs are for real MBAs.

Nice work trying to make someone feel bad for being enthusiastic and positive. Sure, this may be hopelessly naive. No doubt the weight of the world will soon crush her spirit, but no need to try and force the issue. Hopefully this woman will be one of the lucky ones (they do exist!) that are able to have a fulfilling graduate school experience, and who end up in a good, worthwhile, job.

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68. luysii on January 10, 2011 9:55 AM writes...

#57 CB -- Go for it kiddo ! ! It's interesting that you are comfortable economically on 21 K. 50 years ago I was a first year grad student and comfortable on 2K. Does this mean that 50 years in the future, a grad student will be 'comfortable' on the relatively low stipend of $ 210,000 ? Probably.

Back then, a friend (Don Voet) and I had enough saved up to take a cross country trip that summer (gas was at 25 cents a gallon -- but remember cars weren't getting the mileage they get now).

It's good to see that at least someone in grad school is having a good time. We certainly did, and often asked each other "are they really paying us to have this much fun?" This doesn't seem to be the rule any more. Certainly the math graduate students in the courses I've audited since retiring were not happy campers.

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69. Anonymous on January 10, 2011 11:56 AM writes...

Grad school will always be a mix of young idealist dreamers, and smartish people who are lost and don't know what else to do, but want a sure fire entry into the middle class. I never looked back after leaving with an MSc.

I personally feel that grad school no longer attracts smart, independent, drivers who can push science, but rather the opposite. Think about how easy it is to get into grad school (both academically and financially).

When I hear passion and complete dedication I roll my eyes a little, it's usually coming from someone who is trying to convince me to work for them, or someone who is trying to convince themselves. I would say the 98% of grad students do work of VERY little consequence. But they sure like to pretend that they are busy.

You really think that your 40 year old surgeon works hard because of passion, or is it to pay off his wifes new Porsche, and 3 kids in private school. Think about how much he loves being on call and removing his 1000th appendix.

Every job has its drawback and becomes mundane, science is no different, except it requires 6-10 extra years of school with no professional society to protect them.

Stop whining that you were lied to by professors and "if only you've known", you are an adult so act like one.

I think most people know whats wrong here, although it is hard to articulate, but really the system is broken.

If you have studied systems thinking, you would easily see that no one person or party is to blame. In fact you and everyone else tends to act the same way in the same situation.

Band aid problems will not be solving this anytime soon.

That being said, NOW or in 1-2 years is the good time to start to get a PhD!

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70. Anonymous on January 10, 2011 12:44 PM writes...

The industrial rhetoric that there are not enough skilled PhDs is used to justify wholesale off-shoring of R and D jobs. They are silently saying, there are not enough PhDs willing to work for what pharma is willing to pay. With PhD training taking 5-6 years, most people started in the PhD pipeline before the US job market collapsed, while the remaining positions are being sent overseas. I would definately advise against getting a PhD and planning on going into pharma.

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71. Anonymous on January 10, 2011 5:07 PM writes...

@68 I'm glad you had such a great time 50 years ago during the post WWII boom. The unemployment rate then was trending downward and between 1966 and 1970 the official unemployment rate was less than 4%. Nice era.

@67 The C&EN article on page 47 from December 6, 2010 really proves my point that you can't warn people and it's a waste of time. There is "one born every minute" and certain people will take advantage of that to screen students for industry or academia.

And, some do make it! Look at all the rich actors and actresses! Look at all those academics that make it into the National Academy of Sciences! And there are some that win Nobel Prizes! They are all celebrated in the pages of C&EN while the invisible majority are largely ignored. Why no stories of Ph.D.'s who drive courtesy buses? Why no stories of chemists with BS and MS degrees who are put out to pasture after they reach 45 or 50?

Such stories don't serve the interests of the elites who run ACS. Their real concerns seem to be: global warming, environmentalism, politics, increased funding for academic science, filling the academic labor pipeline with passionate 22-year olds, and global warming.

"Management" does not care. They got theirs already and you (the rank and file)should just stop whining like the editorial "A Changing World" said. (Sept 20, 2010, C&EN) They even published a further editorial saying just how true that one was.

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72. Anonymous on January 10, 2011 9:24 PM writes...

Does nepotism ring a bell here? Think about it, in big pharma there are a bunch of butt monkeys who try to get ahead on the backs of others, Most have done nothing and have no accomplishments/CV and ride their grandfather so at least, when there's a layoff, they're safe. Sad.....these individuals will meet their maker..just wait. You can't hide Mr. schleprock!

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73. luysii on January 10, 2011 9:46 PM writes...

# 71 -- Well that's the way it was back then and the present should note that things haven't always been like this. Hopefully those times will return. I certainly didn't post #68 to gloat.

I do wonder what the experience of the newly minted Harvard PhDs is presently, and whether it is much different from what is being described here. Many in my entering group did extremely well (Tom Lowry, Don Voet, Kathy Schueller/Richardson, Joe Landesberg, Don Rose, Rolf Sternglanz, Dave Sigman, Ruth Lewin/Sime). The list goes on and on.

Even more interesting was the opinion of a 95 year old woman who lived above our son in Brooklyn in the 80's (the decade of greed when serious money was being made). She thought people were far happier during the depression when they had nothing. Go figure.

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74. cancer_man on January 10, 2011 10:31 PM writes...

@68 "It's interesting that you are comfortable economically on 21 K. 50 years ago I was a first year grad student and comfortable on 2K.

You made $14,000 in 1960 in today's dollars. If in an area with lower housing prices, maybe not to different from $21,000 in a large city.
========

Does this mean that 50 years in the future, a grad student will be 'comfortable' on the relatively low stipend of $ 210,000 ? Probably."

(Talk to Ray Kurzweil -- you mean $210,000,000 in 2050. And they will still mostly complain.)

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75. eugene on January 11, 2011 6:28 PM writes...

"Even more interesting was the opinion of a 95 year old woman who lived above our son in Brooklyn in the 80's (the decade of greed when serious money was being made). She thought people were far happier during the depression when they had nothing. Go figure."

Usually people are happier when they are younger than after retirement due to issues of loneliness and being forgotten by your offspring. This has nothing to do with reality, but now that society has become more mobile, and people are outliving dead partners a lot longer, it could become more common in the future.

You need to do a blind study with time machines to convince me that this old woman was actually correct. I know my grandparents were a lot happier in the 80s than in the 30s. Of course, where they lived in the 30s there was a famine. In the 80s we had enough food not to go hungry.

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76. soon to be MS on April 19, 2011 10:15 PM writes...

After reading the comments, I will be leaving with MS at the end of summer.

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77. Gorey Corey on April 24, 2011 1:54 AM writes...

Spare me the jerk who thinks that law degrees and business doctorates have "obvious value". That value is what? How many meter maids and bean counters does a society need?

I haven't been shown any convincing evidence that there are too many PhDs. Based on my current understanding I would advance the idea that there is too little funding for science (particularly if it doesn't promise to cure cancer) and perhaps that some of the industries employing scientists have their own problems. As a general rule I don't think society suffers from too many people being educated in things like science.

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78. marcus on September 1, 2011 6:39 AM writes...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned that a large part of the Ph.D glut is due to the United States habit of liberally granting F1 visas. U.S. has all sorts of visas for people to come into this country and make money while at the same time vigorously exports as many American jobs as possible. Those people that were over here banking on visas will then go back home and take some of the jobs that were exported. So they get the deal coming and going while Americans get screwed in both respects.

Oh well, at least we have clean drinking water for the most part.

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79. Steph on December 1, 2011 12:53 AM writes...

Who is writing these comments? The problem isn't too many Ph.ds (at least in chemistry) the problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has conducted merger after merger as a strategy to obtain patents, and they generally lay everybody off when that is done. No companies=no jobs. Blame deregulation. The good news is that it is a strategy that can only last so long (for obvious reasons). I think it has pretty much run its course. The big guys are going to lose their patents, they will have to start doing research again, rather than gobbling up other companies, and they will need people-or they will fall apart and get replace by numerous smaller companies. In any case, the problem in the USA is that we actually do not value education. That's the reason things have been falling apart. As a side note, total synthesis is what drives the discovery of new reactions. Total synthesis of prostagladins led to all of the stereochemical induction of 5 membered rings-total synthesis of steriod compounds led to development of 6-membered ring chemistry. When you get 25 steps into a synthesis you have a pretty big motivation to come up with new things rather than starting over.

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80. Drock on December 7, 2011 8:05 AM writes...

I recently received my Ph.D. in organic chemistry and several of your comments struck a chord with me. After 5+ years of "slave labor" and several publications in an organic chemistry lab I've frequently questioned if it was worth it. I was fortunate enough to find a private sector job immediately after graduation, but the amount of competition for the position was staggering. I have plenty of fellow grad students who opted out with the masters degree along the way who ended up with well paying industry jobs. It's a shame that I feel like I am discriminated against as a Ph.D. chemist for industry positions despite my extensive practical and industrial experience. I feel that many hiring managers think of Ph.D.'s as "strickly academic".

One major problem I have with graduate school is the lack of Americanization in our education system. Over half of my fellow grad students were international non-citizens (mostly from China). Our tax payer dollars pour into academic research to fund international students who then carry our technology back to their own country or to compete against us in an already congested job market. To me, this just seems like an extremely irresponsible use of tax money that further diminishes the value of my Ph.D. and hurts our nations economy.

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81. nita.d. on December 15, 2011 5:23 PM writes...

I have got my Ph.D. degree in August 2011 in Plant molecular biology from India. Presently I am in united states on a H4 dependent Visa and i am finding out that it is v. difficult to get into post-doc or any molecular biology research job in industries. I am very much willing to work in Medical research field as well as plant genetics, but i haven't got response from any where in united states.

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82. BLips on February 25, 2012 11:10 AM writes...

I received my Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry about five years ago and I have been out of work for 6 months. Its frustrating how precise employers are about what they want in their job postings. Its even more frustrating when a recruiter won't consider you because you lack hands on experience with some specific technique even though its simple enough to master in 2 days and you have already mastered techniques that are far more complicated. I doubt they even have basic knowledge as to what these techniques are. I once told a recruiter that I had extensive experience using HPLC and Mass Spec and the recruiter said "but we need someone with experience with LC-MS". Very frustrating!

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83. ChemEngy on March 2, 2012 11:20 PM writes...

I received my PhD in chemistry a couple of years ago and now I am a saturated hydrocarbon heat transfer kinetics specialist at McDonald's; would you like fries with that?

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84. Nathan on May 3, 2012 11:33 AM writes...

There seem to be a lot of organic chemists commenting. I am a microbiologist working in the area of bacterial genetics and synthetic biology. One of the big trends in synthetic biology is the genetic modification of metabolic pathways in bacteria to produce large quantities of desired compounds - from hydrocarbons to cyclic peptides. Do you (chemists) think that synthetic biology has the potential to develop into a promising new industry for chemists and biologists working in collaboration? That is, with the emphasis on genetic manipulation and optimization that requires interdisciplinary PhD-level design work, that there will be more jobs for PhD holders? Or does synthetic biology offer empty promises of higher yields, cheaper production methods, broader synthesis potential, and more PhD career opportunities?

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85. anonymous on July 10, 2012 2:11 PM writes...

I say shame on academia for allowing this to happen! So many people give years and years to study and then are left committing more years to second and then sometimes third post-doc postions; or maybe, maybe an adjunct position without benefits (a hint, when divided by the hours put in for class prep etc, retail stores generally pay the same with benefits)? All this so the senior scientists can use the brain power of younger scientists for their own gain. Academia, quit these tactic that are compariable to slave labor. Sure, it is paying their dues, but if this is how our brightest minds are treated, we are failing miserably. Respect those newer Phd. holders, not treat them as 'worker bees'. I was disappointed to see this going on in a part of our society that is supposed to be the best and brightest minds! No, I am not a part of 'your' world, I do know and care for people who are in these circumstances. NIH and other grant-endowing agencies and institutions should be ashamed of these actions. Maybe the cuts in funding from the federal government are necessary to end this treatment of fellow scientists? I have done some lobbying, maybe I should direct my efforts in this direction? In the end, we will all lose. I already see a trend of the youngest scholars looking elsewhere for careers. No wonder we (USA) lag behind in sciences.

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86. amir jabri on July 26, 2012 12:07 AM writes...

I'm 33 years old, born into a well off family, spent 15 years in chemistry at university abused constantly. I accepted the abuse from professors but I regret it now as I don't have a job and I'M Applying to dental school. My PhD supervisor Sandro gambarotta got a job at an oil company and hired 100 people but didn't give me the time of day. I published 7 articles 3 angew 1 Jacs.... he just wanted to hire hitmen to play his dirty games instead of passionate chemists.

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87. icanseethefuture on September 23, 2012 10:32 AM writes...

(deep breath) OK, using my flawless logic I have concluded that the higher education system, at least in America, is going to come to an inevitable spectacular crashing finish in just a few short years.

You see the university system, tho kinetically stable, is thermodynamically unstable, much like a diamond. The whole thing looks clean and pretty, but the reality is that the entire system is completely FUBAR from top to bottom. I am certain that in the not so distance future higher education will have a very different face. The equivalent of a bachelors degree will be an associates degree from a technical school, and the equivalent of a masters or phd will be on-the-job training at the few remaining companies of interest. This is the more stable structure our society will decompose into before it decomposes into us all being farmers after oil depletes.

The university system just infuriates me and our society would be much better off without the useless waste of time and human resources that get cranked through it. It is unreal how much these institutions have capitolized off parents wanted to get the kids out of the house and kids wanting to get away from their parent to party.

My whole point being: the difference between higher education and the industrial sector of our economy is that higher education DOES NOT MANUFACTURE ANYTHING. But they manufacture well rounded intelligent human beings you say; no they don't, most people that went to college were all ready well-rounded and intelligent to begin with.

You may think I'm insane, but to me there is no better feeling in this world than people laughing at you and calling you crazy only to watch the look on their faces when they realize how right you are.

Now if you'll excuse me I have tons of homework to do because I just changed my major from chemistry to chemical engineering so I don't have to go to grad school to get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds.

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88. Boma on October 24, 2012 4:28 AM writes...

I live in the USA. I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and 20+ years experience in Pharma. I lost my job over a year ago, and cannot find a new one. I barely find 1 job per week to apply to, and I am sure there are hundreds of applicants for each opening. I see more jobs posted for director level, but those are above my experience level.

It is sad how Pharma has laid off thousands of chemists in the last 5-10 years, but even more sad is that during my time in Pharma I watched dozens of non-US-citizens get hired and earn their green cards. Now they still have jobs while I do not, and all new organic chemist jobs in Pharma are outsourced to India or China from the US.

Are there too many Organic Chemistry Ph.D.s now? For sure!

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89. erica on May 19, 2013 12:03 AM writes...

"And who exactly is going to pay for raising those children until they get to college? Most abortions are for economic reasons. You can look it up. And abortion is mainly a lower class phenomenon. A lot of college material there?"

how very astute of you! (ps do you identify yourself as one of those "liberal academics?")
well you forgot to add one little tidbit to your rant about the "lower class;" you see...when those pesky lower class kids educate themselves, (some are even more talented than you- yeah scary huh?), classists such as yourself pass them over for jobs in favor of your own breather and drinking buddies- so guess what princess, it seems that your job is not only to be a condescending and snide a$$hole, but also to make sure that even when the ruffians show a smidgen of talent, gumption and know how and *Gasp* even educate themselves (some with PhDs!) that you will step in and make sure they remain unemployed.

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