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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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