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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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March 3, 2011

A Postdoc's Lament

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Posted by Derek

Here's a call to make something different out of the postdoctoral position. Says Jennifer Rohn in Nature News:

". . .we should professionalize the postdoc role and turn it into a career rather than a scientific stepping stone.

Consider the scientific community as an ecosystem, and it is easy to see why postdocs need another path. The system needs only one replacement per lab-head position, but over the course of a 30–40-year career, a typical biologist will train dozens of suitable candidates for the position. The academic opportunities for a mature postdoc some ten years after completing his or her PhD are few and far between. . .

The scientific enterprise is run on what economists call the 'tournament' model, with practitioners pitted against one another in bitter pursuit of a very rare prize. Given that cheap and disposable trainees — PhD students and postdocs — fuel the entire scientific research enterprise, it is not surprising that few inside the system seem interested in change. . .Few academics could afford to warn trainees against entering the ring — if they frightened away their labour force, research would grind to a halt.

Her proposed solution is to reduce the numbers of people being trained as graduate students, and staff up some permanent non-lab-head research positions. We'll debate the merits of that idea in just a moment, but right off, I have a hard time seeing how this could (or would) ever be adopted. Basically, it's asking academic research departments to act against what they see as their own interests. Those relatively cheap workers that you bring in every year, push along, and move out the door? Why don't you replace them with more expensive people who never leave?

No, even if too many people are going through graduate programs, I think that the only way to see real changes is for the people responsible to believe that those changes are desirable - that they're something they want to do, something that's beneficial for them. If the current system can trundle along, taking in fresh students and excreting PhDs, then it probably will continue doing just that. The whole academic research system runs on bringing in grant money (and its overhead), and for that you need bodies in the lab. Bodies generate results, and results are what you need for grant renewals, which give you money to hire more bodies as the earlier crop leaves.

Leaves for what? Well, "when the rocket goes up, who cares where it comes down?" What the graduate students (and postdocs) go on to is, from the university's perspective, not really their problem. And that's why I don't see this proposal going anywhere: it's asking the academic research establishment to do something for the postdocs of the world, to which the answer will be an eloquent indifference.

OK, even if it's not going to happen, should it (in some other world)? Actually, in several labs I've known, it already does. I think many of us have seen "perpetual postdocs", people who just seem to hang around the labs forever, acting as right-hand-assistants to the boss. To be honest, I've always seen the situation these people are in as sort of sad, but compared to unemployment, I suppose not.

But that brings up another aspect of this proposal - its near-total academocentricity. Read it, and you'd never get the idea that there's anything outside the university research environment. The whole point of life is to become a lab head, bringing in the grant money and taking on graduate students. Right? This is the world view of someone who's been in academia too long (or at least bought too thoroughly into its culture). There are places to do research outside of the ivy-covered walls. Not as many of them as there were a few years ago, true, and that's another whopper of a problem, one that gets discussed around here with great frequency. The traditional answer to "I can't find a faculty position" has been "Go and find a job, then". If that part of the ecosystem is permanently broken, then post-docs have even more trouble than the Nature column is imagining. . .

Comments (69) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Academia (vs. Industry) | Business and Markets


COMMENTS

1. Nate on March 3, 2011 10:04 AM writes...

The traditional answer to "I can't find a faculty position" has been "Go and find a job, then". If that part of the ecosystem is permanently broken, then post-docs have even more trouble than the Nature column is imagining. . .

Well, yeah. Maybe the private sector looks like a good option when you're an organic chemist, but what is a biologist supposed to do? Even in fields that are traditionally used in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, the ratio of postdoc positions to "real jobs" is terrifying. Go look at Nature Jobs and search for "crystallography", for instance. Perhaps over-specialization is part of the problem, but I don't think there's a shortage of candidates in any other sub-field either.

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2. Dennis on March 3, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

"Read it, and you'd never get the idea that there's anything outside the university research environment."

That's not that much different from the impression I get reading your blog. I'm still a grad student so my understanding of the industrial job market isn't as informed as many of your readers, but "academia or bust" seems no less rational than starting a career as an industrial scientist when every other week you read news of a large industrial site closing and layoffs of thousands of scientists.

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3. Anon on March 3, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

I don't see why this can't work. Biologists have been doing this forever, they are called Lab technicians. While some may not have PhDs a bunch of others do. They are typically cheaper than postdocs and give the lab stability. I am not sure why they haven't caught on in chemistry (maybe the work is too tedious).

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4. JD on March 3, 2011 10:24 AM writes...

Most of postdocs these days earn salaries around 30-50k. I believe lab technicians are more expensive than that.

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5. Smar Anon on March 3, 2011 10:25 AM writes...

If scientists are so smart, maybe they should look at the dismal landscale and either get the heck out of basic research if wanting to live in the uS, or hightail to Asia where education and research is actually valued. I made a career transition out of research, very glad that I did. All this infinite training for being paid a pittance or at the very best extraordinarily poor career flexibility is a very bad idea. All those of you who are considering grad school, please do yourself a favor and stay out. Prospects are nothing but dismal in the real world. You will probably be better off becoming a plubmber or electrician right now.

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6. Anonymous on March 3, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

haha, I loved that Tom Lehrer song. "When the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? It's not my department, says Werner Von Braun."

Also, I liked the footnote Mort Sahl appended to his autobiography. He titled it "I aimed for the stars", to which was added "...and sometimes I hit London"

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7. Pete on March 3, 2011 11:06 AM writes...

"Once the rockets are up..." is one of my favorites and I managed to work it into a lecture on tautomers (at which Germans were present) in New Mexico back in 1999. It actually says a lot about corporate IT departments and I used the quote in that context.

Another favorite Lehrer quote (also relevant to the inner workign of the scientific establishment) is:

"I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:
Plagiarize!

Plagiarize,
Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
Only be sure always to call it please 'research' "

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8. milkshake on March 3, 2011 11:12 AM writes...

Pharma companies too are warming up to postdocs labor. You get a fresh and maleable person on temp basis, one if front of which a permanent position can be dangled. And the price is hard to beat.

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9. Pete on March 3, 2011 11:19 AM writes...

On a more serious note it can be instructive to look at differences between the medical and scientific professions with regard to the over-supply issue. You don't see a lot of out of work medical doctors.

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10. SP on March 3, 2011 11:20 AM writes...

Larger research institutes are relying on a staff of professional scientists, paid more comparably to industry salaries than postdoc levels.

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11. Kay on March 3, 2011 11:28 AM writes...

When I was in grad school, there was one professor who had a lab setup like this. He had several technicians (I think he called them research associates) who were permanent employees, paid out of grant money. And he had a handful of grad students to supplement them. Evidently he was productive enough that the university let him run his lab his own way - he was German and he said he thought the setup was more productive for both the technicians and the grad students. One reason it may have worked is that we were located in a very cheap area, so he could afford to pay reasonable salaries for the area and still have plenty of money left over for research.

The problem with simply cutting back on the number of PhD students (which is probably the best solution) is that academic research depends on using those students to do the lab work. This seems to be increasing instead of decreasing, with more pharma companies forming "partnerships" with academia. (I suspect part of the rationale for expanding these partnerships is that they can get the research done while paying minimum wage salaries to grad students and no benefits.)

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12. Endocannabinoidz on March 3, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

Derek's right; the incentive for established PIs to tap the inexhaustible well of graduate and postdoctoral labor is so great that they certainly won't support curtailing the number of trainees. However, I think there are a few things that could be done ranked from most difficult to least.

1) A strong postdoctoral union. (Probably impossible given the practice of threatening foreign scientists with their visa status).

2) Building a pseudo-guild system, as exists in medicine, with discipline-specific "board" exams to exclude the hordes of incompetents who scrape along the bottom in academia and depress wages.

3) Giving postdocs PI status and thus allowing them to apply for large NIH grants. This would surely drop the paylines and the resultant crisis would result in senior PIs pushing to limit postdoctoral abundance thus improving job prospects.

Currently I advise promising students to get an MD and then transition to research; it seems to work out much better that way.

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13. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on March 3, 2011 11:54 AM writes...

Why do people feel compelled to try and micromanage the education pipeline? If you try to choke off the flow of students going into chemistry, where would you steer them? Shouldn't people have the right to receive training in the field that interests them? Are you guys advocating a managed economy?

Tell me, what fields have excellent career prospects these days for someone coming fresh out of college? I personally know people in every imaginable field (chemistry, biology, engineering, finance, law) and trade (plumbing, electrical, construction) that have lost jobs over the past 3 years, and spent extended periods out of work. If you try to restrict the number of people going into chemistry, where would you point them? And really, who has the right to mandate the "correct" number of people that should be allowed to receive PhDs in chemistry?

The current graduate students that read this blog should ask themselves, "what else would I enjoy doing besides chemistry"? If you have an answer, you still have time to change, if the market for that other pathway looks better. If your answer is "nothing", continue to pursue your dream. It will be difficult, but you can build a career.

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14. RM on March 3, 2011 12:03 PM writes...

I'm surprised that people seem to think that if you're in an academic lab, you're either a PI, a postdoc, or a grad student.

In many of the labs I've worked with there's been staff scientists/senior scientists. These aren't just perpetual postdocs - they're actual employees who were hired to be with the lab long-term. They aren't "lab techs" either, as they're performing their own research and writing grants, not just washing glassware and prepping reagents. Given the ones I've meet, I find nothing "sad" about them. They're often more in-touch with the research than the PI.

That said, increasing the number of staff scientists probably isn't going to help much. For one thing, you're going to have to pay them more than the subsistence-level wages given to grad students/postdocs. Secondly, if we assume that each PI trains a dozen people over their career, and half go into industry, that means at equilibrium each lab should have one PI and five staff scientists. Assuming a 36 year career, a 6 year Ph.D. and a 3 year postdoc, that's a lab of one PI, five staff scientists, two grad students and one postdoc - quite a bit different than current lab makeups.

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15. john on March 3, 2011 12:06 PM writes...

Derek says that the post doc is preferable to unemployment, which I would admit is true.
We are right now grappling with underemployment as a huge problem in our society, so I ask the question. When does a post doc become underemployment.
It is after all supposed to be a form of training, though you can contend that a PhD is trained 3 years in and the rest is just padding the publication record). I guess my other issue is its a bit of a shot between the legs to train all that time and end up on a salary that's obtainable with a B.S and five years experience. I know you don't do it for the money, you do it cause you love it, but at the same time you have to earn a living to save for retirement and put kids through college etc.

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16. govtscientist on March 3, 2011 12:28 PM writes...

As budget cuts loom, government labs are drastically upping their numbers of post-docs as well. It's relatively cheap labor, and it gets around hiring freezes.

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17. Anonymous on March 3, 2011 12:39 PM writes...

David - micromanagement of the education pipeline is already going on, and is the cause of this problem. Congress falls for the ACS's lies about America's "shortage of scientists," increases funding for research, and causes the universities to pump out more PhD's that industry doesn't want. If we stopped micromanaging the pipeline, PhD production would fall into line with market demand.

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18. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on March 3, 2011 12:56 PM writes...

@#17...you'd prefer to see NIH research budgets cut? PhD production will slow when people no longer want to earn PhDs in science. But like I asked before, where else would you steer these people? How many baristas and Wal-Mart greeters do we need? Do we need more lawyers? Do we need more financial wizards? Wouldn't you like to see the brightest of our students go into science and engineering?

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19. Hap on March 3, 2011 1:01 PM writes...

If you're funding the training of lots of people who won't be able to get jobs in the field you're training them for, then there should be some sort of societal benefit to paying for people to learn technical skills that they can't directly employ (analogous to the general side benefits of education). If that's not the case, then all those government grants are paying for the training of disposable labor, losing both the money that paid for their training and the future tax money from training people who won't be employed.

The question that has to be asked is whether the research funded by training future unemployables is worth enough to worth the money paid for it and the costs of the excess of people you're training. If not, the funding system generating the labor oversupply benefits only tenured professors and universities and no one else.

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20. watcher on March 3, 2011 1:05 PM writes...

Very similar to many academic depts and labs with a senior professor running a group with permanent lab staff, instructors, grad students etc. Certainly, a model that can be successful and useful for some, but will not help the majority / excess PhDs already in our world, and may be short sighted for the greater balance of needs in the future.

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21. Smart Anon on March 3, 2011 1:08 PM writes...

Amen Hap. I think you are spot on.

David, there is little future in doing basic research in a society that worships quick profits. As to what they should do, most of the people who can become scientists are smart. Learn a trade and set up your own small buisiness seems to be a lot more attactive and profitable to me than getting let go and scrambling for jobs that are on a downward spiral.

Note, I am not saying that basic research is not valuable. On the contrary, it is the avenue to propel the US to economic success. All I am saying is that the foundatuion and will does not exist anymore.

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22. passionlessDrone on March 3, 2011 1:10 PM writes...

Hello friends -

Interesting discussion. 17 / 18 have hit on what was striking me as paradoxical about this; we seem to get told again and again that the lack of science majors in the US is metric of our upcoming inability to compete with places like Asia or India.

Is it a function of too many people actually trying to get a PhD? And is that a problem with the fact that the jobs for people with bachelor or masters in science are no longer primarily housed in the United States?

- pD

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23. Hap on March 3, 2011 1:12 PM writes...

1) You're assuming a symmetry of information that doesn't exist - while professors and employers know the status of the (un)employment pipeline (or at least have better and more information), students don't have much in the way of reliable info. Also, a PhD is a long-term, almost irreversible decision (going back once you leave is difficult) so there isn't much flexibility once you decide to get one, and you can't be employed acting as an MS or BS, so you're ratcheted once you get one.

2) NIH, NSF, etc. could do research with staff, but it wouldn't be as cheap - so cutting NIH isn't necessary to cut down on the pipeline.

If there aren't any prospects in science and engineering, and we don't value them (or aren't willing to hire people to do them), then encouraging people to enter those fields by spending large amounts of money to training them for unemployment seems counterproductive. At some point, lots of underemployed people with training tends to generate surplus consciousness - if they can't use their training for our benefit, they will use it for our detriment.

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24. Anonymous on March 3, 2011 1:16 PM writes...

Comments:

Americans are voting with their feet which is why academia lobbies so hard for ever more imported talent to fill those growing number grad student and post doc positions. With such a high percentage of foreign scientists in the post doc and grad student ranks, it is really the foreign talent pool who is trained at US tax payer expense and who now is being thrown into the rash bin by their professors or must return to their mother country to find employment.

Alternatively because foreign scientists are forced to go home after US paid training, a severe shortage of scientists in the US has developed and in order to now tap that talent pool, jobs must be off-shored. See 3M CEO comments below:

Buckley (3M CEO) also criticized the country's immigration policies. He said 68 percent of U.S. science PhD candidates are from outside the U.S. and would like to stay here, but they have a difficult time obtaining visas. The result: 3M is "exporting our science" overseas, he said. Indeed, a recent Business Journal report illustrated how nearly half of 3M's R&D operations are now outside of the United States."


Read more: 3M CEO bashes Obama, U.S. immigration rules | Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal


You are all whiners. Getting a PhD means you are tough enough to bend over and take it up the.....

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25. pete on March 3, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

I'm all for decreasing the amount of PhDs in training -- which should have follow-on effects of decreasing the Post-Doc pool and - ideally - of increasing the ratio of scientists to open science jobs. For the PI in academia, this may mean trimming the number of different projects pursued by any one lab, however. That's not a bad thing, but it may mean that the angst level of pre-tenure Profs is increased due to the sense that the stakes have been "upped" on the fewer surviving projects.

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26. Pharmaheretic on March 3, 2011 2:21 PM writes...

Here is something on that "find another job or career" bullshit.

--

http://dissention.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/how-to-recognize-disingenuity-1/

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27. RKN on March 3, 2011 2:21 PM writes...

The whole point of life is to become a lab head, bringing in the grant money and taking on graduate students. Right? This is the world view of someone who's been in academia too long (or at least bought too thoroughly into its culture).

I tend to agree. Where I received my PhD it was usual that the grad students in our department went to lunch with the invited seminar speakers. I remember one lunch where the speaker was asked to discuss his rise in academia. (I'm paraphrasing from memory): "Well, he boasted, after my graduate and post-doc training, and my extensive publication record, I might have decided to go into industry and, well, you know, get the big boat the second home and all the trappings of a big salary (he paused here to laugh). Instead, I wanted to do science so I took the academic route."

My first thought was: Why do you assume you would have been successful had you gone into industry? And do you mean to say "science" is not conducted in industry?

I got up and left before finishing my lunch, evidently much to the chagrin of some of my fellow grad students, who later complained to the department head that "certain students" we're disrespecting the speaker by leaving lunch early.

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28. Pharmaheretic on March 3, 2011 2:23 PM writes...

and something on that whole "stable careers" bullshit
--

http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/any-job-can-be-outsourced-or-eliminated/

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29. Hap on March 3, 2011 2:32 PM writes...

It seems more than a little disingenous for a CEO to complain that he's had to outsource his science because he can't find enough domestic people qualified to do science. Look at what he makes and what his scientific people make (or made, before he and others sent them away) and what they'll both get if they get fired or laid off, then ask again why there aren't as many native US people as foreign students choosing to go into science and engineering.

Unlike Peanuts, there is apparently a limit to how many times Charlie Brown will decide to try and kick the football out of Lucy's hands.

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30. Andy Dufresne on March 3, 2011 2:55 PM writes...

As we all know Dr. Lowe, the rate limiting step in this process is the 'concentration' of bodies willing to enter into PhD programs or post-doc type positions to be transformed into 'institutionalized dependents'.*

You blithely (but correctly) assume there is an unlimited supply of bodies to enter the cue to a painful process with limited financial rewards.

The worker must thus view this as an oversupply issue. The reason there is an oversupply is that universities are exempt from limits on our various visas such as the h1-b and L-1, etc. Without them the US sciences would come to a grinding halt. They serve as a buffer against any challenges to the existing system.

The false assertion made by academics in the past is that there exists ‘a shortage of scientists’ is the real issue. ( ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm’ by the National Academy of sciences’ is a typical piece of self serving propaganda).

I believe that the typical academic would be very happy if they could fill 100% of their labs with easily managed foreigners who are virtual slaves on the master’s estate. That’s the diabolical condition University academics and administrators are now pursuing.

This in part works because the foreigners don’t care about the science, they primarily want a visa or green-card (another reason why innovation in the USA is diminishing).

Since the academics way of life is dependent upon the US taxpayers largess, the only way to confront this issue is to contact your Public officials and complain. You would really need a national organization that embraces all the sciences to depose the despotic elite that now speak for the general population of scientists.

How about ten thousand scientists protesting on the national mall?

*’ The Brook’s Hatlen Shawshank dependency’ process mentioned by another poster.

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31. Mr. Freeze on March 3, 2011 3:20 PM writes...

The system is definitely in need of fixing. At minimum I hope that today's students are doing their homework before embarking on graduate school, so they know what their actual career prospects look like if they take that path. Graduate schools should also be more willing to spell out alternative career paths & be up front about the competition for academic positions, instead of pigeon-holing everyone into the academic mold.

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32. Another John on March 3, 2011 3:21 PM writes...

The fundamental issue is that productivity has not increased as in other fields, while new product value has often gone negative since the 1970s.
It costs just as much today to bring a new drug to market, using analytic techniques elucidated by 1979 and synthetic techniques current in 1939.

Cause for optimism: approaching fundamental instrumentation breakthroughs in optics/photonics. More (cheaper, faster) data will improve understanding of reactions and pathways, in silico models, etc.
How about live video as viruses inside a living cell react to your compound, or direct nanoscale observation of reactions and structures?

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33. BrooksPhD on March 3, 2011 3:46 PM writes...

"I think that the only way to see real changes is for the people responsible to believe that those changes are desirable - that they're something they want to do, something that's beneficial for them."

This is exactly what Dr. Rohn says in her article. Did you miss it? She calls for the community to enage and discuss, she not jst some whining postdoc complaining how it isn't fair.

"But that brings up another aspect of this proposal - its near-total academocentricity. Read it, and you'd never get the idea that there's anything outside the university research environment."

Did you even read the article? I'm sorry to be blunt, but you seem to have utterly missed the point of it. Dr. Rohn points out that there are plenty of non-academic jobs, and there are plenty of us who found a great (if not better) life outside the lab. However, her article aim is directly at the postdocs who wish to stay at the bench.

I'm going to assume you didn't read the article clearly enough, rather than being deliberately obtuse to garner page hits.

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34. Jonathan on March 3, 2011 3:54 PM writes...

It's funny, export chemist's jobs overseas is bad bad bad, but importing floods of cheap bio labor over here is just A-OK?

And these jobs these postdocs are supposed to go into? Lets examine that.

First off, if you have a PhD, you're almost certainly going to find work somewhere. Current unemployment stats for PhDs are about 4%, which is really pretty good.

But, here's where the problem is: postdocs go into a postdoc maybe wanting a full time academic research career, maybe not. But all they're going to learn during that time is how to be an academic, because that's all their PI will have known, and their PI almost certainly came up through the system before the NIH doubling, and before the structural flaws in the way the US trains scientists was exposed to the degree it has been.

Back in 1980, 25% of NIH R01s went to researchers under 35. That figure is now less than 2%. Every year, the average age a researcher gets their first R01 goes up a year. So it's currently at 48 or 49. Right now, around 20% of postdocs will get a tenure track position, but that's trending downwards, will probably be 1 in 10, especially with the funding cuts coming. 20-30 years ago you didn't even need to do a fucking postdoc unless you specifically wanted to be an academic. Now (perhaps with the exception of chemists) it's mandatory. You try graduating with a PhD in pharmacology and getting a job in industry. Does. Not. Happen. What was once a 1-2 year stop along the way for some scientists is now a 2-4 year mandatory holding pattern.

At the same time, universities pit senior faculty against junior faculty for the same (now diminshing pool of money) and the senior faculty win, because they have the name and the publication record and know how to work the system. That's great for the next few years, because advances in medical science (!) have meant you can work into your 80s if you have tenure, but pretty soon they're going to start dying, and because they spend all their time in competition with their junior colleagues, they're not mentoring or passing those skills on.

Universities and PIs love cheap postdocs. J-1 visas are limitless, you don't have to pay them benefits (beyond healthcare if they're on a visa) and they cost far less than a technician with a masters degree. And if you don't like the one you have, throw them back on the boat and get another one, because if you're Chinese or Indian and want to come live in America the only real way you can do it is to get a PhD and apply for a postdoc.

So, for the 80% who won't get that tenure track job, what do they do? Most have had no preparation for anything else, because their PI only knows about being a PI. "Go into industry" you say. ROFL. The same industry that we read about week in and week out closing research sites and sacking scientists? Yeah, how's that working out?

Slowly word filters out that having a PhD gives you transferable skills, and you can be a science writer or a medical writer or a patent attorney or a management consultant or an analyst or whatever, and if you're motivated about your own career (which you should be, because no one else will be, it's your life) or your institution is enlightened and holds alternative career seminars etc, you'll find a way out. But that doesn't stop it being true that the way that we train young scientists in this country is both broken and unsustainable. The NIH doubling resulted in a rate of growth that could never be kept up, and this is the end result.

As for the academocentricity of this argument, I'm sorry Derek, but have you forgotten where that PhD of yours came from? Your distain for the ivory tower is well known, but all scientists were students at one point, and GSK and Pfizer aren't handing out diplomas. As I mentioned above, for bioscientists (who constitute the bulk of the PhD graduates) a postdoc isn't an option, it's necessary.

Now, there's a real argument to be made that the US is either minting too many PhDs, or, and this is controversial (and highly ironic given my background), the US is importing far too many foreign postdocs. But as you identify, it's in the interests of the research universities to keep bringing them over, because they're cheaper than the alternative. THe US academic system is modeled on 19th century Germany's, and that might have been fine back then but nowadays, when there are 100,000+ postdocs working in the US, it just doesn't work.

Still, as scientists we're in a much better boat than kids emerging today from law schools with 6 figure debt and the illusion of a 6 figure corporate law job that might maybe just exist if you were top 1/3rd of your class at one of the top 10 schools.

I do find it funny that you see the problem with the unsustainability of the Pharma/biotech relationship, but don't see the parallels here or really, in any of a number of industries and sectors where the MBAs in particular, and baby boomers in general, have pulled the ladder up behind them and broken the system.

I do hope you'll not be offended, when next you post of a site closure and the sacking of hundreds or even thousands of industrial scientists, with the witty retort "Go and find a job, then."

Permalink to Comment

35. Jennifer Rohn on March 3, 2011 4:45 PM writes...

Thanks for commenting on my Nature piece. Just to correct two misconceptions:

1) If you read the piece more carefully, you'll see that I did not advocate reducing "the numbers of people being trained as graduate students." The article is about post-docs, and actually states that reducing grad students is not necessarily recommended.

2) The article was specifically about academia, which is why it was "academocentric". To complain that this is the case would be as strange as complaining that an article about baseball didn't mention football.

I have worked outside academia for many years, but even from the perspective of someone who hasn't "been in academia too long", it's clear that academia has a problem and that this problem is worth discussing. To judge from the hundreds of messages of support I've received since the piece was published, I'm probably not the only one who thinks this