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April 25, 2011
The PhD Problem: A Global Perspective
Nature News has a big article on the "Too Many PhDs" problem, which we've discussed several times around here:
In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack. Supply has outstripped demand and, although few PhD holders end up unemployed, it is not clear that spending years securing this high-level qualification is worth it. . .
The piece looks at several different countries, each with its own set of problems. Japan seems to be in just awful shape as far as doctorates go; it makes the situation over here look not so bad. China, for its part, is cranking out zillions of fresh PhD holders these days, but (as the article is quite frank about) many of them aren't worth much. That isn't stopping them from getting jobs (for now), but it's something to worry about.
And we all know the picture here in the US. But this article doesn't, to my mind, do as good a job as it should. Mention is made of the problems in the pharma/biotech/life sciences industries, but all the hard numbers refer to academic positions. Looking at this graph, you'd think that academia was the main destination for all PhDs, all the time - after all, that's all that's over in the right-hand box. (I'll leave aside the poor graphic design. The same colors mean completely different things in each of those three graphs, which means that you're constantly having to tell your brain not to draw the conclusions it's trying to draw).
The article also details conditions in Germany, Poland, Egypt, and India. About the latter, I have to wonder if they're facing the same quality-control problems that China has. The good people there are quite good, but there are plenty of others. I occasionally get unsolicited e-mails from PhD candidates (or finished doctorates) from the more obscure Indian universities. They're either seeking a job, with apparently no idea who I am other than some guy with a e-mail address, or seeking advice on some aspect of chemistry that (it seems to me) they should have mastered long since. . .
Update: See this Wall Street Journal piece for more on India, and just that very problem.
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