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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: Twitter: Dereklowe

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August 18, 2011

The NIH Wonders About the Future of Biomedical Workers

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Posted by Derek

A reader passes along this request for comment by the NIH. The "Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Working Group on the Future Biomedical Research Workforce" is asking for thoughts on issues such as the length of time it takes to get a PhD, the balance between non-US and US workers, length of post-doctoral training, the prospects for employment after such is completed, general issues relating to whether people choose biomedical research as a career at all, and so on.

These are, of course, issues that have come up here repeatedly (as well they should), so if you want to have a shot at influencing some NIH thinking on them, they're asking for anyone's thoughts by October 7. (Use this form).

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | General Scientific News | Graduate School


1. johnnyboy on August 18, 2011 9:17 AM writes...

"Biomedical research" is pretty damn wide, not sure they're going to get any actionable information from such a wide net. And I am very much amused to see that in the RFI, they seem to only be interested in PhDs and MDs as the 'biomedical research workforce'. If you're worried about the future of research, I'd have thunk it might be useful to also wonder about the people who do the actual work...

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2. David Antonio on August 18, 2011 9:48 AM writes...

I currently live and work in Europe. I find it interesting when I look what jobs are available for me in the states, that most pharma companies want a masters with 10+ years of experience or a PhD as a basic minimum requirement for the job I do. I have a BSC and work in technical operations, not research.

In other words, the system is requiring years of uneccesary training to get your foot in the door.

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3. Bubba Zinetti on August 18, 2011 10:24 AM writes...

Here to echo what johnnyboy said. 17+ years as a research associate, and I have trained my share of MS's and PhD's. Too bad that they focus on the advanced degree people. I work with a guy who has a HS education, and while it does occasionally hinder him, I would trust him to pour and run a column or do media development over a newly minted pHD any day.

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4. Jonathan on August 18, 2011 11:59 AM writes...

As long as PIs and universities can get hire postdocs cheaper than technicians with 17+ years of experience, they'll continue to do so. Don't need to give them benefits, don't need to pay unemployment if you fire them, and you can change them in for a newer model ever two years.

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5. Cellbio on August 18, 2011 12:45 PM writes...

I hope folks will take the time to comment on the NIH RFI. I did, pointing out that the system rewards PIs with grants to conduct research, OK that is expected, but does little to nothing to train people for careers outside of academia. Further, with new initiatives into drug discovery and new alliances with pharma, academia needs industry experience, but the grant system works against that, keeping money in big labs that work the system well and feed the beast with overhead. I suggested a funding program to bring more industrial scientists back to academia to help in the new initiative work and to help train the next batch of scientists, half of which will work in industry.

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6. SteveM on August 18, 2011 3:23 PM writes...

Here's a coincidental brief published today that fleshes out the current technologist immigration situation:


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7. Student on August 19, 2011 12:58 AM writes...

You can't make any money until you are in your late 30s, for starters. Why does someone starting with a PhD in Virology/Microbiology/Cancer Biology/etc. have to start at 38k? I could have just gotten a second bachelors degree and made more...Plus the pre-reqs for entering into med/pharmacy/nursing/dentistry/optometry/etc. schools is the same as those going to gradschool with the exception of the entrance exams...and all of those profession make WAY more money, both fresh out of school, and long term. Heck, MD residencies start at 50k AND it is now a national law that they can not work more than 60 hours a week. Given the opportunity and desire for a decent lifestyle, who the f*ck would get a PhD!?
But like it has already been said, as long as PIs can hire grad students and postdocs cheaper than techs, the problem will never be fixed. The techs lose out on jobs (which should be THE supporting work force) and those on the PhD track end up making ends meat until they land a good job.
And I'm just talking about money because it is easily quantifiable and the breadth of the problem carries across the country. I'm not going to get started on local department politics at universities and the MBA dominant culture of industry...

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8. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on August 21, 2011 2:09 PM writes...

Scientific workers are as cheap and disposable as incandescent light bulbs. They will always be available because,

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

Talent is a commodity, unless it's a rare talent and people don't realize that until it's too late. Go to Medical or Dental school unless you want to be an academic or wind up bagging groceries like me.

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9. Laurent Wada on August 22, 2011 8:59 AM writes...

This may be a little off topic, but I think the necessity of the PhD does need to be re-evaluated. I worked in the corporate pharma world for 3 years after undergrad, and then left it for a PhD in neuro. Financially, it was the worst mistake of my life! And if I don't get a good post-doc back in the pharma world, it won't just be the worst mistake financially.

In my opinion, grad school is basically a 4 year hazing process. I could learn everything I am now just by doing lab rotations. To me, that's what grad school should be - a series of lab rotations and course work that trains a super-scientist.

Being under the control of an advisor who only uses a couple methods is not the type of training that will produce useful biomedical workers. It creates a flood of narrow-minded and boring "scientists."

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