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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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September 5, 2012

More on Getting a Science PhD

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Posted by Derek

An article in Slate on science PhDs and scientific employment has been creating a stir among people who think about such issues. (This topic has come up around here a few times, naturally). It's titled "Is a Science PhD a Waste of Time?", and I'll spare you any suspense and tell you that the author's answer is "No". Scientific unemployment has been exaggerated, says the article, and the degree is pretty much totally worth it.

Chemjobber has his own response to all this, and he brings numbers and citations (rather than anecdotes of unnamed people) to the discussion. But it's the whole thrust of the article that he finds hardest to deal with:

I find Mr. Lametti's essay very frustrating. It is suffused with youthful optimism, which is no substitute for a cold look at the facts. I am surprised at the apparent non-existence of the unemployed scientist, and that there doesn't appear to be anybody older than 35 or so in his essay. Wrestling with the damage caused by layoffs or outsourcing don't seem to be worth his time; you got your Ph.D.! Isn't that wonderful? (You should be able to find another job in a snap!)

Nothing against youthful optimism - I keep some (well-insulated) for use in times of need myself. And if someone really does feel like a career in research is right for them, even after getting well into grad school, they're probably right. If you're a fit with this sort of thing, there may well be no good substitute for it. But anyone who's pursuing that career needs to be as clear-eyed as possible about it and about what's going on in the real world. Optimism and lack of information (willed or not) - that's a recipe for trouble.

Comments (56) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Graduate School


1. ronathan richardson on September 5, 2012 7:35 AM writes...

Science PhD's and research careers are the worst possible thing to do with your life, except for all the other careers. The other four things to do with your 20's are low-paying and bureaucratic government/NGO jobs, 80hr a week consulting work, brutal finance jobs, or making iphone apps.

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2. Anonymous on September 5, 2012 7:46 AM writes...

I don't believe its the "worst possible thing to do with your life" if you truly enjoy scientific research. The bottom line is that people need to be educated on what type of career they will be able to get with a science PhD, as well as the time it COULD take to get said job, before they start grad school. If you know this information and still love the research, go for it. If you were just in it for a big paycheck and the "job security" that comes with a PhD, you should probably find something else.

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3. Cytirps on September 5, 2012 7:55 AM writes...

A science PhD is now worse than a degree in performing arts. There is no self-employed scientist unless going into illegal drug business.

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4. Iridium on September 5, 2012 8:04 AM writes...

As a somewhat optimistic person, who gathered information on being a professional scientist before going into grad school, the biggest problem I encountered was finding the right people to get information from inorder to educate myself. There is a wide range of people who will offer their opinion on the topic, but their views are often directly opposing each other, making it difficult to discern the reality (which is likely in the middle or a select combination thereof). People who are knowledgable enough to speak with authority on the topic, but are willing to be candid can be extremely rare. It's an odd thing that people have a hard time acknowledging the reality of their surroundings...

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5. PPedroso on September 5, 2012 8:24 AM writes...

I have a question. Do you think that the overall world wide science research has been reduced in the later years or is it just a matter of delocalization, from Private to Public and from west to east?

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6. SP on September 5, 2012 8:30 AM writes...

The biggest flaw in the article is citing the ACS unemployment statistics as facts. But #1 is right- even if the unemployment rate is 4-5%, you have to compare that to the unemployment rates and salaries of other fields or of non-PhD scientists. If the whole economy sucks of course any individual field is also going to suck.

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7. Mr Self Destruct on September 5, 2012 8:37 AM writes...

The science grad student Slate author should have an interesting career as a scientist if he thinks talking with 12 people with doctorates gives him a good view of the situation at hand....!

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8. RB Woodweird on September 5, 2012 8:44 AM writes...

Youthful optimism should be lyophilized from solution and stored in the freezer.

Youthful enthusiasm is more unstable. Mix it with sucrose and flash freeze the solution in liquid nitrogen. Store cyrogenically in small batches to avoid thaw-freeze cycles.

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9. p on September 5, 2012 8:47 AM writes...

I always enjoy a "Things with which I will not work" essay.

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10. Rick Wobbe on September 5, 2012 8:57 AM writes...

How does one calculate the "waste", in the term "waste of time"? If the primary factor is financial wealth and security, then an advanced degree followed by a career as a practicing scientist is likely to be a "waste", especially in this economic and business climate. On the other hand, if you have an unquenchable passion to explore and understand the workings of nature and need only enough money for yourself and your family to get the things you need to live comfortably, it's less likely to seem like a waste, at least until business and market forces determine that you and your pursuit are a waste and you can't work at all. But at that point, living may seem like a "waste".

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11. Hap on September 5, 2012 9:45 AM writes...

1) Society may not see Ph.D.s as a waste - they're willing to pay $250K (?) for the research people generate while getting them. It used to be that the benefit of a set of people with science Ph.D.s able to make useful products and create jobs was part of the value, but it seems less so now. The research created by Ph.D. candidates is still there and may still create enough value that society is happy spending the money to support them in school (and not to care what happens when they leave). The interests of scientists and potential scientists and those of society as a whole ("We need more scientists!") may not be congruent.

2) I don't know if the author has factored in the loss of older people's jobs and the difficulty of finding new ones. If you are likely to unemployable late in life, you have to make lots of money while young to compensate, analogous to professional sports players. Since that doesn't seem the case (younger workers are hired because they're cheap, experience isn't valued, and they're cheap), the optimism over younger people finding jobs seems misplaced.

3) Considering what happened to steelworkers, autoworkers, and physicists, I'm not sure how special we should feel. Our situation may be worse because of the amount of fixed costs to get where we are, but not qualitatively different. The entire workforce is supposed to be hollowing out, where there will be few jobs where skills are likely to be desired or rewarded or where the quality of one's work matters. It's just come for us. What such an environment is likely to make of our lives, souls (or their functional equivalents), and world is left as an exercise.

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12. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on September 5, 2012 10:15 AM writes...

An education is never a waste. Other than perhaps medicine, what other fields haven't suffered at the hands of globalization over the past decade? If you're interested in research, you should pursue a career in research. What else is so much better that it isn't worth the risk?

What's happened to chemistry over the past decade is what happened to many other industries over the past two decades. If there is cheaper labor somewhere else that can make a product, and you don't need to have the producer near you, the jobs will go to the cheapest source of labor. Textiles, furniture, consumer goods...chemical analogues, API, etc. This shift was inevitable. It sucks to be on the receiving end, I know, but other than service sector jobs, what else is there? You've got to follow your passions.

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13. HTSguy on September 5, 2012 10:21 AM writes...

For those on the Biology side who wanted a life in the lab, a PhD used to offer nearly equal opportunities to an MD (while chewing up much less of your youth). This is no longer the case and I'd strongly recommend that anyone starting a career who is interested in the biological side of biomedical research get an MD. It now opens many opportunities that are simply unavailable to PhDs.

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14. lazybratsche on September 5, 2012 10:29 AM writes...

I'm a grad student. Someone is willing to pay me a living wage to play around in the lab? Score!

That said, I read all of the doom-and-gloom about career prospects and academic life before taking the plunge. Armed with that information, I found a good program that actually seems interested in the success and well-being of its students. And I knew to avoid schools that schools that exploit their grad students, requiring a heavy teaching load to even afford Ramen. And I avoided slave-driver PIs.

Still, it's interesting to contrast my experience (in a top-10 Ivy program) with the plight of grad students at second-tier state universities. My wife is getting a very marketable MS from the latter, though there are plenty of long-suffering PhD students there as well. I get $30k and good health insurance, they get $15k (minus $2k in fees) only if they can scrape together teaching AND research funding. My TA commitment will be ~5 hours per week for a single semester, theirs is 20+ hours per week for the entire duration. My department is loaded with cash, building new facilities, buying expensive equipment, and hiring new faculty. Theirs is constantly facing cuts due to lack of state funding and very little research money. Etc., etc.. Basically, aside from any elitist snobbery, I have the resources to do good research, whereas they have much more of a struggle to accomplish anything.

So I'm happy where I am. But I'd rather spend my life as a technician, or even work in retail, than suffer through a PhD from a "lesser" institution.

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15. Luysii on September 5, 2012 10:47 AM writes...

Back in April, I put a similar question to grad students and recent PhD's at the (first) Harvard Chemistry department reunion. For what they said please see --

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16. nitrosonium on September 5, 2012 10:52 AM writes...

it always seems that people consider graduate school worth while only if it means a job on the other end. comes the vitriol

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17. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on September 5, 2012 10:56 AM writes...

@15 nitrosonium: unless you're independently wealthy there MUST be a job on the other end. The kids need to eat!

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18. fred on September 5, 2012 11:00 AM writes...

I think there's a lot of misty eyed optimism for all graduates these days. In truth it's not the case any more that having a good degree automatically leads to a good job.

The optimism is only a problem if you think anyone is going to do anything about it. Otherwise we might as well continue doing what we're doing but a bit happier.

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19. MoMo on September 5, 2012 11:57 AM writes...

You have to be tough, smart and innovative to stay alive in Science these days, and its the Ol' 80/20 rule to the extreme. But now the 20 are cutting back and snarling even more when the 80 get in the way.

I still see optimistic and bright-eyed bushy-tailed grad students alive and kicking science- although even working for the Big Guys in academia won't give you the pedigree and open doors you once had.

And its probably a good thing- as part of the reason for the decline in Grad Schools are the Big Guys on the public welfare system known as Grants- especially in biology.

But hang in there Youth! Do something Innovative then protect yourself from the Big Guys!

I dare you.

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20. RB Woodweird on September 5, 2012 12:10 PM writes...

lazybratsche wrote :
"...I'd rather spend my life as a technician, or even work in retail, than suffer through a PhD from a "lesser" institution."

Wow. Full of ourselves, are we? I have worked in industry for several decades with one of your lesser doctorates, and I am here to tell you that your highfaluting degree will mean jack and shit once you get into the real world. Maybe less. When the corporation comes to me and asks me to do some project where time and funding are both short, I don't piss and moan that I am not being treated with the reverence the name on my degree demands. I suck it up and figure out how to get things done in a suboptimal environment - just the way I got my lesser degree.

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21. Anonymous on September 5, 2012 12:23 PM writes...

Sorry, but I couldn't resist asking something. The author of the piece, Chemjobber, and others are quoting ACS unemployment statistics for chemists and pointing out the flaws (justifiably) in those numbers. But at this juncture, I have to ask myself how many ACS members are actually American. What percentage of their members are actually chemists in Asia vs. Europe vs. North America and what numbers are they quoting? The link the author provides refers to ACS members, not American members. So much for rigorous thinking.

The devil is always in the details, sort of like the Celite that the Chinese supplier put in the chemical I bought last month thinking I wouldn't figure it out. Whoops.

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22. Chemjobber on September 5, 2012 1:06 PM writes...

@21: The ACS Salary Survey (where the ACS unemployment numbers are derived) are sent to people who have US addresses, are "under 70 years old and not student-, retired-, or emeritus-status members."

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23. anonymous on September 5, 2012 1:11 PM writes...

This is similar topic to suggesting whether someone should major in physics in college. If you ask the professors in the physics department, they will all say yes, there are lots of jobs out there for physics majors because their job depends upon getting more physics majors. Then in the real world you will find out the truth that most physics majors end up in engineering, computer science or math related jobs. This is what happened to my son who I encouraged to also do some electrical engineering as well. Now he works in EE with his bosses who have physics Ph.D.s.
As a currently unemployed non Ph.D. chemist I am finding that I can do much better writing code than trying to discover the next new drug as so many chemistry jobs are being outsourced. Writing code doesn't depend on how much education I have, more important is experience and ability at this time.

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24. paperclip on September 5, 2012 1:19 PM writes...

Recent science PhD here, working a less-than-ideal job. Friends and family think I'm nuts for sticking with it. Why isn't there a limousine driving me from one job offer to the next? I told my father that the drug companies were cutting back. "No, no, no!" he said. "Those companies need researchers to get the drugs in the pipeline." ("In the pipeline" made me think of this blog, naturally.)

I'm considering segueing into science writing/technical writing, the future of science research seeming as bleak as it is.

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25. Anonymous on September 5, 2012 1:44 PM writes...

Thanks for the info Chemjobber, we have 5 American chemists working at my company. None of us are ACS members so I couldn't look it up further.

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26. anon the II on September 5, 2012 1:50 PM writes...

I've been thinking about those ACS unemployment numbers a bit, mostly because they don't make much sense to me. Is it possible that a large number of formerly employed chemists don't keep up their memberships when the company isn't paying the bill? Many of the unemployed chemists that I know said "screw the ACS, what have they done for me?" and dropped their memberships. Do they send surveys to former members? Is it possible that the ACS defines a chemist as someone who sends them money and if you don't, you don't count?

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27. Chemjobber on September 5, 2012 2:04 PM writes...

That's a good point, anon the II. The ACS provides 2 years of dues waivers if you've been unemployed. After that, you're on your own. I don't believe (though I haven't checked) that they're surveying former ACS members.

It's important to note that ACS says refers to the stats as "member unemployment"; they're pretty clear about that.

Of course, the problem is that other than the ACS Salary Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' once-a-year extrapolation from the American Community Survey (this year, measuring/estimating US chemist unemployment in 2011 at 6.1%), there is no other means of measuring chemist unemployment.

(Apart from that internet survey I keep meaning to gin up in my spare time. (Must get working on that, after my OPRD review, etc., etc.)

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28. p on September 5, 2012 2:10 PM writes...

I don't disagree with anything said here. But, one thing to consider is that employment is often cyclical. My guess is that enrollment in chemistry and physics tails off as it becomes known that jobs have grown scarce. At the same time, something will happen that brings them back into vogue and there won't be many in line for those jobs. Enrollment will go back up.

I went to school with engineers (of many types), scientists, and humanities majors. All have seen employment problems. Trying to predict what areas will be "hot" 15 years from now is a fool's errand. Your best bet is to do something you like and that you're good at. And not to expect a smooth career.

Not that that long-term view helps a recently unemployed chemist. But, as others have said, there are lots of fields with this going on. It sucks but there isn't something magical about chemistry that either protects or makes it worse.

Good luck to you guys that are looking.

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29. Curious Wavefunction on September 5, 2012 2:58 PM writes...

@24 paperclip: "Those companies need researchers to get the drugs in the pipeline."

Yes, but as usual the question is, what kind and how many?

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30. Hap on September 5, 2012 3:05 PM writes...

The expectation that your career will always be lucrative and successful is probably not smart, but I think people figured that they wouldn't be discarded like fast food wrappers when they got old. It doesn't seem like there is any good way for people to use the skills they found in other jobs, so losing one's job is more desperate than it probably should be.

"Use once and discard" doesn't seem like it should be the slogan for anything, but it seems the encapsulation of our job market. I don't know how long an economy can go on on this basis before something bad happens, but probably not forever. We were a manufacturing economy, and then an information economy. Now we're what - the "Clothes for Emperors" economy? What happens to us when our competitors realize they can fantasize just as well as we can?

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31. Anonymous on September 5, 2012 3:55 PM writes...

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be chemists. Don't let 'em draw structures or reactions that suck. Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such. Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be chemists. 'Cos they'll always get laid off the first round of cuts. Even if they're a cut above.

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32. dearieme on September 5, 2012 6:39 PM writes...

"do something you like and that you're good at": thank goodness, someone who doesn't bullshit about "passion".

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33. RL on September 5, 2012 8:19 PM writes...

P said: “My guess is that enrollment in chemistry and physics tails off as it becomes known that jobs have grown scarce. At the same time, something will happen that brings them back into vogue and there won't be many in line for those jobs. Enrollment will go back up.”

And this is the gist of the problem – enrollment in chemistry at the undergraduate level might go down, but at the graduate level, professors will just bring in foreign students to make up for the fewer number of domestic students. The self-correction in numbers enrolled doesn’t take place. There will be just as many Ph.Ds produced no matter what the state of the chemistry job market.

A previous poster compared what is happening now to chemists as similar to what has happened to autoworkers. Except for one crucial difference – the government and others are still actively encouraging more students to major in science, and they actively support increasing the number of visas for foreign science graduates to stay in this country.

This would be akin to the government actively encouraging high school students to aim for jobs in the auto industry, and for the government to work to bring in autoworkers from other countries, no matter how healthy or depressed the auto industry is. A system that would be significantly out of equilibrium.

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34. Anonymous BMS Researcher on September 5, 2012 9:19 PM writes...

First they outsourced the factory jobs, and I said nothing because I wasn't a factory worker. Then they outsourced the tech support jobs, and I said nothing because I wasn't in tech support. Then...

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35. MDACC Student on September 5, 2012 11:36 PM writes...

I agree with RL comment #33.
The problem that I am seeing is that the new students coming in over the past couple years (mostly imported) aren't very good quality. Neither communication or skill wise.
The same majors and prereqs that get you into grad school can also choose to go into Medical, Dental, Pharmacy schools (the difference is just the entrance exam)...and if students choose one of these fields, they get much better job security, compensation, work environment, etc. Walk into a medical school orientation and then walk into a graduate school orientation. Then you will see what people are talking about.

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36. Sisyphus on September 5, 2012 11:37 PM writes...

I wonder what a histogram of the comments or web traffic vs the topic looks like for this site. Anytime a job market related posting goes up, so must the traffic. Do the postings on sciencey things elicit the same level of interest (excluding "things with which I won't work" posts, of course)?

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37. BCP on September 6, 2012 12:54 AM writes...

Interesting topic. I've thought about the "what if I had to start over today?" thought, or perhaps that should be "what if my kids really like chemistry? What would I advise them?". I came to the conclusion that as enjoyable as it is, working in Pharma is not the proposition it once was, however other fields of chemistry seem perhaps better aligned with where funding might be flowing in future years - advanced materials and alternative energy seemed particularly intriguing. It'd be interesting to broaden the scope of feedback outside of the usual organic chemistry study ->med chem career mindset.

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38. MTK on September 6, 2012 6:52 AM writes...

Life is hard. For everyone.

I'm not going to try and answer the question "Is it worth it?" on a macro scale because that's going to vary so much by each individual. The overwhelming majority of chemists I know though have done OK. Not great in all cases, maybe not even very good, but OK. And I really don't know of any that are in abject poverty, although many are highly cash strapped.

Now have we done as well as we hoped? Has it been a turbulence free ride? Probably not. Life is hard.

What I sense in the comments here all the time when it comes to jobs or a career is a sense of entitlement amongst us.

"Hey, we put in the time. We worked our butts off in grad school. We were supposed to be taken care of."

And for those of us who graduated in the 80's and early 90's and managed to land a then-plum job in pharma that was the social contract we thought we were signing on.

So we get mad when we think that contract has been breached. We held up our end of the bargain only to get screwed. Totally understandable.

So "is it worth it?" I don't know. What were your expectations going in and what did you feel that degree entitled you to?

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39. lazybratsche on September 6, 2012 7:08 AM writes...

@20: Did you read my post? Perhaps I didn't make myself clear.

I'm getting a PhD because I have fun doing research. It sure isn't for financial rewards or guaranteed career success. Even at a cushy institution, though, it's a lot of work. At a less cushy institution, I would have more obstacles and fewer resources.

Full time thesis research with a comfortable stipend? I think that's a good way to spend six years of my life. Trying to scrape together a thesis when my department can't afford working equipment, my lab can't afford reagents,I can't afford ramen, and most of my time and energy is consumed by other things? Not worth six years of my life.

I'm not talking about Flagship Big State University, here (One of those was my first choice of graduate programs). I'm knocking Podunk State College, East Bumfuck Campus, which only seems to have a PhD program as a source of below-minimum-wage teachers.

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40. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 7:16 AM writes...

@38 MTK, As someone in college in the 90s, graduate school in the 00s, I don't know that it is a sense of entitlement, but rather an expectation that we were being told the truth or even something vaguely approximating reality.

All around me in college and early graduate school was the mantra that we need more women in science! Not only from my alma maters, but from government and society at large. It turns out that this wasn't truthful or realistic at all. A career as a professor? While trying to gain tenure right in the middle of childbearing years? Or a very bumpy career in pharma? It isn't that we (women in science) feel that we are entitled--we just wish we'd been told something closer to the truth. We'd be much better employed (and therefor useful to society) as clinicians (with control over our schedules), science teachers, etc....

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41. RB Woodweird on September 6, 2012 7:57 AM writes...

lazybratsche wrote:
"Did you read my post? Perhaps I didn't make myself clear."

Oh, you were perfectly clear. You satisfied the breathing requirement for admission to graduate school and now you think yourself somehow elevated in stature far above your lessers who toil at smaller institutions.

"Full time thesis research with a comfortable stipend? I think that's a good way to spend six years of my life."

Six YEARS? With full time support? You must be one of the least productive students ever.

"I'm not talking about Flagship Big State University, here (One of those was my first choice of graduate programs)."

How kind of you to consider condescending to grace BSU with your presence.

Here's the scary part for you: In the several decades I have been in industry, we have very often chosen to hire graduates of BSU or "Podunk State College, East Bumfuck Campus" over Ivy League grads because BSU and PSC graduates are more likely to be better members of a larger team and are less likely to look to bolt for a better position when the going gets tough.

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42. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 8:36 AM writes...

Just sprayed coffee over my keyboard on seeing 'East Bumfuck Campus'

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43. Chrispy on September 6, 2012 12:14 PM writes...

Hey Woodweird -- you might be being a little hard on lazybratche. I think his point is that well-supported programs are worth doing right now, not that it somehow is a road to a plum job. And that programs at less well supported institutions are demanding in distracting, un-fun ways. This isn't elitist -- it is just realistic. I would add that even in the highest tier institutions there are PIs with funding issues that can totally derail a degree. And six years might be a bit slow but no one does this in four anymore.

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44. Hap on September 6, 2012 1:09 PM writes...

When I visited a (Pretty Good State) U in the early 90's, one of their bigger professors (who seemed nice - he wrote a note saying he couldn't see us because he was streaming viruses at the time) was publishing lots of stoichiometric metal-mediated reaction papers. His students were still recycling their metal complexes for reuse. I don't think he was old enough to have been particularly frugal - I assumed that that was simply the nature of work at his U.

My assumption was that this was lazybratsche's complaint - not that the work or students at non-BNUs couldn't be good, but that it would likely be harder for them to be so because of the likely resource-poor environments, and would make it significantly less enjoyable (and longer) to be there. Of course, if the job market shifts to startups, then work at non-BNUs might be better preparation for it, and for one's future (and a better indicator of whether one will be happy with said future).

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45. Hap on September 6, 2012 5:13 PM writes...

6: If I could find real data, I might be dangerous.

I think (from Chemjobber?) that the unemployment rate for Ph.D. chemists (or perhaps just for chemists) is worse than that for college graduates as a whole - while Ph.D.s tend to be in particular fields and thus subject to the highs and lows of particular subfields, a Ph.D. is supposed to have more knowledge and more capabilities (primarily, the ability to lead research) than other degree holders. In addition, the cost of entry for Ph.Ds is probably higher because of opportunity cost - so if you are less employable, it is even more costly.

This does not appear to be merely a periodic economic issue, but the shifting of a field out of the country - more akin to autoworkers and steelworkers than physicists, and with the added problem of (as said above) that the supply of Ph.D. candidates can't decrease (or professors wouldn't have (cheap) students to do research to fill their grants, and universities wouldn't be able to become "research universities" rather than schools so that they could continue to expand their administrations at current rates without added state money). Unlike economic variation, there seems to no hope that when the economy as a whole improves that these jobs will return. Coupled to the unemployability of the long-term unemployed (or older people), the lack of ability to take an MS or BS job as a PhD, and the lack of investment money to retire, the situation seems not to warrant the blind enthusiasm given in the cited article.

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46. Anonmyous on September 6, 2012 5:33 PM writes...


Spot on. It is ALL supply and demand, nothing else. Supply is way misbalanced due to all of the layoffs, along with the addition of new graduates. Demand has vanished due to outsourcing. For example, that is why MD's don't have these problems, and get paid very well for their education. The number of MD's are limited by the number of students graduating. Hence low supply/high demand. Supply and demand also explains why I was able to purchase a lobster this summer for $3.99/pound, as opposed to the usual price of $6.99/pound. We happen to have had a surplus of lobsters this summer, nothing more.

This is not the case for PhD's. Universities require the cheap labor, and industry enjoys a large supply of disposable labor. So this problem will not go away. When American students see that their hard work in getting a PhD is not rewarded (ie. jobs/salary), they will go to more stable/lucrative fields. However, the supply will not go down, since the PhD/postoc spots at universities will be filled with students from China/India.

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47. Chemjobber on September 6, 2012 6:40 PM writes...

"I think (from Chemjobber?) that the unemployment rate for Ph.D. chemists (or perhaps just for chemists) is worse than that for college graduates as a whole..."

Yes, mostly. According to BLS, national Ph.D. unemployment was 2.5% (2011 whole-year estimate), with ACS Ph.D. member unemployment at 3.9% (March 2011). Mr. Lametti reports that ACS tells him that the March 2012 number for Ph.D. member unemployment was 3.4%. By comparison, college graduate unemployment for B.S. and higher for July 2012 was 4.1%.

I've linked the relevant graphic in my handle; you can see that ACS member unemployment is higher for all categories, B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.

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48. Howie on September 6, 2012 10:51 PM writes...

@Woodwierd: in addition to missing lazybrat's points and distorting his views, you are also showing a rather large chip on your shoulder. That in itself is not significant, but what is disturbing is how you justify your bias against Ivy League graduates by saying how they are less likely to work on larger teams or see the company through difficult times. I am wondering about the source of your knowledge to make such amazing statements. I also wonder if you are doing your employer a disservice by hiring on a basis other than scientific merit and accomplishment, and setting a hostile tone for those who have an educational background other than yourself.

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49. Howie on September 6, 2012 10:52 PM writes...

@Woodweird: in addition to missing lazybrat's points and distorting his views, you are also showing a rather large chip on your shoulder. That in itself is not significant, but what is disturbing is how you justify your bias against Ivy League graduates by saying how they are less likely to work on larger teams or see the company through difficult times. I am wondering about the source of your knowledge to make such amazing statements. I also wonder if you are doing your employer a disservice by hiring on a basis other than scientific merit and accomplishment, and setting a hostile tone for those who have an educational background other than yourself.

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50. Howie on September 6, 2012 10:53 PM writes...

@Woodweird: in addition to missing lazybrat's points and distorting his views, you are also showing a rather large chip on your shoulder. That in itself is not significant, but what is disturbing is how you justify your bias against Ivy League graduates by saying how they are less likely to work on larger teams or see the company through difficult times. I am wondering about the source of your knowledge to make such amazing statements. I also wonder if you are doing your employer a disservice by hiring on a basis other than scientific merit and accomplishment, and setting a hostile tone for those who have an educational background other than yourself.

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51. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 11:24 PM writes...

Chemjobber - please don't include statistics for BS/MS chemists in your discussion - they are not the topic of this or any other discussion on this blog and this topic is ONLY directed towards those obtaining a PhD and afterwards. This is a PhD focused-directed-centric blog. Referencing to non-PhD's is completely out of form!

When was the last time you saw a post from Derek about the plight of non-PhDs in the current job environment? In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him post a single article directed at in ever. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) I don't see that in the 'Category' list, do you? Hit the Ctrl-F and look for PhD and then either MS or BS? (The MS/BS hits aren't about college degrees.)

Please follow decorum! Stick to the plight of the elite, not those who make their careers for God's sake. Jeez. Don't you know the rules???

If you're a non-PhD reading this blog - GET BACK TO WORK and make your boss famous.

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52. Hap on September 7, 2012 10:25 AM writes...

47: Sorry - I tried looking for it on your blog but failed.

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53. Chemjobber on September 7, 2012 11:57 AM writes...

No worries, it's kinda hidden, because it's in that post of me yelling at Madeleine Jacobs.

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54. non-PhD follower on September 9, 2012 1:12 AM writes...


I just finished a BS (Dec 2011) in ChemE w/ biochem emphasis (from a "lesser" state supported school at that) and have been following this blog for about two years. Not once in that time did it occur to me that I would need a PhD to make sense of or make use of the topics discussed here.

Does that mean that only the PhD's are being laid off in the big pharma cutbacks highlighted on this site? Wow, what a relief!

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55. (Name redacted - spoofed) on September 10, 2012 8:31 PM writes...

The science phd paid off for me. However, transitioning into corporate pharma was a big if not bigger challenge in some ways. It took a while to figure out how the system works and how to advance one's carer and not get stuck in the lab.

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56. j on September 11, 2012 9:32 AM writes...

"Six YEARS? With full time support? You must be one of the least productive students ever."
This is about as frustrating as Lametti's fantasy world b.s.
Even nearly ten years ago, the average time to PhD was already 6 six years. It's even higher for biology-intensive projects. Your perspective is from another era.

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