I have been blogging about the glut of life sciences PhDs in the US for the past five years. Sadly, not many people paid much attention to my claims despite repeated discussions with graduate students, postdocs and even tenured faculty members. Recently, however, there has been a spate of lay media articles shedding light on this very recent phenomenon (yeah right).
One that caught my attention was written by Jordan Weissmann an associate editor at The Atlantic who also writes for the Washington Post and the National Law Journal. Although the title “The Ph.D Bust:America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts” was not particularly inspiring, it does contain some very interesting data (provided by the National Science Foundation); and as we scientists know the data are incontrovertible (unless fudged or applied to certain esoteric statistical analyses).
Here are the highlights (unfortunately, lowlights for many of you).
First, the big picture view: employment opportunities for all American PhDs including those graduating from humanities, science, education, and other programs.
The pattern reaching back to 2001 is clear — fewer jobs, more unemployment, and more persons doing post-doc work — especially in the sciences.
Second, let’s take a look at employment rates for life scientists (including biologists, chemists, biomedical engineers etc) upon completion of their graduate training.
Since 1991 the number of PhD scientists who choose to engage in postdoctoral training has hovered around 45% (it just seems like the number should be higher). Interestingly, the number of PhD scientists who were able to secure jobs at the completion of their training (without doing a postdoc) has dropped from a high of almost 30% in 2006 to roughly 19% in 2011. However, the most telling statistic is that the number of PhD scientists who are unable to find employment after receiving their degrees has skyrocketed from 27% in 2006 to almost 40% in 2011. These data clearly indicate that there were many fewer job opportunities for PhD life scientists over the past five years. Yep, I started talking about the life sciences PhD glut five years ago.
Finally, Georgia State University Professor Paula Stephan has broken down NSF data on biology Ph.D.’s five or six years after receiving their degrees.
As many of you may have heard, less than 1 in 6 are in tenure track academic positions. What is must troubling, however, is how low the overall employment rates were for most PhD trained scientists as far back as 2006 (before the recession began and US pharmaceutical companies began laying off hundreds of thousands of employees!)
The Bottom Line: There is a glut of PhD-trained life scientists (duh) and we do not need to mint anymore PhDs: there simply aren’t enough jobs. And supply side economics suggests that the only way to make PhD life scientists more valuable to prospective employers is to reduce their overall number. Sorry guys, the data do not lie!
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!