America’s Doctoral Dilemma

Over the past few weeks we have discussed the merits of America’s PhD programs and the darkness at the end of the tunnel facing many newly minted doctoral graduates. See PhD: A Tale of Immigration, Slave Labor and Joblessness and Are Scientists Over-Educated?

This past week, Norman Johnson, an evolutionary geneticist, science writer and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts added his two cents based on a recent report on the state of doctoral graduates by the National Science Foundation . According to the report, 2009 marked the largest single-year increase in the proportion of doctorate recipients taking postdoc positions during the 2004–09 period against a backdrop of decreasing employment opportunities for recent doctoral graduates.

Dr. Johnson’s reaction to this news is mixed. He writes:

If we expect most biology graduate students to go on to research faculty or even teaching faculty positions, then 8,000 biology doctorates a year is clearly too many. There just aren’t enough jobs. If, however, biology researchers and teachers at institutions that award doctorates seriously consider jobs in non-academic positions as being worthy of the doctoral students, then 8,000 a year may not be enough.

I am not sure whether or not the private sector can absorb that many PhD graduates but in order to move in that direction, there needs to be an increased effort to educate recent graduates on their employment options and government programs encouraging them to emigrate from their comfortable academic cocoon into the rough and tumble world of industry.

Science graduates have poured oodles of time and money into their education and they deserve recognition and fair compensation for their efforts. Let’s give them the vocational support and respect they’ve earned. I believe that society will benefit from it in the long run.

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