I know. Enough with the bad news, already.
Feb24

I know. Enough with the bad news, already.

Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news? The bad news, you say? Okay, here it is. The bad news—wait for it—is that there is no good news. Cue the trombone. The surplus of scientists at the bachelor’s and doctoral levels has been a hot discussion topic recently, as well as in the past. Last week, there was an appearance of even more articles focused on how badly the Great Recession has hurt new college graduates, at all levels. The scope of this phenomenon appears to extend beyond science, and beyond North America or the EU. What follows is a quick overview of three articles on various aspects of this topic. A devalued bachelor's degree First, there’s the provocatively titled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk,” a New York Times article by Catherine Rampell. The opening statement provides a startling and depressing premise: The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job. An Atlanta law office is presented as a microcosm of what’s being seen more broadly. At this firm, the minimum prerequisite for employment, regardless of position, is a bachelor’s degree. This includes office administrators, file clerks and even their in-office courier. Evidence is provided that this situation is not unique to this one law firm: Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites. The shortage of scientists is nonexistent Returning to the sciences—in spite of the data supporting the premise of a glut of newly graduated scientists, there has been chatter bemoaning the opposite. The Atlantic associate editor Jordan Weissman had apparently heard enough talk of a shortage of scientists, and presents data that flies in the face of that notion in “The Ph.D Bust: America's Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts.” Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America's scientist shortage -- the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it's time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead. Weissman makes his case by providing graphs based on data from the National Science Foundation, broken down by broad disciplinary...

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The “10K BA” — Is it possible in chemistry?
Feb08

The “10K BA” — Is it possible in chemistry?

Are you getting the value you expected out of your chemistry education? Earlier this week, Chemjobber blogged about the regrettable employment situation for chemists. The centerpiece of the post was a graphic, which originally appeared in a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on 2012 employment numbers. The figure represented the unemployment numbers, broken down by highest level of education completed and the associated wages for those employed in each group. Chemjobber amended the graphic with both the ACS member unemployment numbers (also by degree), plus the BLS numbers in the category “chemists and material scientists.” The result is powerful. Chemjobber summed it up: As you can note, chemists come out worse in every single apples-to-apples comparison on all equivalent degree holders. Not. Good. A further irony is found in the title of the original graphic, which Chemjobber retained: “Education Pays.” Well, yes, if you’re employed, your salary will generally increase with level of education (except for the slight dropoff from “Professional degree” to “Doctoral degree”). However, if you have the misfortune of being among the unemployed—the numbers are even worse for recent graduates—your return on investment is currently zero. This adds insult to injury, particularly if you attended an expensive private institution and have a seemingly insurmountable student loan debt to pay off. “Education Pays” then sounds derisive. The soaring cost of higher education was the subject of a recent New York Times op-ed piece, entitled "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree," by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and former professor at Syracuse University. The title refers to an effort to provide more affordable higher education opportunities: One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A. — which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California. To achieve these cost cuts, there is a reliance on distance learning, such as massive online open courses (MOOC) and other formats. Understandably, this goal has been greeted with a fair amount of skepticism: Some critics see it as an invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities. Brooks then strongly disagrees with the notion that this effort will only amount to “awarding degrees that are worthless to people.” As he then points out: I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made. He describes how he was able...

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A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?
Jan31

A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?

This past November, C&EN ran a cover story on the employment outlook for chemists. The coverage consisted of several simultaneously published stories regarding various aspects of the employment outlook. The main focus shared by many of these stories was on chemists already in the workforce, and the effects that recent or impending layoffs have had on their lives. I offered a few thoughts on the topic as it stirred up fresh memories of having gone through similar experiences myself. The bleak employment outlook for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry was also described, but in less detail than given for experienced workers. Those details, plus profiles of some recent graduates, were provided earlier this week, in “New Bachelor-Level Chemists Face Grim Job Market,” an excellent article by C&EN Senior Editor Susan J. Ainsworth. Some thoughtful comments on this story have been provided by Chemjobber this week. The first paragraph of the C&EN article sets the tone for what is to follow: The inhospitable employment climate has not spared anyone in the chemical sciences, but many who have recently earned a bachelor’s degree may be in for a particularly tough fight. Some survey data was provided to accompany the previous qualitative assessment: In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, in 2011, 14% of recent bachelor’s degree recipients reported that they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010 (C&EN, June 4, 2012, page 36). In contrast, 9% of new Ph.D. grads said they were seeking employment in 2011, up from 6% in 2010. With such limited employment prospects for new graduates, it stands to reason that the bar would be set high to be considered for those opportunities that do exist. However, even as an incremental number of jobs open for new B.S. grads, competition for those opportunities remains fierce. To stand out in a sea of applicants, candidates need to cultivate skills and experience to make their résumés sparkle. Often, it’s not enough to have been an exemplary student or perform undergraduate research: Recruiters also covet students who have exhibited “thought leadership,” which involves more than just serving as president of an on-campus organization, Simpson says. Instead, such students “have taken ownership of a project or come up with a new solution to a problem,” she explains. Several success stories are highlighted—chemists who have gone the extra mile to become attractive candidates for employment and have been rewarded with positions from which to embark upon their careers. The article then returns to those who haven’t been as fortunate, and who are now struggling to...

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From the archives—a surplus of PhDs
Jan25

From the archives—a surplus of PhDs

Okay, a couple of topics to cover today, and they are related. First, if you haven't done so already, you should check out The Watch Glass, a Tumblr which contains excerpts from the C&EN Archives. This endeavor is curated by recent JAEP guest poster, Deirdre Lockwood. Although The Watch Glass is only a couple of weeks old, there have already been some very interesting nostalgic snapshots of chemists and chemistry from the past. This inspired me to have my own peek at the archives and see what interesting things I might find. It didn't take long. I'd like to highlight one discovery in particular, a small article entitled "Ph.D. outlook: too many for too few jobs." Hmmm, doesn't that sound familiar? Yes, but here's the kicker. The publication date of this article: August 13, 1979. "What? 1979? Surely there must be some mistake! That's a current topic!" I hear you scream. That, or it's just the voices. You know, the shrill ones in my head. Okay, the C&EN archives are by subscription only. That is a bit problematic, because not all readers of this blog have access, whether they're ACS members or not. I had to wait for the library to email a pdf from scanned microfiche (ask your parents or advisor). Fortunately, the article is short, and the abstract, which is viewable to all, contains roughly half the content, from which you can get the gist. It begins: The fourth in a series of employment reports from the National Science Foundation has been issued. The report concludes that the number of science and engineering Ph.D.'s in the labor force will increase nearly 50% by 1987. Well, that's quite a large increase. That's good, though, right? The result of a productive American education system. U-S-A! U-S-A!! The only hitch is that the number of traditional employment positions available to these Ph.D.'s will increase only 35% over the same period. Wait, that number's smaller. Thank you, Señor Buzzkill. (Wait, was the  word buzzkill even used back then? Never mind.) Thus, the trend of scientists and engineers with Ph.D.'s to work outside their fields appears to be increasing. In 1977, for example, only 25,000 or about 9% of the doctoral labor force held nontraditional jobs. By 1987, about 17% or 70,000 of the Ph.D.'s will be otherwise employed. There's that word—nontraditional. Although, back in 1979, a nontraditional science career seemed to mean anything outside of academia.  The article goes on to forecast more nontraditionalism to come: Moreover, NSF's projections for science and engineering doctoral degree holders who receive their degrees between now and 1987 indicate that even a larger number of these will find jobs in areas unrelated to their training. By 1987 it...

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Now it’s official—it’s not a pretty picture out there
Nov08

Now it’s official—it’s not a pretty picture out there

Well, no doubt you’ve had at least a cursory look at the excellent C&EN cover story regarding the 2012 Employment Outlook for chemists. The cover shows a long queue of labcoat-wearing chemists, all presumably in line for the one available position. Cheery. This story is in contrast to some previous commentary suggesting a recovery may be around some invisible corner, and, as chemists, we can get through it with grim determination. Following that, we’ll be somehow rewarded at the end of the ordeal. All we need to do is say “entrepreneurship” three times, click our heels together, and we’ll all be given a cushy new job in Kansas with all relocation expenses reimbursed. If you’ve been through layoffs and site closures, as I have, and are, in turn, still connected to former colleagues facing a similar fate—again—or are still unemployed after a protracted period of time, this insistence that things aren’t so bad can be, well, annoying. It suggests the problem is you. A few months ago, my personal annoyance meter pegged out, and I took ACS CEO and Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs to task for portraying the chemistry job market as rosier than I saw it, and for scolding a mother, a scientist who had gone through a downsizing, for urging her daughter to “not go into science.” Well, although I’m sure my post had little if anything to do with it, a similar message has gotten through. Facts are presented, and they are cold and hard. Okay. If you haven’t already, you need to read this cover story in greater detail. It’s broken up into several articles, with titles shown below. Under the heading of each title, I’ve followed with a few of my thoughts upon reading each one. There's much more information within each article than referred to with my superficial observations. You'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't read each article in their entirety, regardless of where you are in your career journey. Overall, the full story was a struggle for me to get through—not because of how it’s reported (which is excellent), but because it rings so true. I've been there. Others still are there. It’s no fun revisiting. Anyway, here we go: For Hire Here, the stage is set with a big picture view of the Great Recession and current global economic factors. The promise is to drill down, in the accompanying articles, to the impact on employment for chemists, now and into the future. Tepid Recovery Curtails Hiring From the outset, no punches are pulled: “Not that long ago, chemists regarded their education as a guarantee of lifelong employment. That’s...

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