arrow11 Comments
  1. Chemjobber
    Jul 08 - 8:56 PM

    David, I can’t agree more with your concluding comments, so much so that I featured them in my post on the Vastag article:

  2. [...] WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs( [...]

  3. [...] Unlike those in the system–especially those who have succeeded within the current system–any objective observer of the post-doc system could only conclude that it is a source of cheap, highly-trained (if not over-trained) labor. And I hate to write this, but I’m inclined to agree with David Kroll: the science-related alternative careers are also becoming scarce. [...]

  4. RogerTheGeek
    Jul 09 - 12:13 PM

    This has been the case for many years. I moved from organic chemistry to computer science in the early ’80s rather than go to grad school. I would have loved to stay in chemistry, but jobs were rare and the pay not so good for PhD chemists. Everything on my list of pros and cons for grad school were in the cons side of the ledger.

    It turns out that I made a very good decision. It seems that grad students provide inexpensive labor to universities. The unis have no reason to change that and every reason to keep it the same. For grad students, it might be a good idea to have a plan B.

    Frankly, the same ideas addressed by the WaPo article could be said of the BS and MS levels in science as well. There are probably more jobs, but there are many more people.

  5. Chad
    Jul 09 - 7:45 PM

    NSF, NIH, etc need to move away from creating more grad students and post-docs, and towards creating more full-time jobs with benefits. This could take the form of full-time university research staff or expanded national labs, for example.

    It should be self-evident that we shouldn’t be creating more scientists than the job market is mopping up. If we are creating too many, we need to shift our resources towards hiring the ones we created rather than creating more.

  6. George
    Jul 10 - 12:31 PM

    After reading articules in C&E back in 1996 about time to get out of chemistry, that is what I did after 15+ years doing hard core analytical(GC, GC/MS, LC/MS/MS, LC etc..) to support R&D and moved into network engineering with retraining rather than go back to graduate school. I am now a Global Director of IT, making way more money, but not as happy as I was back doing Analytical. I moved on because I could not survived in Chemistry living in NJ.

  7. qvxb
    Jul 10 - 5:42 PM

    October 4 marks the 55th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, one of the root causes of the current job crisis in the sciences. The US was frightened and reacted by passing the National Defense Education Act in 1958 to increase the number of scientists to catch up with and surpass the USSR. This came right at the time when Baby Boomers were approaching college age. Colleges and universities went on a building spree in the late 1950s and early 1960s to accommodate these new students.
    Then, after reaching the Moon before the Soviets, America lost interest in space and Federal spending for education (and for everything else except defense) decreased. Private industry lost its drive (or out-sourced it.) So there are fewer jobs for today’s graduates.
    Eventually people currently employed will retire and demand for scientists will increase.

    • George
      Jul 11 - 7:15 AM

      I don’t agree with the end conclusion. As the boomers retire, more US universities are building campuses overseas right now to allow the already present phd’s (trained in US, then moved back home) to teach in them to train the next generation of scientists. This keeps the jobs from comming back for good.

  8. me
    Jul 11 - 10:31 AM

    If ever an issue deserved more real data it is this one. I’ve been through enough of these cycles to be real skeptical as to whether things are really different than before.

    We are going through, by my count, our third scientific labor “crisis” since the early 80′s.

    What differs today is that there appears to be an ongoing tectonic shift in pharm R&D, and then of course there is the Great Recession, and finally the tea party’s anti-public investment hysterics.

    So this current “crisis” may reflect a more perfect storm of lost opportunity due to a wider economic malaise and political ill-will than in prior cycles.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that a newly minted biomedical PhD going to a “non-traditional” track could earn 3 to 4 times what a postdoc position would pay, and so it was very difficult to keep newly minted science PhD’s in basic research.

    • will
      Aug 07 - 8:58 PM


      I’m not aware of *any* time in recent history when a newly minted biomedical PhD had many opportunities that lucrative, in traditional or non-traditional fields, except perhaps at the peak of the biotech bubble in the ’90s. Are you saying that, say, 5 years ago a fresh PhD could make 65-85K in a non-traditional track? I’m very skeptical.

  9. [...] Others might take different routes into science writing and communication. But as David Kroll points out, “Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, [...]

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