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Thoughts on the “Doctoral Glut Dilemma” Webinar

As I wrote last Thursday, ACS Webinars featured an hour-long discussion on the perceived overabundance of PhD-level chemists and potential solutions to employment challenges. The site should have the entire discussion archived within a week.

I participated in the session and ended up posting my thoughts at the new Forbes.com home of my other blog, Take As Directed. I’m hoping to get comments from a wider group of readers over there who might have impact on hiring of chemistry PhDs.

One of the major points that struck me was the view by Harvard economist, Dr. Richard Freeman, that the chemistry job market might bounce back more quickly than the biosciences. But he views this comeback to occur slowly over the next three to four years.

Freeman attributes chemistry’s upper hand to two factors. First, US doctoral chemistry programs have had a fairly constant PhD supply rate over the last 40 years of approximately 2,000/year. In contrast, the biosciences have exploded from about 3,000 PhDs/year in the 1970s to 15,000 during 2010.

Second, Freeman states that chemistry is far less dependent on federal research funding since 50% to 75% of chemistry PhDs ultimately go on to work in industry. As such, he expects the recovering economy to help chemists far more than those in the biological and biomedical sciences.

I’d love to hear your feedback now or after the webinar is posted later this week. In the meantime, check out my thoughts over at Forbes.com.

Addendum: I’ve since learned that chemistry bloggers Chemjobber and See Arr Oh have posted a podcast discussing this ACS webinar.

 

Today: Solutions to the “Doctoral Glut Dilemma”

Don’t say ACS have their heads in the sand. A webinar this afternoon will face head-on the reality of training to be a doctoral-level chemist in today’s job market.

 Is higher education producing more doctoral scientists than the market can absorb? With the attendance rates at graduate schools increasing, has the private sector’s growth been able to keep up and will there be enough options for tomorrow’s PhDs?   Join our two experts Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan as they share their viewpoints on the state of higher education, the economy and how industry and academia can better prepare current and future graduates.

I’m not privy to any other advance information than what’s on the ACS Webinars™ website but others I’ve viewed have been top-quality.

I obviously encourage viewing by current doctoral trainees in chemistry and postdocs. Giving yourself a competitive edge in this market is information anyone can use.

But I particularly urge undergrads currently interviewing for chemistry doctoral programs to tune in. One of the four primary discussion topics will be assessing graduate programs for their ultimate employment record of their trainees.

Take advantage of what your professional society is offering.

Details:

Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?

Date: Thursday November 8, 2012 (TODAY!)

Time: 2:00-3:00 pm ET

Fee: Free
 

The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?”

Apologies in advance to any readers who might be put off by my writing about the science aspects of the Colorado movie theater tragedy. I was a faculty member at the University of Colorado in Denver from 1992 to 2001 and was in the area during the Columbine High School shooting rampage. I also still have some friends out there and feel a personal connection to the place and people who helped launch my independent research career. Nevertheless, I claim no special knowledge of the current inner workings of the University – all of my sources for this and other posts come from publicly-available information sources.

I write this disclaimer because Marisol Bello (@Marisol_Bello) and Dan Vergano (@dvergano) have an intriguing article today at USA Today on the relative level of specialized intelligence of the Colorado shooting suspect. The suspect was one of six students on a NIH neuroscience training grant – called a T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award, or just T32 or NRSA. The specific grant that supported the suspect for his first year of graduate school at University of Colorado Denver is described here at the publicly-accessible NIH RePORTER database.

An “institutional” training grant?
These are training grants awarded to institutions, not specific students, that are noteworthy for having an excellent and comprehensive training environment for predoctoral students. The institutions awarded these grants then have the discretion to appoint the candidates for grant support.

This NIH notice (NOT-OD-12-033) describes the support given to each student appointed to the training grant: a stipend of $22,032 per year (to which Colorado adds to bump it up to $26,000), “training related expenses” of $4,200/year to cover things like health insurance, another $4,200/year to host laboratories to offset the costs of laboratory supplies, and 60% of the trainee’s tuition and fees up to $16,000/year (to which most schools add to completely cover tuition.)

Being appointed to one of these institutional training grants is generally considered to be less prestigious than winning an individual NRSA. These individual grants are awards given to the student’s mentoring professor based on the individual research project and training environment of the individual host laboratory, in addition to institutional considerations.

Still, institutions are judged on the quality of the students they appoint to institutional NRSAs. So, the Colorado shooting suspect had to meet some minimum undergraduate GPA and standardized GRE test scores.

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WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs

Tomorrow’s frontpage of The Washington Post will run an article by Brian Vastag (Twitter, WaPo bio) on the employment challenges facing science PhDs. The difficulties are no secret to our readers – whether you are a freshly-minted PhD or a 50-something subjected to downsizing – but I believe that this is the highest profile treatment of the subject in the US print media.

The article even cites the closure of the Roche campus in Nutley that we discussed two weeks ago and, below, employment numbers from the annual ACS survey.

“Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut free, [former Sanofi-Aventis scientist Kim] Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.”

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field.

What amazes me are the number of comments already. I already followed Vastag on Twitter and when he tweeted about the article at 4:44 this afternoon, it had 22 comments. Right now, at 9:50 on Saturday night, the article has accumulated 504 comments. Some of these are nonsensical or non-sequiturs but the bulk are robust and on-topic. I can imagine that the sober assessment of PhD training vs. job market demands will be discussed far and wide on Sunday and in the coming week.

One thing missing from the article was a discussion of the so-called alternative career paths where one uses PhD training but not in an academic or industrial setting. Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, both for salaried positions and freelancers.

I hesitate to say this without complete data but we may indeed be reaching a point where more PhDs are being produced than can be absorbed by both academia/industry and non-laboratory positions.

Source:
Vastag, Brian. U.S. pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren’t there. The Washington Post. 8 July 2012.

NIDA seeks SBIR/STTR apps on Spice, bath salts

C&EN senior business editor Melody Bomgardner dropped me a note yesterday about a new request for applications from NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for small business grants.

Read the text below but here’s what I find interesting as a pharmacologist who plays well with chemists: the call for applications is not for analytical methods for designer drugs. Rather the announcement solicits novel methods for detecting some biochemical or pharmacological endpoint of these agents (a bioassay, in old-speak) that doesn’t require new method development every time a new structural analogue pops onto the market.

Other areas of substance abuse are also fair game but Melody thought the Spice and bath salts angle would be of greatest interest to our readers here at Terra Sig.

Here’s the text directly from NIDA – I can’t find an exact RFA to link to, however: (see update below)

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