Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I don't think that's quite right, Comrade Physioprof

In response to a discussion at DrugMonkey on the Ph.D. glut problem, Comrade Physioprof has a less-than-convincing response:
“Overproduction of PhDs” is a demonstrably false claim: 
http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm 
The unemployment rate for PhDs in 2011 was 2.5%, and the median weekly earnings were $1551 (> $80,000 per year). This is much greater than any other level of educational attainment other than professional degrees (law, medicine, etc). There is only “overproduction of PhDs” if you assume that PhDs are only being produced to become faculty members who go on to train additional PhDs. 
If there was “overproduction of PhDs”, then PhDs wouldn’t be making so much more money than almost anyone else. And considering that in the natural sciences, you get your PhD for free–and even get paid while doing so–it is an excellent deal. [snip] 
...The fact that many institutions are cutting back their production of PhDs for fiscal reasons is far from salutary, and in the long run is going to severely harm the competitiveness of the US economy as compared to other advanced and developing economies whose politics aren’t grossly distorted by deranged racist misogynist white jeezus-freak lunatics.
MikeTheMadBiologist rightly responds that medical scientist (entry-level degree: Ph.D.) supply is growing, but their median earnings are not (from 2000-2011.)

In my other wanderings on the internet, it seems that Comrade Physioprof's response is a fairly common response from those who are academically connected: the college wage premium continues to justify going to college. But as the financial industry likes to remind me when I'm signing checks over for my Roth IRA, past performance is not indicative of future results. CPP is pointing to all employed Ph.D.s and attempting to use those numbers to argue about the most recent cohorts.

Overproduction is best indicated by salary trends and not by single data points; I am unmoved by Comrade Physioprof's reasoning.

(In case people are wondering -- what are the salary trends for chemists? From Bethany Halford's invaluable article in 2011 C&EN, "Doctoral Dilemma":
To get a sense of demand, Swift suggests looking at chemists’ wages over a decade or so to see whether they’ve kept pace with inflation. Such an examination, however, gives mixed results. From 1998 to 2009, the inflation-adjusted salaries for industry- and government-employed Ph.D. chemists went up 12% and 19%, respectively. On the other hand, salaries of academic chemists dipped about 1% over the same period. Doing the same exercise for starting salaries of Ph.D. chemists “may be more sensitive to changes in demand for chemists as well as supply,” Swift notes. Those data indicate that inflation-adjusted starting salaries for Ph.D.s are down by about 1%, data that Swift says “are suggestive of oversupply in some sectors.”
Well, that's certainly not good news.)

19 comments:

  1. Expect to see more of this whining from academia as their cheap labor pool begins to realize how they've been lied to for ten years and ACS lobbying is no longer able to drown it out with STEM shortage slogans.

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  2. "There is a big fucken snivel-fest going on..."

    That's an excellent writing style to convince people of your point. I'll try that next time I publish an article. It's certainly easier than generating a well-thought out argument.

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    1. That's one of the more eloquent things Comrade PhysioProf has said. Usually you have to minutely examine his comments for the occasional non-swear word. He might actually win the prize for the most potty-mouthed academic around if his arguments also had some substance in them.

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  3. At the bottom of that BLS chart, it states, "earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers".

    Given the low percentage of the population with a PhD, and the ample opportunities to exploit PhD scientists in part-time, temporary, postdoctoral, consulting, adjunct, etc. positions, I'm not surprised that the BLS comes up with a low "unemployment" rate, but a high salary. I'd estimate a significant percentage of PhDs, especially fresh graduates, are stuck in these types of positions that don't get counted in either wages or unemployment. The ACS does the same thing with their numbers.

    I graduated with a PhD four years ago from a program in the top 50 of the US news and review rankings. Of the 30 something people I graduated with who I am still in contact with, not a single one has a "full time" job. They are either adjuncts, visiting professors, postdocs, or law students. When these opportunities start to dry up (how many years can the postdoc pool keep absorbing all the graduates?) we will see massive PhD unemployment and wages that fall like a rock.

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  4. The unemployment rate for PhD's is 2.5%? I guess all those chemists who got Pfizered or Dow-sized must be imagining things!

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  5. Are JD's, MD's, and PharmD's included into the "doctoral" data?

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    1. No, those are professional degrees, which pay more and have an even lower unemployment rate, according to the BLS.

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  6. Can we make a rule? Anyone who claims a shortage/underproduction of scientists must have at least five unfilled positions they can point us too to prove it. Now we'll see....bwahaha

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    1. My point is that those positions will immediately have many applicants causing there to be no apparent shortage within a day, if not hours.

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    2. Of course there are unfilled positions - some HR jerk demands an individual with exactly 3-5 years experience formulating polymers for banjo strings, and trashes any resume that doesn't fit exactly!

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  7. Professors and universities should have to report on employment status of their students a year after graduation. It would indirectly measure whether the professor is career mentoring his/her students and whether the research area is one that has jobs available. This would help students when they are deciding which research group to join in graduate school.

    If employment rates could also be a factor in tenure discussions, grant renewals, and the ACS rankings of chemistry departments that would be even better. Students would need to research and include this information as part of their decision process, but at least the data would be available.

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  8. Couching the debate in terms of an overproduction of "PhDs" is part of the problem. A PhD is not a commodity like steel or maize. The nature of the PhD can change. What's taught in the curriculum can change. The way in which research contributions are made and valued can change. Maybe the problem isn't that we are producing too many PhDs. Maybe we're producing exactly the right amount, but the content of the knowledge transferred to most PhDs through their doctoral studies that is not optimal.

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    1. So what you're arguing, perhaps, is that we're producing too many low-quality PhDs?

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    2. There is clearly a disconnect (at least in organic chem) between what PhDs are taught and what industry needs them to know. Over the years, industry has increasingly hired for the aptitude and ignored the attitude. Where many moons ago they would hire the person and train for the job.

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    3. Right now it seems like industry can hire from the glut of laid-off PhDs that previously held those jobs, so why would they bother to train fresh PhDs? No amount of academic experience is going to compare to someone who had X years of experience in that exact position they are hiring for.

      Say graduate programs did catch on and begins producing the perfect candidates. What then happens to all those laid-off PhDs waiting in the wings? The problem still exists, just at a different level.

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    4. CJ, yes, I am saying that the quality of the Ph.D. can change. The caveat is that quality is in the eye of the beholder. What seems "low" quality to some (companies wondering if they need to hire more technical staff) may seem like high quality to another (professors looking for another post-doc?).

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    5. Hmmm -- seems like quality isn't the factor, but price (or price/quality) is.

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  9. I'm a Ph.D chemist and also a banjo player who has done research in polymers. Tell that HR rep they just found their match

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  10. Technically FurloughedApril 28, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    "Note: Data are for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers."

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