Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This space reserved

DocFreeride has done me the great honor of responding at length to my response to Jon Bardin's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. An excerpt:
Economic forces in the world beyond your graduate program might be such that there aren’t as many jobs suited to your Ph.D. chemist skills as there are Ph.D. chemists competing for those jobs. Among other things, this means that earning a Ph.D. in chemistry does not guarantee you a job in chemistry on the other end. 
To which, as the proud holder of a Ph.D. in philosophy, I am tempted to respond: join the club! Indeed, I daresay that recent college graduates in many, many majors have found themselves in a world where a bachelors degree guarantees little except that the student loans will still need to be repaid. 
To be fair, my sense is that the mismatch between supply of Ph.D. chemists and demand for Ph.D. chemists in the workplace is not new. I have a vivid memory of being an undergraduate chemistry major, circa 1988 or 1989, and being told that the world needed more Ph.D. chemists. I have an equally vivid memory of being a first-year chemistry graduate student, in early 1990, and picking up a copy of Chemical & Engineering News in which I read that something like 30% too many Ph.D. chemists were being produced given the number of available jobs for Ph.D. chemists. Had the memo not reached my undergraduate chemistry professors? Or had I not understood the business model inherent in the production of new chemists?
I haven't had time to formulate an appropriate response -- needless to say, go and read the whole thing.  

2 comments:

  1. There is still too much of this 'alternative jobs' thinking. A chemistry PhD is not a philosophy degree. It's more professional. We learn practical skills and can make something new with our hands. I don't necessarily expect an academia job out of that, but I expected it would be fairly easy to find a research job in a company.

    My old man was a research organic chemist (not academia) and I loved what he did. He made new molecules all the time that were relevant, and wrote patents and it seemed like what he made could solve real world problems and make the air less polluted. After I got the BS in chemistry, I found out there are no research jobs for BS chemists in my city. I learned this in the last year of the degree. I enjoy research, but if there was only some 'crap' about enjoying your research for the five years that you are in grad school and then looking at alternative careers after you're done, I never would have gone into grad school. I thought that the knowledge I'm getting is directly relevant to Pfizer, Dow, a host of smaller fish, and academia. Well, apparently I'm in the wrong country. If I got a PhD in philosophy I would be under no such delusions. Yeah okay, 30% too many PhDs... We'll let the profs have their 30% exploitation so that they train the rest of us. I'm easily in the top 70%.

    I could probably get a job with Pfizer or Dow. But do I want to live in Texas and/or be fired every five years until I'm fifty (then go into early retirement, or running an 'ethnic' shop like my old man after he realized the money wasn't in chemistry)? Not really... Now I'm looking into alternative careers.

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  2. Also, an economics looked at this grad school stuff and concluded it's bad economics. Bad for the student, bad for society, bad for having a research job afterwards. Take a read:

    hxxp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v484/n7392/full/484029a.html

    (replace xx by tt)

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