Thursday, May 31, 2012

Students have differing ideas about career paths at beginning and end of grad school? (Not surprising?)

An interesting study from Nature Jobs:
The study, published on 2 May, surveyed life sciences, physics and chemistry PhD students at various stages of their programmes at top-level US research universities. Respondents in graduate programmes were asked to rate six career options and to recall how they had felt about them at the start of their PhD programme. Although a faculty post was an attractive career path for many students at the start of their programme, this preference slipped as students in all three disciplines advanced in their studies, with chemistry students showing the biggest drop (see 'Losing appeal').
Credit: Nature Jobs
There's a rather wonderful (and perhaps not-so-literally-accurate) quote from one of the co-authors of the study ("Henry Sauermann, a researcher at the College of Management at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta"):
 “It would be nice for other people to provide more information for students, but faculty and advisers don't have that experience,” he says. “You can't expect the chair of the chemistry department to tell you what it's like being a researcher in industry.”
Ooof. Depends on the chair, depends on the department. Still, a blunt (sometimes) truth. 


  1. Given the small number of academic positions isn't it a good thing that interest drops as a graduate student advances? What surprises me is the increase in interest for established firms. I have grown increasingly wary of big pharma just from what I've observed in the last few years - cutting benefits, perennial lay offs, questionable mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, and very little in the pipe line.

    1. I think it's a matter of perspective. There are many established firms that aren't pharma, just as there are many chemists with little to no interest in working in pharma. As synthetic organic chemists, many of us have never thought about any career path other than pharma because we've been indoctrinated to think that way . But for every one of us looking for a position in pharma, there's an inorganic, physical, or materials chemist looking at the big chemical or materials manufacturing firms or even big oil and energy companies.

    2. As a non-pharma chemist, our situation is almost as bad - only difference is that the chemical industry's decline was part of the collapse of American manufacturing since the 1970's, while pharma was safe until very recently. I'm lucky to be a polymer chemist and not a medicinal chemist, but I still feel like my chemistry degree is kind of like a degree in coal mining or steelmaking!

    3. Does the chemical manufacturing industry continue to contract, or has it appeared to have reached a steady state, albeit smaller and leaner than the 1970's?

    4. Anon @ 6:22 here again - I think it's continuing to shrink due to China's recent rise, but a lot of the consolidation has already happened. Commoditization of formerly research-intensive products like leather, rubber, and paper played a big part too - factories that once would have required a full R&D lab can now bang out product without employing chemists, or maybe a handful of QC/troubleshooting folks instead of a serious R&D effort.

  2. Interesting... I've found quite a few friends of mine becoming disillusioned with the way academia works and moving on to pastures industrial. Perhaps it takes a special kind of lunacy to actually prefer university life. :P

    Or perhaps it's because fighting for jobs in the current climate and playing pass the postdoc until you can be considered for faculty positions is more arduous than most people consider worthwhile...