Monday, June 4, 2012

2011 ACS starting salary survey: unemployment up for new grads across all educational levels

Credit: Chemical and Engineering News, "Starting Salaries"
From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, an article by Susan Morrissey summarizing some bad news from the class of 2011:
In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, 13% of respondents were not employed but were actively seeking jobs last year, up from 11% of those who responded to the 2010 survey. Another 41% of respondents—down slightly from 44% in 2010—opted to pursue additional education or do a postdoc. 
For the 35% of new graduates who did find full-time jobs last year, there was some additional good news related to their paychecks—at least for those with a Ph.D. The median salary of inexperienced Ph.D. graduates was $85,000, a 13% jump from 2010, the first increase since 2008 for this group. The news was not as good for inexperienced master’s or bachelor’s degree graduates—starting median salaries for master’s degree graduates were up 4% in 2011 to $46,700, and starting salaries for bachelor’s degree grads held at $40,000... 
[snip] New graduates continued to feel the effects of the recession in 2011 as the unemployment rate for all degree levels rose. For bachelor’s degree recipients, 14% reported they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010. Nine percent of Ph.D. earners said they were looking for a job in 2011, up from 6% in 2010. But the biggest jump was for those graduating with master’s degrees. Those seeking employment in this group grew from 11% in 2010 to 18% in 2011. The increases were essentially the same for both chemists and chemical engineers at each degree level.
[I know I keep saying this.] We're going to come back to the 2012 Starting Salary Survey. I think these numbers are really pretty disturbing. What the headline numbers tell me is this: across all educational levels, less than half of new graduates are working. Also, look at the "not employed" numbers for bachelor's, master's and doctoral-level graduates: 17%, 23% and 12%. Those are big, big numbers.

P.S. It's time for the Eka-Silicon caveat, brought to you by Ms. Morrissey's article: "More than 11,733 recent graduates were sent surveys, and 2,051 usable responses were returned for a response rate of 17%. (emphasis CJ's) The respondents represent many cohorts—degree level, field of study, gender, experience level, type of employment, and other—and for some groups, the number of respondents is small and thus likely not representative."

A 17% response rate is not very high, and limits our ability to extrapolate conclusions from it.

23 comments:

  1. What the heck is a "usable" response? Are surveys not considered if, say, they're only partially filled out?

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    1. Hanging chads? Pizza stains?

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    2. The ones that do not say "Go to hell you effin' liars"? across the sheet in bold red letters?

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  2. Only 33% of terminal degree holders (PhD level) are employed in full-time permanent positions while 47% are postdocs. Considering that post-docs are essentially temporary positions, are we to understand that upwards of 52% of newly-minted PhD chemists are effectively temps? Only 1 in 3 of us lands a "real" job right out of grad school....

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    1. No not temps. Temps are treated much better.

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    2. Yet 47% of us are chasing the post-doc dream.

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    3. 85% of Americans _literally_ believe in the possibility of immaculate conception, so 47% chasing a pipe dream isn't really that high a number.

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  3. When you outsource a bunch of jobs overseas, who would expect the employment situation to be anything but miserable.

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  4. So, assuming 17% response rate, and 2300 Ph.D's awarded we get about 150 graduates who found permanent positions. Would Berkeley be able to handle such demand alone? Berkeley + CalTech? That should be enough, right? They would not need any people from Stanford?

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    1. OMG. That makes me feel sick to my stomach. You've just said that only 2, possible 3, schools, the top ones, need to graduate PhDs. That, btw, ties in nicely with Sheril Kirshenbaum's response to Slate saying we need more scientists.

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    2. What I describe is the worst case scenario based on assumption that none of the people who ignored the questionnaire secured permanent positions. Is this assumption preposterous? May be. But my gut tells me that employed workers are much more likely to participate. To be honest, I don't think 2-3 schools are enough, but as I said here before CA alone has enough capacity to satisfy nation's needs in PhD-level chemists. So does MA, I'd think. Certainly ten top schools should be enough.

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    3. Can you imagine if all of your profs or coworkers came from CA or MA? It has been my observation that bad attitudes and habits are passed from advisor to student or from manager to employee. Would we really be better off under the incestuous academic and professional regime you've described? Diversity is not just the color of your skin or national heritage, but also includes education, regional cultural experiences, etc. We need a deep professional and academic gene pool.

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    4. I definitely agree that the "academic gene pool" needs to be diverse. I can't imagine the nightmares I'd have trying to hire people to fit my office who all come out of the same process/style...

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    5. I don't think Anon is suggesting that only schools in California or Massachussetts should provide the PhDs for all the country's jobs. But they have enough students coming out of their schools that they CAN fill all of them, and that's not good for our employment landscape considering there's 48 other states churning out PhD chemists.

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  5. Wake up, guys, in academia it's already happened.

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  6. Sorry, but the real situation is not nearly as bad as you think, or maybe it is far far worse- these data tell nothing about the reality.
    The best that can be stated is this: "The 2011 ACS Employment survey indicates the unemployment rate among the 11,733 members mailed a form is between 2% and 85%."

    Here's why. If the missing 83% of respondents are all unemployed, the real rate is
    ( (0.13 * 2051) + (0.83 * 11,733) ) / 11,733 = 85% unemployment
    Similarly if the 83% of missing are all employed
    ( (0.87 * 2051) + (0.83 * 11,733) ) / 11,733 = (98% employment) = 2% unemployment.

    Sorry to be beating a dead horse (again), but obsessing over a delta of 3% is not dealing with the fundamentally bogus data. I don't seriously think all non-respondents are either all employed or all unemployed, but who can guess where the proportion really lies?

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    1. No, no, you shouldn't be sorry. We should all be aware that some numbers are to be taken with a grain (or in this case, a pallet?) of salt.

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    2. Unstable IsotopeJune 5, 2012 at 7:26 AM

      I'm no expert (that's an understatement) but there is a science to surveys and I think a 20% return rate is pretty typical. The key is to get the best typical sample.

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  7. Unstable IsotopeJune 5, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    I don't know how you can argue a STEM grad shortage when only 33% of new PhD grads have full-time permanent employment and 12% have no employment at all.

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    1. With a straight face, that's how they do it.

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  8. "More than 11,733 recent graduates were sent surveys, and 2,051 usable responses were returned". Wow. There is nooooo bias at all in that methodology.

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  9. @UnstableIsotope - I think it's pure politics. Beating the STEM shortage "drum" makes it sound, in an election year, like you're pro-education, pro-domestic jobs, and pro-industry. Whether we need the output (more scientists) seems to be a moot point.

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    1. Unstable IsotopeJune 6, 2012 at 4:33 PM

      Actually, I don't blame policy makers for saying we have a STEM grad shortage when there's people like the CEO of Dow saying this is the case. I wish people would be more skeptical of these claims.

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