There is little doubt that the rate of producing new chemical sciences PhDs in the US is too high for the current employment market, but the current imbalance could not have been avoided without years of forethought. Because the average time-to-degree is about six years in our fields and because many PhDs temporarily occupy postdoctoral appointments, the time constant for adjustments in new employment candidates at the doctoral level must be something like 7-9 years. It is simply not possible for the system to adjust to changes in demand taking place on shorter timescales, and certainly not to those with the suddenness and degree of the 2008 contraction.
The question of greatest relevance to the work of this Commission is whether the employment markets have undergone or will be proceeding through systematic changes that should lead PhD producers to alter the scale or the balance of their programs. By the word “balance,” we mean the mix among distinct areas or capabilities fostered in the program. Among departments of chemistry, balance would relate to the number of new PhDs produced in traditional subfields, or the numbers produced, for example, with synthetic, computational, or measurement skills.Just in case anyone (including myself) did not believe in a PhD glut, senior chemistry professors believe it now.
My goodness, we are in a big, big hole.