From Michael Price's interesting article in ScienceCareers comparing the Tilghman report with the recent report from the ACS Presidential Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences:
Although language in the report specifically highlighted the crowded market for Ph.D. chemists, in interviews with Science Careers, members of the ACS commission downplayed the idea of shrinking graduate student enrollment, focusing instead on the need for departments to broaden the range of skills they teach so that there is less redundancy among Ph.D. graduates. One of the major obstacles to young chemists finding jobs, they say, is that too many departments prepare students with the exact same sets of skills....
..."Obviously, the biotech industry has collapsed in terms of employment, but that doesn't mean that chemists are not being employed," (Georgia Tech chemistry professor Paul) Houston says. "There is a large chemical industry, and there are still some very good jobs at the bigger chemical companies, but there are a lot of jobs at start-up companies and smaller outfits, too. So one of the things that we thought a lot about is what kind of training does a graduate student need to be successful in that kind of market."
...Resistance can be found even in the commission's ranks. (Georgia Tech chemistry professor) Schuster, for example, does not believe that chemistry departments should reduce their graduate enrollments. "Opportunities in chemistry, viewed as the 'molecular science', are growing as disciplines such as biology and materials science become ever more 'molecular,' " he writes. " 'Population control' is not necessary or desirable. What is required is increased diversity of skills and perspective so that students see and embrace all of the opportunities of the 'molecular science.' "I respectfully remind Professors Houston and Schuster of a variety of facts:
- For 2011 and 2012, American Chemical Society member unemployment is at 4.6% and 4.2%, which are (respectively) the highest and 2nd highest unemployment numbers in recorded history for the ACS Salary Surveys. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has measured "chemist and material scientist" employment for 2011 and 2012 at 6.1% and 5.5% (respectively.)
- I should also note that it is the conventional wisdom that most working chemists believe, but cannot prove, that these numbers are underestimated.
- I also note that we should not be comparing these numbers to the National Unemployment Rate (currently at 7.8%), but we should be comparing them to the unemployment rate for bachelor degree holders (currently at 3.9%).
- ACS member salaries have fallen between 2002-2012 (measured in constant dollars) by -0.2%.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures chemist job growth at 4%, while all occupations are expected to grow at 14% for the period between 2010 and 2020.
- To Professor Houston's point that there are jobs in the chemical manufacturing sector, the expected job growth in chemical manufacturing for that period are as follows: Basic chemical: -15.1%, Resin/synthetic rubber, etc.: -7.1%, Agrichemical: -22%, Pharma: -0.7%, Paint, coating, adhesive: -11.3%, Cleaning products: -6.3%, Other: -17.3%, Plastics: 21.3%, Rubber, -7.4%
- The small company discount (50 employees or less) by the ACS Salary Comparator is 17% lower than the median salary, I believe.
As to Professor Schuster's point that other fields with higher job growth are becoming "more molecular" and will offer more positions to chemists, I ask this: is there any evidence that chemists and their graduate degrees are somehow more competitive? If not, would 'population control' indeed be a necessary step?