I also said, "I think all three categories are in play here." Here's what the beloved Andre the Chemist said in return:
I'm a little frustrated that you include "This is a sign that universities fail to prepare their students for the available job market" as place to put the blame here but don't include a corresponding point about how employers are not doing a good job searching for and recruiting employees. Actually I'm a little frustrated that point is included at all.
As a chemistry professor, am I supposed to teach my class (or design my degree curriculum as a whole) to cater specifically to the needs of every student's career goals? I would have to be teaching with the aim to optimally prepare my students for med school, grad school, QA/analytical jobs, synthetic jobs, high school teaching jobs, nursing, law school, etc. (In reality I'd have to teach most of my students to prepare for med school but then to find a job when they don't get in or decide half-way through their senior year that med school "isn't for them".) They don't pay me enough to do this. (And if you think universities have the infrastructure outside of faculty to do this for each and every degree they offer, think again.) If I were to focus only on the desires of the majority of my students (the "paying customer"), I'd be teaching MCAT prep courses. Not a good way to prepare students for any job (save MCAT exam writing or tutoring).
Pedagogically, my aim (and the aim of most of my peers who I've talked to) is to provide a modern and well-rounded chemical education that will benefit the students in whatever path they choose. We try to make generally good graduates whose skills will help them in life (including jobs) in ways directly related to chemistry, or not (although I think retail manager is a little outside of our self-perceived goals). It is short-sighted for our students to adjust the curriculum to the whims of a job market (although some schools definitely do this) that could change relatively rapidly (all those departments that hired new faculty in late 90s/early 00s to teach undergrad courses in med chem are probably questioning that decision right now). Sure you can argue that the job market has permanently changed, but I think it's too soon to say what will prepare my students for 15 or 20 years down the road, much less four years when they hit the job market.
People hate to hear this, but in the end, it is the responsibility of the student, and only the student, to use the tools available to her or him at their university to prepare themselves for the job they want to have.I think Andre has scored a point here, because my initial reaction is "Well, that's not what I meant." I think that Andre is focusing on the wrong part of my statement though, because I was intending to list a variety of possible reasons that Young WalMart Chemist could have ended up with his situation. When I said "I think all three categories are at play here", I failed as a blogger to 1) elaborate on category 2, 2) note that there are other possible explanations and 3) express how much I think category 2 is responsible.
First, let me elaborate on category 2: I think it's squarely in the realm of possibility that universities do not prepare students for the available job market. I do not have peer-reviewed science to indicate that they do or that they do not, but I think it's at least possible, or at least worth considering. It would have been nice, for example, if YMC were informed before his senior year of B.S.-level job openings in chemistry that did not compete with engineering graduates or that did not involve bench research (for example, sales positions, QA, etc.) Who knows? Perhaps the large public university in question did do all of this.
[Also, Andre immediately pivoted to classroom teaching as the place where "universities fail to prepare their students." It's natural, right? -- he's a chemistry professor. But I don't think that's where I would find failures in the chemistry degree program. Also, I'm not advocating for altering the curriculum of a chemistry degree. Not so! I'm a traditionalist at heart.]
Andre is probably right that employers are probably doing a less-than-great job at hiring new B.S. graduates. For example, if YMC didn't have exactly the right keywords on their CV, it's quite possible that they got passed over unfairly. I think it's also likely that employers do a bad job at telling academia what they *actually* want from new graduates, other than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about "critical thinking skills" or "ability to function in a team environment" or "performing disruptive science."
If I were to assign percentages between only these 3 factors, I would say that "YMC changed their mind about chemistry" is responsible for 80% of the situation, the job market played 15% of the role and the university's role in this is perhaps 5%. If I were to add other factors (the role of employers of chemists, potential geographical factors, potential 2-body problems), the failures of the relevant university in this scenario might fall below 3%. In other words, I don't think the university played a majority part in this -- but I think it's likely that they had some role.
Readers, what do you think?