Friday, July 11, 2014

Slate/NSF: The modal outcome of a chemistry Ph.D. is a postdoc

Credit: Jordan Weissmann
Jordan Weissman has tabulated the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates' "employment status at graduation" data into a really great set of graphs at Slate. He did it for life scientists, chemists, physicists (holy moly, look at all them physics postdocs), mathematicians, computer science Ph.D.s and engineering Ph.D.s. It's really worth a look. His comments on chemists:
The near-term picture for chemists isn’t a whole lot rosier. Again, postdocs are hovering above 40 percent. Employment, after popping in the ’90s, fell to a plateau around 25 percent in the ’00s.
Of course, if you look at the percentage of employed computer scientists and engineering Ph.D.s, you will soon find yourself saying "STEM is really TE." Here's how Weissmann puts it:
One of the problems with the entire concept of STEM is that the acronym combines several distinct disciplines with different job markets, and encourages politicians and journalists to talk about them as if they were one and the same. 
I couldn't agree more. The term "STEM" makes us stupid and mashes together categories that don't belong together. 


  1. Taken from the conclusion of the Slate article: "Is this a tragedy? No, especially because Ph.D. holders, in the long term, tend to make good salaries and leave school with low graduate student debt."

    They make it sound like having a PhD is a guarantee -or close to it- to a reasonable salary which, in my experience, isn't anywhere near the case. Not anymore. It's an apex fallacy (i.e. making a judgement about a group based on the success or failure of those at the top rungs, rather than as a collective). The most successful PhD holders are the most visible, the most prominent, while the rest is somewhere in obscurity.

    1. Unstable IsotopeJuly 11, 2014 at 7:08 PM

      It would be interesting to see the income distribution graph among categories for chemistry, especially academic salaries. I wonder how much using mean salary obscures the salary distribution.

  2. And what exactly do postdocs do after they've finished? Find that you are overqualified for PhD level jobs, but lacking in any kind of industry experience?

    At least the Tour de France is on while I apply for jobs at home today.

    1. "And what exactly do postdocs do after they've finished?"

      Do another postdoc, hehe.

  3. PhD holders should leave graduate school with zero graduate student loan debt. It's the undergraduate debt that is piled high and deeper if you know what I mean.

    So basically about 60-70 % of recent PhDs are unemployed, stuck in post-docs, or do something else (other). That bodes well for recruiting new students to the field going forward.