...A Nature article published in 2011 contends that the academic positions for science PhD holders are decreasing and sectors outside of academia are unable to compensate. Yet the unemployment rate for PhD graduates in the life sciences remains at a low of 1.5%, much lower than the national unemployment rate in the United States. So are there too many PhDs?
There are only too many PhDs if every PhD candidate envisions a career in academia....A couple of things here:
- First, it's clear that the purpose of the essay isn't to engage with the "Are there too many PhDs" question. That's fine, but then, why bring up the statistics as if they're refutation of the Ph.D. glut theory.
- The writer claims above that this is the unemployment rate for Ph.D. graduates in life sciences -- so far as I could tell, this is not actually true. The number "1.5%" and "life sciences" are not tied together anywhere in the report. Maybe I'm wrong.
- Interestingly, many of the unemployment stats for recent life scientist grads are still quite low -- the most relevant number I saw in the linked 2012 NSF report (which I have no reason to doubt) is 2.1% for recent life scientist (page 3-35)
- However, my main critique of these numbers is that they're from 2008, which means that they were measuring pre-Great Recession graduates. You can see that the similar number in the newer 2014 report for 2010 recent life scientist graduates was 2.8%. (page 3-35)
- My main issue is this portion of the sentence "much lower than the national unemployment rate in the United States." It is ridiculous to compare the unemployment rate of recent Ph.D. graduates in the sciences (any sciences) to the national unemployment rate. ~30% of the US population has a B.S. degree; college graduates make up around 47% of the workforce. We should not be comparing a group of 100% Ph.D.s to a national workforce where less than 5% of the workers have a Ph.D. It is a meaningless comparison.
- The better number to compare against is the overall unemployment rate for Ph.D.s, which was 2.2% for 2013. Of course, the problem with this is, we're now measuring all Ph.D. holders, including your tenured faculty adviser.