Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The 2013 Survey of Earned Doctorates is out

How did the Ph.D. chemists do? From "TABLE 59. Statistical profile of postgraduation plans of doctorate recipients in physical sciences fields, by sex and field of study: 2013" (PDF)

Let's remember this for the future: the modal outcome of a Ph.D. in chemistry in 2013 was a postdoctoral appointment, just like it has been for the past 20 years.

I've taken the Excel file and isolated it to just the chemistry Ph.D.s. Plenty of data to chew on.

(Year after year, the thing that continues to amaze me is the number of people who fill out the Survey of Earned Doctorates (i.e. their graduate school gives them the "YOU ARE OFFICIALLY GRADUATING" paperwork and the SED is part of that) and are still seeking employment or study. I should note that this number is always higher than I expect, but I don't have historical data to draw a conclusion about 2013's numbers.)

24 comments:

  1. As a 2013 Ph.D. graduate who is still seeking employment, these numbers are both depressing and strangely comforting at the same time. I'm in Canada, where I feel like the situation is more dire than the US, but there's something to be said about the "it's not me, its the market" line of thinking that keeps you going. Good luck to everyone out there in the same boat.

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  2. A glut of Ph.D.s.Postdoc is not an employment, and sure not an training period. It's a source of cheap labor for PIs.

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  3. So that's 1 in 5 who have real jobs. Yikes.

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  4. I have devoted my all life to chemistry, I started attending chemistry classes at the age of 9, and have then in the end completed PhD in organic chemistry. Since I was studying all over the planet, I spent extra time learning the languages, so the whole adventure took even longer. After completing my PhD in 2011, I could not land a single interview, partially because I was studying a bit longer, and in Europe they are very sensitive about that. Then, I decided to go East, and after a very short lousy postdoc in messy conditions, I landed job with a "respectable" CRO in Asia. The things in the company were just as messy as during that lousy postdoc. In other words, they didn't care at all about safety. Solvent vapours were constantly present in the air (hexane, ethyl acetate, dichloromethane), the labs were disorganized and dirty, the managment didn't have a clue what they are doing. One was expected to work 24/7.
    After some big pharma restructuring happened, they lost temporarily a contract, and 1/5 of the people were doing nothing for months. The company decided to layoff around 10% (before bonus payment), and then 3 months later hired some back. How can one organize life in a "hire & fire" company?
    The problem with R&D is that it is not profitable and it is never going to be. Forget all these stories that magic cure (against anything) will be found one day. With our present system where everything has to be profitable straight away, the outlook for PhD organic chemists, or any PhDs in chemistry is bleak. I consider it unethical that university professors are not informing their young students about these facts. Do not go into chemistry unless you enjoy torturing yourself life long.
    I know so many highly qualified PhDs that are out of work. Many have devoted several years of their life to finish chemistry studies, some have respectable background (Ivy League) but currently all of that does not necessarily help. The problem with chemistry is, that once you are out of work, it is extremely difficult to find another position, or if you already have a job, it is difficult to make a progress. If you find employment as a bench chemist, you might find yourself doing the same things 10 years later.

    As for me, I have completely dropped my chemistry career and am starting all over in a completely different field. It is still not too late - better than waiting for another 2-3 years jobless, then working for 1 year and being laid off again. I already got an offer after one year of hard studying and I am gone for good.

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    1. What did you retrain in?

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    2. I would also like to know. If I get laid off I'm done with chemistry for good.

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    3. If something works for one person, it is not very likely it will work for another. You should always choose something that you like, otherwise you will be stuck with something you dislike. Go to any job portal and from all the jobs posted look at what is in high demand, as compared to chemistry, and then ask yourself, can I imagine myself doing something like that? If you by now haven't discovered any other passions, it can be dangerous to try to change. Once you start changing your career (from chemistry), there is NO way back. The employers in chemistry will NOT like your CV stating you were educating yourself for something else. The question is, can you afford it financially? I spent 24/7 studying for one year, just eating lunch/dinner, and no social life.
      I read a comment on FiercePharma page where one guy was describing that he had a friend who was working for 15 years for very famous pharma company where he was a group leader. He got laid off and found himself working at a local gas station. Surprisingly that comment was erased from all over the internet, possibly because it mentioned the name of the company.

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    4. I agree it is important to find something you like and have some natural skill at. However, it is always good to have ideas thrown out at you to consider, so I would like to know what this individual is doing with his life. Probably it's not for me, but I would like to hear about his/her new vocation and how well it is going for him/her. Could be inspiring for many folks on this board.

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  5. The large number of postdoc bound PhDs and entry level positions requiring postdocs seems a clear indication that the labor market is still sagging. Edging closer to finishing my PhD I'm more inclined than ever to think an exit strategy is in order. The question is what can be done to bring supply more in line with demand when authority figures have every reason to continue the status quo- a surfeit of students keeps academic labs full and depresses wages for graduates.

    Does the DOE or another body keep track of the number of incoming students? I would be curious to see if the number of enrolling students has begun to drop yet or if the poor economic recovery is keeping enrollment high. I feel like employment for PhDs has been lagging long enough that enrollment should have begun to dip by now.

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    1. I've since retired, but I ran a chemistry Ph.D. Program at a well known place. Already in the 1980s there was pressure to take an optimistic view of domestic students form small UG programs and modest GRE scores. International admits started increasing around the same time, but this really took off in the 90s. The pressure comes from every part of the system. Senior admin wants large Ph.D. enrollments but also good academic placememts. Senior admin wants lots of grants and papers. ACS is a publishing business. NSF is drinking the STEM cool aide and selling it to congress. Industrial supporters like low wages. Unless you are one of the top chemistry majors at a top 10 national research university and your daydream of having MIT and Caltech get in a bidding war for your services is regarded as somewhat plausible by your mentors, you should cut your losses early and do something that will make your life less frustrating. Everyone is lying about Ph.D. STEM education. It's a little like the DEA, private prisons and the correctional unions talking the war on drugs. Holding down the losers is good job security for the winners.

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    2. I certainly understand that individually our options are limited to accept it or get out, but collectively what can be done? We can write blog posts and letters, but what concrete actions should we advocate. The ACS likes to brag about being the largest scientific society, it's about time its members demand more action.

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    3. Incentives are needed to get change. The ACS executives have absolutely no incentive to help chemists at all (especially ones that do not publish in ACS publications!). To get change, you need to cut off the ACS supply of money.

      We need a brand new organization to represent chemists that actually cares about them. The ACS never will, unless caring about chemists will increase their million-a-year executive salaries.

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  6. Can't agree more about the ponzi scheme of academia. Professors should be ashamed of themselves.

    But I like the comment someone else made in a different post, about how chemistry is a niche market. Consider the 2,491 chemistry PhDs minted every year. Extrapolate that 75 years (lifetime), and divide by the population of America of 316.1 million. PhD chemists make up 0.06% of the population. Again, it's just a sad little niche market where supply outpaces demand and ruins the lives of those gullible enough to study science.

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  7. Samuel71 - i make it at 12% with real jobs

    (471 * 0.658) / 2491

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    1. Ouch, may have to add that info to this huge list of discontent:

      http://chemistry.about.com/u/ua/educationemployment/chemists.htm

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    2. I think it should be 471/2491.

      C'mon, "real" (i.e., permanent) jobs are not only to be found in industry.
      There are careers to be had in academia and government, too.

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  8. who says those jobs are permanent? tenure track is nor permanent!

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    1. Following your logic: which jobs in industry are permanent?

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  9. I think I put 'seeking employment' on this because I had postdoc offers but hadn't picked one yet.

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  10. I just saw an article on MBAs. Most MBA graduates have a job three months after graduation (>90%).
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141210002536-17970806-best-worst-2014-mba-job-placement?trk=tod-home-art-list-small_3

    The PhD in chemistry is pretty much a scam.

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    1. I don't think those numbers and these numbers are equally statistically valid, nor are they comparing the same thing.

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    2. How many MBAs already had jobs while taking classes? How many people go straight from undergrad to MBA like most science majors go from under grad to PhD? It might be advantageous for science grads to get into business for a bit before going to grad school to develop a work history.

      On another note I feel as though a more uniform data set would be useful. Maybe data collection could be mandated by the DOE in return for taking federal money. A set collected by standardized methods across all schools and majors would be a goldmine of data.

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  11. I studied in Australia and submitted my PhD thesis in organic/medicinal chemistry at the end of 2009. I reckon it took me about an entire year to finally land my first postdoc position in New Zealand. Two years after that and of course I had to find another one - this time it was easier, but myself and young family found ourselves moving to France (not necessarily a bad thing). Now after another two years it's time to find another job again!! And we'd like to return to Australia for a while this time - haha!

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  12. It will only get worse as more and more automation makes its way into the lab. Soon you will only need 1 chemist (probably not even a PhD) to do the work of about 20.

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