Tuesday, February 21, 2017

US chemistry Ph.D.s awarded: 1994-2015

A little tabulation of the data in the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates. Data set here.

It's interesting how the number of organic chemistry Ph.D.s went up, just as the number of pharma jobs probably started declining in 2003 or so. 

20 comments:

  1. I would imagine the number of organic PhDs correlates well with the enrollment increases at universities in the life sciences and pre-med. Organic graduate students are a big source of organic TAs. They are needed because it's way harder to grade organic exams with a scantron than gen chem.

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    1. People don't go to grad school because there are TA openings. Also, at my university we have inorganic grad students fill organic TA slots.

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    2. Another brick in the wallFebruary 21, 2017 at 7:49 PM

      While TA positions won't inspire a student to go to grad school, they might enable it: a school can admit more grad students (by lowering cutoffs, for instance) to fill TA needs. This happens regularly in some of the larger public programs.

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    3. Don't departments that hire in lots of warm bodies for TA positions tend to use candidacy exams as a means of culling?

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    4. When I was visiting grad schools (early 90s), I had heard that a certain large Western state school had a history of taking more grad students than they could seat in research in order to have enough chemistry TAs. I don't know if that was true then, or if it has changed, but it did seem plausible.

      I was worried for that scenario because my safety nets were all on the East Coast - unless you have local friends or connections, getting nontendered would make life sort of difficult. You probably wouldn't have warning to transfer and wouldn't necessarily be able to get a job (particularly now). I don't think getting admitted to a grad program as a sacrificial TA is doing you any favors.

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    5. I'm a consistent follower of this blog, but the notion that departments admit students simply to be TAs and then kick them out sounds a bit too cynical (even here).. Grad students are expensive (that tuition waiver we never see is a real cost), and a lot o people will leave early for their own reasons. I have yet to hear stories of grad students being kicked out b/c a department no longer needs graduate students. I hear the opposite story much more frequently where older students will continue teaching longer than they wished in order to support their research (I've heard stories of students teaching very semester they're enrolled)

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    6. Sorry should read TA instead of graduate student in the third sentence

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    7. I should say in my partial defense that I was repeating a rumor that I heard in the late 90s, I'm not sure I really buy it now that you have questioned it.

      That said "that tuition waiver we never see is a real cost" is something I'm not sure I buy. I agree, schools really do have a tuition waiver, but does the money ever really move? I'd love to know. (Answer: probably yes.)

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    8. I was enrolled at an Ivy league and when I was dropping out of the program, I had to meet with the dean of the school, and I mentioned that "tuition was free" or something similar, and he made a point to emphasize to me that it was waived-my takeaway from his over emphasis was that money was in fact moving for the sake of graduate students.

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    9. "While TA positions won't inspire a student to go to grad school, they might enable it: a school can admit more grad students (by lowering cutoffs, for instance) to fill TA needs. This happens regularly in some of the larger public programs."

      My PhD program, a large public university with a giant undergraduate enrollment absolutely had more graduate students than could be supported without a large number of TAships available, especially in the organic division. Unlike some universities with lower TA needs that have a 2 semester maximum, we were allowed to TA the every semester, including summers. Even with as many students TAing every semester as needed to be supported, the university still needed to hire undergraduate students and non-student "teaching specialists" to fill the remaining TA needs. This effectively meant that professors could have larger groups than they could otherwise support if all students needed to be supported on grants or fellowships. It often became a crutch for faculty as grant money became leaner.

      Some students got "culled" through courses or candidacy. But mostly we just had a huge program largely subsidized by the university's huge TA needs. A group of 10 graduate students supported on one RO1, for example was common. This would have been impossible without salary support from the university.

      The tuition waiver is not "free" for the university, but they would need to hire TAs anyway as teaching specialists if graduate students were not filling those positions, so having a large PhD program versus hiring additional staff all came out in the wash financially.

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    10. I would add--the faculty loved having that much salary support. It was certainly a distraction from research, but it made it much less stressful for them to know that they would never need to worry about supporting salary costs.

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    11. This doesn't seem like a real help though - the department basically has more students that can actually get funded on the grants. It's disconnected from the job market, because most students won't go into academia, but it seems like that would give you more potential job seekers in academia than grant money to support them (and hence jobs). In addition, the time to degree is likely going to be significantly higher - there are only so many hours to do research, and a chunk of those have to be used for teaching instead (though this seemed not so true for the physical people in my department, who had to teach but generally graduated earlier than organic folks).

      This seems like a help for professors but not so much for students.

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    12. "This seems like a help for professors but not so much for students."

      That's what it was, really.

      We had a new Dean suggest that teaching beyond a semester or two provided little career development to graduate students, increased time to degree, and wasn't hugely beneficial to a PhD which is a research degree. She claimed it was mostly a service to the university and a crutch for professors. She then suggested restructuring graduate programs, having smaller graduate programs, providing more internal fellowship support rather than TAships, and hiring appropriate staff to deal with TA needs. This sentiment was not very popular among faculty.

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  2. I'm one of those who got into the organic PhD glut after 2003. It was a more glamorous time for us back then.

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  3. I wonder how often an MBA hands a twenty-dollar bill to a panhandler because the MBA recognizes their general chemistry TA?

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  4. This is a good opportunity to bring up Okabe & Ito's guide for scientific figures. It's not something a lot of scientists think about, but I can't tell a thing from that graph. Not trying to criticize, just trying to help the cause.

    http://jfly.iam.u-tokyo.ac.jp/color/index.html#assign

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    1. That's a very good point. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Unclear to me who would fall into Chemistry, general PhD classification and what occurred in the mid-90s to explain the significant drop that began to recover a decade later? Overall except for possibly medchem that has the data gap visual projection would suggest trend towards continued increases in total and all sub-fields which only makes me wonder if people are falling for the STEM hype without recognition of the tough job market echoed in this blog. Of course a higher percent these days may be foreign grads who still train in US but are able to now return home to find suitable work opportunities.

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    1. Many schools don't distinguish between disciplines on the diploma. Heck, my PhD diploma doesn't even say what my degree is in. I would bet that many of the respondents to the "Chemistry-General" box simply checked what was written on the diploma. If that's the case, one could possibly just assume that the distribution of sub-disciplines described by "Chemistry-General" is equivalent to the sub-discipline distribution presented in the rest of the graph.

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    2. Respondents to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (i.e. the graduates themselves) fill out which subdiscipline they are a part of.

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