Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chart of the day: organic chemistry Ph.D.s, 1960-1999

After last week's chemistry jobs roundtable, Leigh published a chart noting PhDs awarded by subdiscipline. Being an organic chemist, I decided to isolate the data for organic chemistry PhDs in the chart below:

Source: Just Another Electron Pusher, NSF report on US Doctorates in the 20th Century, Appendix A
Interesting how there was a big spike in the 1965 to 1974 period. Anyone have an explanation for that? I note that the trend in the late nineties is up -- I assume that the next decade showed an even greater increase. 


  1. A response to a push for scientists during the Cold War, maybe? It would be interesting to dig though history to find out.

  2. I remember someone telling me grad school was a viable option for draft deferral back in the day. Now, it's just real world/recession deferral.

  3. No data for 2000-2004? I assume none, of course, for 2005-2009 yet, but it WOULD be neat to see the "biotech bubble" - I'll bet it's as high as '70-'74

  4. For instance, from this document?

    p. 41 is the breakdown of earned doctorates in chemistry - actually, the number (overall) is DOWN from the '90s!

  5. That's Appollo program.

  6. I am one of those organic chemistry PhD chemists from the early 70s. The factors for so many of us chemists from that era were:

    1) the baby boom #s
    2) we were inspired to be scientists by society's worship of atomic, space, agrichemical and pharmaceutical scientists' betterment of all our lives and their role in winning WWII. Remember plastics!! and nylon stockings and DDT?
    3) we could play with chemicals in back yard laborators making all kinds of obnoxious things like bromine, white phosphorus, nitric acid, lead azide, silver fulminate and nitroglycerin without worrying about the fire marshall, DEA, AFT or EPA taking us to jail or showing up in bunny suits. Yes I made them all by age 14. You could buy all kinds of chemicals and glassware at the local hobby shop back then. I even purchase sodium azide, and it was sent to me by US mail!
    4) we were highly employable and highly valued by industrial employers. Chemists today have no idea how well scientists were treated by corporate types in the 50s and 60s. We were considered company crown jewels.
    5) a vast expansion of academic employment and government funds for training the baby boomers

    What changed?

    1) The 1973 resession - see Nov 1971 Life Magazine photo of 200 job rejection letters stapled to a PhD chemists' lab ceiling.
    2) Love Canal and the rise chemophobia
    3) The end of the baby boom
    4) The increasing poor treatment chemists by employers including lay-offs, downsizings and eroding pay vis a vis inflation.
    5) The end of rapid expansion of university hiring and lower government funding
    6) Better/cleaner/safer/lucrative opportunities than chemistry - biological sciences, computer sciences and quantative finance
    7) Diminished commitment of industry to chemistry sciences
    8) There were so many of us we lost our value to society and industry


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20