Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Q: When is a lawyer nicer than a chemist?

A: When it comes to talking about the cost/benefit analysis of law school versus graduate school.

From a CNBC article (via
"The American Bar Association has officially issued a warning on its website.

The ABA is now making the case to persuade college students not to go to law school. According to the association, over the past 25 years law school tuition has consistently risen two times faster than inflation. The average private law student borrows about $92,500 for law school, while law students who attend public schools take out loans for $71,400. These numbers do not include any debt law students may still have from their time as undergraduates.

Before the recession, the ABA cites statistics that show an average starting salary for an associate of a large law firm of about $160,000 a year. But by 2009, about 42 percent of graduates began with an annual salary of less than $65,000.
And those are just the newbies."
The full paper is here; it is titled "The Value Proposition of Attending Law School". It analyzes the cost of law school, employment trends for lawyers (including salaries), student loan concerns for new lawyers and ends with an admonition to potential lawyers to tread carefully before signing up for law school.* I am unaware of any similar paper being written or hosted by the American Chemical Society.

You can argue this is a matter of older lawyers protecting themselves from younger lawyers. I think it's worth keeping in mind that the writers and current members of ABA benefit (in some small fashion) from raising the barrier to entry to lawyering.

Whether we should discourage the education of future chemists is, in my opinion, an open question. However, I find it at least a little disturbing that a profession that's famous for coldbloodedness seems to have somewhat more regard for its future members than, say, the American Chemical Society.

*It should be noted that this report is from 2009.


  1. Must find a way to pressure the ACS ...

  2. That's because people are easily fooled into thinking the ACS is concerned with Americans, Chemicals, or Society.

  3. I don't see a problem here at all. Not in the least. And I can't believe anyone else here does either.

    We have too many lawyers as it is, and they do nothing to create wealth. They are only a tax on the creation and transfer of wealth. Surpreme Court Justice Scalia has said as much, that too many bright people are attracted to the law as a career, people that should be doing something else to better help society.

    Anyone lamenting the loss of manufacturing in this country and our conversion to a sevice economy should be rejoicing and encouraging this report.

  4. From a bunch of sleeze bucket lawyers, such a warning is truly amazing and a real service to potential future lawyers. Nothing wrong with a buyer beware warning prior to spending $90 of future of your earnings. Maybe this happens because the ABA is about practicing lawyers and their economic wellbeing not academic law schools per se.

    On the other hand, the ACS is all about the academic chemistry class, free government training money to support professors' careers, and the need for an abundace of cheap student labor to support professors' careers. The ACS have virtually no concern about the economic wellbeing of graduating or industrial chemists who are thrown on to the street after graduation in either hard economic times or a result of the restructuring, deconstruction and off-shoring of the chemical enterprise in the US (& EU). The ACS has never cared about current industrial chemists economic wellbeing or job stability - period. It is just not their problem. This was obvious in the late 60s when things went south for chemists. Yet as US students started bailing out of chemistry in the 70s, the ACS could not scream loud enough about the impending shortage of chemists and the need for more grant money and ever more imported talent for the next 30 years. All non academic chemists should boycott the ACS and stop buying their services whenever possible - I did and I will work hard to kill the ACS however I can. The ACS is a toxic organization for non academic chemists. organization

  5. I don't know about the ABA, but law schools certainly have incentive to discourage students from starting: employment of their graduates factors into their school ranking. This has led to some schools inflating GPAs retroactively to make their grads appear more attractive on paper.

    Since neither the ACS nor any graduate programs for chemists are affected by low employment rates of their grads you can expect this trend to continue unabated for a while longer.

  6. You don't become a lawyer because you really really really want to become a lawyer, you become a lawyer because you want to make money. And for most of my friends who went to law school after their liberal arts degrees, they really just didn't want to pour coffee for a living. This is why starting and average salaries are listed for all law schools and why University pedigree matters so much.

    As for chemistry, the money was simply a bonus. You became a chemist because you got rewarded for doing practical things that society uses every day. Screw it, I'm going to be an optimist. I think we have an appropriate amount of chemists. I feel the chemists we have today are learning to be more dynamic, more savvy and more interdisciplinary than any of our predecessors. I think science will continue and chemists will still provide useful advances for our society. The problem is that, our demand is lacking, and the expectations placed on us are too high. Until the market has realistic expectations of what we can and can not do, picks up R and D, accepts long term investment as a viable opportunity, and stops exporting labor, chemistry, and science, will continue to flail. If these things don't happen, it will not matter if we graduate 50 Ph. D.s a year or 20,000 Ph. D.s a year.

    I like to think the trend is reversing, I see less Ph. D. chemist high school chemistry teachers now than I did in the past year. I'm also just sick and tired of being pissed off and feeling like a victim to the great invisible hand. Maybe we need better marketing, not the whole "human element" esoteric strangeness. We should make it more blue collar, "What can your chemist do for you." With a sort of Rosy the Riveter fused Bob Woodward emblem.

  7. Sorry I got side tracked, a few thoughts while I'm sipping my morning coffee. But basically, the ABA has to address the salary incoming lawyers, because it effects the bottom of the line of the lawyers already in the real world. The more lawyers they have, the more it waters down the income of existing lawyers. The ACS, is not exactly effected by the unemployment of chemists in the real world.

  8. @5:52 and @6:57
    Why isn't that the ACS's problem? Why shouldn't it be the ACS's problem. I agree that at the moment it is not their priority. That doesn't mean that it can't BECOME one of their top priorities.

  9. Matt, you're right. Good luck righting the ship, the ACS cares about one thing: money. This is absolutely brilliantly exemplified in their latest batch of letters. I'm pasting in the whole exchange below, but basically a reader says he shouldn't have to pay for issues of a journal that he's already paid for in the past, and the ACS rebuffs him that they offer the journals at a hell of a good deal and he should just keep paying.

    I’ve been following the ongoing discussion on open access to journals both in C&EN and elsewhere. My librarian friends first raised the red flag about changes in ownership in going from print to electronic journals. With journals in print, once you’ve subscribed and received them, they’re yours. Not so with most if not all e-journal subscriptions. You only have access to the full e-archives as long as you continue to subscribe.

    I just found out that this policy also applies to personal subscriptions. I’ve subscribed to the Journal of Chemical Information & Modeling (JCIM) and its predecessors for decades. I’ve been on the editorial board, participated in choosing two editors, refereed manuscripts, and contributed several articles. Most recently, these publications have been reviews of books on chemical information. For the past seven years, I’ve subscribed to the e-edition only. However, with the decreasing coverage of chemical information in JCIM and the editorial decision not to publish book reviews, I regretfully decided to cancel my subscription beginning next year. I checked with the ACS Publications Division, and as I suspected, I will not have access to the electronic back file—even the portion acquired as a subscriber—after my subscription lapses.

    I’m faced with the loss of access to seven years of journal copies, and I think this is unfair. Surely there are extant methods that would allow selective access to the archives. Because print subscriptions for individuals are no longer available as of this year, this draconian policy will affect many members, not just me. Currently, I can access (on-site) archives of this and other ACS journals at a nearby university. Others may not have this capability. I intend to confront ACS Publications with this inequity, and I hope other individual subscribers will do likewise.

    Robert E. Buntrock
    Orono, Maine

    Robert Buntrock is correct in pointing out that as subscribers and readers around the world move from print to digital, the transition will call into question long-standing concepts and publishing models established during a previous era. Coincident with the planned cessation of print subscriptions for ACS members effective in 2010, ACS Publications has held constant for several years the special discounted prices for all electronic ACS member subscriptions—which enable access to content published from 1996 forward for each subscribed ACS journal—for an annual subscription fee of between $75 and $150 per title.

    This price range represents not only a remarkable value for any chemistry professional without easy institutional subscriber access, but also a substantial savings in contrast to prices previously levied for discounted ACS member print subscriptions. The benefit of such member access and savings comes with both the need for trade-offs and a willingness to accept a shift in paradigms—particularly as our focus on service to customers and readers moves inexorably from physical ownership of content to digital services that bundle valuable features and functionality needed by active researchers.

    We respectfully suggest that, if continued access to previously published journal issues is important to you, the most attractive and sustainable option for all is to remain an active ACS member subscriber.

    Brian D. Crawford
    President, ACS Publications and Society Staff Liaison to the Joint Board-Council Committee on Publications

  10. @ Matt,

    How about this, I don't think ACS should address this problem with arbitrage in the way the ABA addressed their problem. I think the ACS can be helpful in reminding the world of our utility.

    If the ACS can somehow provide a means to remind the world to look beyond their quarterly balance sheet, then sure, I'm all for it! That said, most professors do have a conscience with respect to the impact of their mentoring, and they are seeing first hand what is becoming to their students. Up until very recently, chemistry students did just fine in the real world. I don't think the ACS or academia was out there to deliberately screw us. I know academia is adjusting, somewhat slowly, to the new world. And perhaps I think once ACS has a clue of what to do, they will adjust accordingly.

    I am also aware that this is little consolation to those of us that gave up a decade plus of our lives to be a part of this, but this is something else the powers that be have to address, or the ranks of scientists will fall even more.

  11. I don't think that the problems of employment in this country are going to be solved by encouraging people not to major in chemistry or anything else. Over the holidays, I drove through Montana to the Pacific NW. The governor of MT was busy trying to encourage OR or WA to open a port on the Columbia River so they can export coal to China. Somehow they are selling this at a price that is (even after long distance transport) still cheaper for China than figuring out how to use their own (higher sulphur) coal. This is a process that requires no chemists. It doesn't even require large armies of uneducated people with shovels. China gets the benefits of energy fueled industrialization, and can look forward to a future using their own coal which is now left in situ. We get third world nation status and a large hole in the ground.

    We need an economy that works for the benefit of the middle class.

    I think that the ACS should be actively engaged in working for jobs generating, future looking policies in this country

  12. This is not about the ACS changing; it won't.

    I was a chemistry hobbyist (starting at age 10) prior to becoming a professional chemist. Now that I am retired, chemistry is again just a very fun hobby. Love of science does not pay the bills, a job does. If you want to play starving chemist fine but at least do so with your eyes wide open. Loosing you career can have catastrophic effects on your life and your family from which you might never recover. I have seen this many times over my career.

    The public service that the ABA has provided future lawyers is just a buy-beware message. That is the least that any professional society should do to protect its current members and future members.

    The closest thing the ACS ever did, was publish an obnoxious open letter to its members from the ACS President (a tenured professor) proclaiming "no divine right to a job" during a time of economic distress among its members.

    If the ACS were just a greedy publisher, they would not be in DC lobbying for more chemists whenever they fantasize about a shortage of human fodder. As a former 35 year ACS member, I can tell you, I have never observed the ACS do anything in the best interest of its non academic members. Again, they are a kryptonite for non academic chemists.

  13. I think it's useful to draw a distinction between Ph.D. chemists and B.S./M.S. chemists. From a handful of articles I've read recently, there aren't enough B.S./M.S. chemists graduating from American universities to meet the needs in industry over the next decade or so as baby boomers continue to retire. But the demand for Ph.D. chemists may not be as strong.

    So unlike the ABA publishing a warning to prospective lawyers, the ACS would have a more difficult task to both encourage students to get B.S./M.S. chemistry degrees and simultaneously discourage students from embarking in Ph.D. programs. Especially because students will naturally tend to view a Ph.D. as the "completion" of their education.

    That doesn't mean they shouldn't try to get that message out there, however. It's just not as simple as saying "The ABA does this, so why doesn't the ACS do it?"

  14. @Eric: That's a fair statement (re: simplicity of ABA v. ACS).

    That said, there does not appear to be a great deal of official comment either way about supply/demand issues. Addressing both of them (non-PhD, PhD) would be wonderful...

    BTW, thanks for coming over!

  15. Eric, you can fix the B.S./M.S. demand with expediency, and considering the job market for virtually anything, I wouldn't say let there be more B.S./M.S. chemists tomorrow. I mean what's the worst that could happen? The industry starves for B.S. chemists for a few years and finally drives up salaries for change?

    Ph. D.'s however, it takes too long to actually produce them to have any impact on market trends. You could want a Ph. D. tomorrow in battery science, but you have to wait 5-6 years for the poor schmo to attain one, only to have his work become obsolete.

  16. @Dr. Zoidberg,

    I understand the frustration with losing access to online journals when ending a subscription. I would be upset, too, if that happened to me.

    However, as the ACS replied, the online subscription is a different paradigm. For the price of 1 year's subscription, you get access to all content going back to 1996--not just the content published during your subscription term.

    Logically, if the ACS allowed access to content published during one's subscription term after the subscription was terminated, they would also *not* allow free access to their archives to current subscribers.

    That would be a self-consistent, but very different pricing scheme than what they are currently using. Basically, you'd be purchasing access to online content one year at a time, with the option to purchase access to the archives separately (just as in the print era subscribers could purchase reprints of back issues).

  17. Why couldn't you just print out the e-journals? Then its lasting like the physical copies that you mail, AND you get easy access to all that they offer you online.

  18. in re ACS
    Why can't they change? Why can't people come up with decent suggestions which will be taken into consideration. You're telling me there is NO way to get the ACS to listen to reason? They may not have the best track record, but I refuse to believe that they are beyond paying attention to their members ... especially if enough of them are voicing a coherent position. (Yes, this is a daunting task ... I completely appreciate Zoidberg's comments).

    Why not use some of ACS's funds to put two unemployed industrial chemists along with 2 current industrial chemists onto the board of directors. Sounds laughable - ACS really wouldn't jump on this one - but how many individual ACS members, when asked directly, would be opposed to something like this?

  19. I didn't intend to hijack the thread with a debate on the merits of open access so let's not turn it into that.

    The point is that the ACS is only concerned with generating money to keep their execs employed, not the plight of the commoners trying to make a living doing chemistry. Their solution to Mr. Buntrock's fiscal concern was to continue forking money over to them. Crawford's entire response looks to be a form letter that consists of "The ACS is AWESOME, so keep paying!" They won't change anything they're doing because what they currently do nets most of the higher ups comfortable 6-figure salaries (Madeleine Jacobs makes a sniff under $1 million, not bad for someone who works for a "non-profit").

    That being said, yes Matt, I am terribly skeptical of the ACS making any changes. But your enthusiasm might just sway me to your side.

  20. @Zoidberg, thanks for being reticent to threadjack -- good commenting citizenship is appreciated here.

  21. Being a MoFo lawyer is awesome!

  22. ACS directly benefits by having scores of graduate students and postdocs at universities doing academic research. The more research that gets done, the more publications there will be. The more publications, the more journals there needs to be. Happily, ACS is right there with plenty of journals just a-waiting for the articles to pour in. And the more journals, the more money that ACS rakes in.

    No wonder ACS can't or won't say anything about the supply/demand issue with chemists. ACS is just as dependent on the continual flow of government research money, as are universities and professors. And all three entities are dependent on the low cost labor provided by graduate students and post docs. ACS is not going to advocate for turning off the faucet of government money, by saying we need fewer chemists (and hence fewer chemical research $$$).

    I've belonged off and on to ACS for 30 years. They've never cared about industrial chemists. The most sympathetic thing they've ever said about employment opportunities is: Just Around The Corner, there will be so many chemists retiring, that there will be lots of jobs opening up. In my 30 years of working, I've yet to see this happen.

  23. @Zoidberg

    I fully admit I'm being naive. However, I have seen the ACS brass in several instances try to reach out to under-represented groups. I agree that the working industrial and ex-industrial chemists really really need some representation. As far as I'm concerned industrial chemists SHOULD make up 80% of ACS's demographics. It's best for everyone that way. Anyway, don't know how to get across on this issue, but I KNOW something has to be done.

    -- just the humble opinion of an academic chemist

  24. CHEMJOBBER: Please excuse the late post. I'm just getting my nightly blog reading done before going to bed. Anyway, if you have access to the Journal of Chemical Education, please read the following articles relevant to this thread:

    Meloan, C. E. J. Chem. Ed. 1993, 70(6), 469.

    Dietz, M. L. J. Chem. Ed. 1995, 72(1), 41-42.

    Meloan basically trumpets the ACS party line about the benefits of getting the PhD, whereas Dietz provides an incisive rebuttal using comparative salary data from the legal and medical professions. Dietz's frankness is commendable. Too bad his article was written when I was still a naïve highschooler who enjoyed science.

    It's hard for me to feel sorry for the poor law school grads who are "only" starting at $65K. That amount is still three times higher than my stipend as a 25-year old grad student back in 2005. Furthermore, it's harder for me to garner the same mundane prestige as a lawyer or physician. Nevertheless, I'm fortunate to have a job and be free of debt.

    Thanks for running a blog that is far less purile than other well-trafficked sites. Time for me to turn to report to work at 7:00 AM.

  25. Probably trying to deal directly with the ACS will be largely unfruitful. I think any real progress for us will likely be achieved by going around the ACS. Finding an effective way to do this is a challenge. Possibly it would entail some sort of information campaign, an alternative organization, letters to congressmen, or who knows what. In the age of the internet, there should be a way.

  26. Chemjobber: If you have access to the Journal of Chemical Education, please read the following articles relevant to this thread:

    Meloan, C. E. J. Chem. Ed. 1993, 70(3), 469.

    Dietz, M. L. J. Chem . Ed. 1995, 72(1), 41-42.

    Meloan basically trumpets the ACS party line about the benefits of getting the PhD, whereas Dietz provides an incisive rebuttal using comparative salary data from the legal and medical professions. Dietz's frankness is commendable. Too bad his warning was written when I was still a naive highschooler who enjoyed science.

    It's hard for me to feel sorry for the poor law school grads who are "pnly" starting at $65K. That amount is still three times higher than my stipend as a 25-year old grad student back in 2005. Furthermore, it's harder for me to garner the same mundane prestige as a lawyer or physician.

    Nevertheless, I'm fortunate to have a job and be free of debt.

  27. A11:18a: I assume that you're also A10:41p as well. Sorry -- your excellent comment got eaten by the spam filter.

    I've looked at those papers and mostly agree with the reply. But I should take it up soon (when I get access.)


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