Why no reference to Benderly? On this blog, we've been through discussions of staff scientists / professional postdocs before, during our discussion of Beryl Lieff Benderly's article "The Real Science Gap." Rohn's argument is quite similar to Benderly's -- I'm surprised that there wasn't a note about it. (Similar enough that Benderly dryly notes that it's nice to hear a new voice say the same things.)
For that matter, Rohn's (IMO correct) assertion that a tournament model is working in the academic labor market was also covered by Benderly in November. (It should be noted that the tournament concept is most attributable to economist Prof. Richard Freeman.)
What is the state of the industrial biology job market? The surfeit of academic postdocs is clearly the result of the mountains of NIH funding -- in particular, for biomedical research. It appears that, in contrast to chemistry, there is less of an industrial escape valve in the biomedical sciences to take up the surplus of workers; Lowe's final comment seems to indicate as such. This comment on In the Pipeline suggests that, in pharmacology, that industry has adapted to the new reality by requiring more and longer postdoctoral stints of their candidates. Terrifying.
At the same time, the number of medical scientists is expected to grow significantly (see slide 11), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 39.3%, to be exact, between 2008-2018. One wonders where they're all going to come from and where they're going to work.
A negative feedback loop: Dr. Rohn's core idea is expressed in the following paragraph:
An alternative career structure within science that professionalizes mature postdocs would be better. Permanent research staff positions could be generated and filled with talented and experienced postdocs who do not want to, or cannot, lead a research team — a job that, after all, requires a different skill set. Every academic lab could employ a few of these staff along with a reduced number of trainees. Although the permanent staff would cost more, there would be fewer needed: a researcher with 10–20 years experience is probably at least twice as efficient as a green trainee. Academic labs could thus become smaller, streamlined and more efficient. The slightly fewer trainees in the pool would work in the knowledge that their career prospects are brighter, and that the system that trains them wants to nurture them, not suck them dry and spit them out.So far as I can tell, this is a negative feedback loop. As more staff scientists are hired, there will be less funding available for postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. I believe that Dr. Rohn sees this as a feature, not a bug. Most current scientists would agree, I suspect.
But here's the thing: society, through the government, wants lots of scientists. They don't care about scientist unemployment -- they care about curing diseases and getting more for their taxpayer dollar. That un(der)employed scientists are the negative externality of massive NIH funding is not their concern -- we're just the grist. I suspect our cries will fall on deaf ears.