Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We are the 99%: graduate student edition

Perusing the We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr, I was interested to see this one:
Original post here
I am about to receive my Ph.D. in a technical science from an Ivy League school.  I earned scholarships and worked two full-time jobs in college to get here.  I have worked on research and taught classes for six years on a stipend that would qualify me for welfare.  There are NO jobs waiting for me when I get my doctoral degree.  Despite working for the past six years, my university files graduate labor under a tax code that prevents me from applying for unemployment and that saves the university unforetold in tax breaks.  Because the school is a private institution, we graduate students are unable to unionize, despite the fact that we provide a significant amount of the teaching and research labor that makes this school $$.
EDUCATION IS NOT A PRIVILEGE but in this country it is held captive as such. 
I went to graduate school believing that there might be some financial security afforded by a higher degree, and that with that security I could finally buy my mom her own house and take care of her.  Instead, I have wasted six years of my life and am about to enter a job market that will tell me that I am overeducated and overqualified.  I will no longer be able to help my mom pay for health insurance, and I will no longer have my own.  I pray for our good health because that’s pretty much all we will have left. 
i am the 99%
Agree or disagree with the motives, causes, goals (or non-goals) of this movement, I am not surprised to see graduate students in the sciences see themselves as part of it. 


  1. I am completely in sympathy with the original poster. However - "buy my Mom a house?" How much money did she think she was going to make as a PhD scientist? Even in the boom times, entry level PhD chemists didn't make that much (particularly if you found a job in an expensive area like MA or CA or NJ and had to pay for your own living expenses).

  2. I don't like his attitude "I suffered through the grad school and therefore I should have earned my rights to a well-paid job". This is wishful thinking mixed with self-righteousness. This dude could have gone to med school, law or business school instead if he wants to buy a dream house for his mom any time soon.

    It is tough these days for synthetic chemists but the job market has been equally bad (or worse, and for decades) to people with PhD in biology or high-energy physics.

  3. Milkshake forgot mixed with self-pity, but is otherwise correct. I almost feel bad for them, but after a few lines this really grates on me. Ivy-League school? This person's in a better position than i am. Maybe they could consider it's their radiating sense of self-entitlement that prevents them from landing a job?

    Complaining that their stipend is too low? Wishing they could go on unemployment? Wanting a union? WTF. CJ, maybe this is a job for you--are any chemistry grad students really happy that they unionized?

  4. The first paragraph is legitimate. The second shows some naivete, but still results from the fact that graduate students aren't treated fairly by universities. They are students, employees or neither depending on what best suits the university.

    That being said, no one is entitled to anything. It was very naive of this poster to think a Ph. D. came with a 6 figure job offer. milkshake is right, there are many other fields where the promise of big money is much better. Moral of the story: don't get a Ph. D. in the sciences for the paycheck.

  5. I'd take a M.S. with experience over a self-entitled new PhD anyday.

    Sad thing is employers often do not do the same. If you get laid off in this country with experience you are considered a used chemist. Just try to find a job against the self-entitled GenY 'fresh PhD pool'. It is harder to take when you are over 40 and have a couple mortgages and a KIDS to take care of.

  6. Harsh harsh harsh. I understand the self pity argument, but in reality, especially considering the competitive field of grant money, graduate students are largely living in a vacuum their entire Ph. D. career. It is usually assumed (until very recently) that a Ph. D. is a good part of the way toward research career. The professors usually let it slide, because they need work, and they need their progeny to be successful to. So they will usually wince and push people forward so long as research progresses.

    No where does this poster describe his desire to obtain a six figure job, he is looking for ANY job that will afford a reasonable lifestyle. And to be honest, I've seen Ph. D.'s resort to trying to get into bartending and waiting tables five plus years removed from their service background (and usually fail). Personally, that is what stings the most. The days of overtime to make rent and perhaps a couple extra hours to get that nice beer, or take that pretty girl out are over.

    I am going to take a wild guess and say that the poster went to either Columbia or Yale given is proximity to the protest. Having spent a summer at Yale, and still having many friends from home that work there, Yale is this alternate Universe. Pressure is high, hours are long, and it is largely assumed that you will be successful, I mean why not? it is Yale. In reality, well Yale IS the major employer left in southern CT, particularly in the tech center, hell they occupy the former Bayer sight. I say the do much encourage this self delusion, and it is sad. And since CT is turning into a vacuum of what was once a vibrant pharmaceutical industry, the results are quick and shocking.

  7. Geez, everytime I check this blog I see a bunch of chemists griping about how hard it is to find jobs and how upper management MBAs and executives take all the money without doing a thing to earn it.

    Then a scientist younger than themselves says the same thing and suddenly she's an entitled brat?

    Nowhere is it stated that she wants a high paying job, just a job.

    As far as I can tell, you're basically all on the same side, so why are you being such jerks?

  8. Expecting to get a job after spending most of your young adult years in school means your entitled now I guess. We should all go to grad school for fun and not expect anything else.

  9. No, no, we should all go to grad school for our love of science and passion for research.


  10. Unstable Isotope, because grad school in science is anything but "school" and has been sold as "vocational training" until rather recently. How much time are students in Ph. D. programs actually taking classes vs. how much time they are actually trying to push for data, grants, and essentially doing the pie in the sky research needed for society to bloom, yet not get paid in monetary value.

    Sigh ... this already has been debated to death. If you want a Ph. D. that is a pure exercise in passion, you get one in art history or particle physics. If you want a Ph. D. that slightly sells out your passion for the opportunity to do something meaningful in society for at least some monetary gain and financial security, you get one in chemistry.

  11. ... I missed the sarcasm.

  12. I don't agree the person has a sense of entitlement. Remember, people in science are told to shut up and produce in lab. A straight shooter, good student will be 26-27 by the time they get their PhD and have very little real experience. Include the debt and personal sacrifices they have made, and it really is not too much to expect a decent job after 20 years of being a top student.

    But other posters are correct, people should already accept that science is a very poor career choice now and they should downgrade their expectations. If a person wants a career with good risk/benefit ratio and ROI, science is the worst choice these days.

  13. @ 1:42:

    I agree except for the "by the time they get their PhD and have very little real experience" bit. I hear this crap all the time from ignorant people in industry and it makes me furious. After undergrad I spent 4+ years in grad school doing reactions, in a hood, at a bench, in a lab, for a university. I then spent 2+ years in postdoc doing reactions, in a hood, at a bench, in a lab, for a university. Now that I have an industrial R&D job, know what I do? I do reactions, in a hood, at a bench, in a lab, for a company. I's the same damn thing. And when I hear some smug midlevel bureaucratic puke talk about how I spent 12 years "in college" I want to tear their throat out with my teeth. It is job experience whether the HR drones want to acknowledge it or not. But I guess I'm just "self-entitled." Whatever that means.

  14. Anon 5:01. I think you took that line the wrong way. I meant to point out the exact situation you are talking about. Though this person spent so much time and sacrificed "real world" experience in the eyes of HR, that is a sacrifice that should come with some reward, namely a job.

    A freshly minted PhD with a post-doc under their belt being "inexperienced" is a load of garbage. But it is the way science works and any complaints about it will get you labeled as "entitled". Oh yes, spending 7-8 yrs missing out on life while in lab on Saturday, definitely turns us into undeserving, self-centered, entitled, brats.....

  15. "It is job experience whether the HR drones want to acknowledge it or not".

    Ya. No, it isn't. I, also, spent 4 years in grad school doing reactions. It was hard work, with long hours, but it wasn't the same as working for a company: we'd ditch off to take classes, to study for comps, to demo labs, to mark, to play badminton. It was like a job, but maybe a 'job-light'. I can saw for sure it was more fun than any job.....Post-docing was closer to a job, but how close this is to a job very much depends on one's advisor. Luckily for me, I worked for a good guy (both personally and professionally: got some prize in Sweden). But even this was not the same, but funner, than any job.

    For certain it sucks after "spending 7-8 yrs missing out on life while in lab on Saturday". Maybe try whining to a bunch of folks in who've worked the past 7 to 8 years at Walmart (likely including Saturdays and Sundays) and still can barely scrap by their lousy salary. I guess these folks should have just worked a little harder so mommy and daddy could have afforded to pay their tuition to university.

    Has anyone actually read what these 99%s/Occupy Wall Streeters (there are actually more IBanks/hedge funds in Midtown, but don't tell them....) want? http://occupywallst.org/article/a-message-from-occupied-wall-street-day-five/

    Some nice ideas, to be sure, but "Ending poverty is our one demand."? Good thought, but good luck with that.

    They also seem to have multiple "one demands".

  16. bboooooya,

    I think you'd make more per hour at walmart.

    I think it pretty much is job experience. Maybe it's not the same as the experience at certain jobs/certain companies. It's not as much as when you add on 5 years or whatever, but no experience? That's BS. I've also had experience at real jobs -they were all easier than grad-school and post-doc.

    Maybe people are so whinny because they figure they oughtn't be lied to by their government, universities, professors, the ACS, whomever.

  17. blooooya,

    Dare I say it, but you are sounding like such a scab.

    I mean, it is marginally better being being scientist than a wage earner at walmart. I ask myself that every day. The difference is, I don't have to sustain myself on sugar wafers and burger king and get diabetes while having no health insurance. The rewards are potentially greater in that ... IF I get that job I went to school for, I could afford to have a house and a family, and not be on welfare.

    And ending poverty is not unrealistic. It was almost ended in the 60's under LBJ's "war on poverty" which wasn't the hand out that so many people believe it was. It was actually a job training program.

    I mean, I am dumbfounded that people still say this crap this day and age ...

    I'm also glad you had a nice PI for an adviser, just don't feel so "entitled" because of it.

  18. "And ending poverty is not unrealistic"

    Ya, it is. Not saying I wish it weren't so, but it's economically impossible. As long as some people want to be rich (and some always do), some people will have to be poor. It's even in the Bible (John 12:8).

    "just don't feel so "entitled" because of it"

    I don't, just grateful.

  19. The problem with chemistry as a profession is that most opportunities are controlled by tenured academics who could give a rats ass about their students or the field as a whole.

    Things in the Jobs market will become far worse if Obama's new job plan passes. It will instantly grant a green card to all, and I mean all, foreign scientists in Masters and doctoral programs.

    This will be a boon to universities as they now have a new 'carrot' to attract cheap, easily manipulated foreign labor.


  20. bbooooooya @ 5:52 AM:

    So if you really condense your argument down, the major, substantial, qualitative difference between the experience in grad school and the experience in the private sector is.... wait for it... less schedule flexibility? That's it?

    Are you going to tell us next that we have NO IDEA what it's like to have to wear a tie all day and fill out TPS reports?

  21. Personally, my biggest gripe w.r.t. the "entitlement" issue... Nobody's entitled to anything, of course. It's all about whether if you engage in a graduate education program, whether that's in medicine, law, business, or say Chemistry, you have a reasonable expectation of being able to do that thing as a career.

    Someone in med school can expect to become a doctor. Maybe not a top dermatologist or radiologist pulling down high-6-figures, but a *doctor* nonetheless. The problem is that you can not (anymore) go to grad school in Chemistry with a reasonable expectation of *ever* becoming a "chemist" in any professional capacity (academia or industry).

    Of course you're not going to starve... but you may never be able to get paid to do what you (probably) went to grad school for in the first place, to become a scientist.

    I hold it as my Ph.D-given right to gripe about that. But then again, you're not entitled to buy your mom a house. Shoulda gone to med school for that.

    My $0.02

  22. Via E-mail, John Smith sez:

    "Getting a chemistry PhD is now like playing college ball. You are exploited for the benefit of the college and coach (prof) and if you are one of the lucky ones, you get drafted by the pros but no guarantees of course. Your career will be short (but not as lucrative) and when the pros kick you out into the real world, you will find you have absolutely no marketable skills to secure your future."

  23. Someone in med school can expect to become a doctor. Maybe not a top dermatologist or radiologist pulling down high-6-figures, but a *doctor* nonetheless. The problem is that you can not (anymore) go to grad school in Chemistry with a reasonable expectation of *ever* becoming a "chemist" in any professional capacity (academia or industry).

    This is a bad comparison. The medical profession does an excellent job at limiting the number of MDs they produce each year. There isn't a glut of MDs looking for jobs.

    A better comparison my be getting a JD, where, like graduate departments, law schools keep churning out more and more lawyers into a system that can't absorb them all. The main difference between them and folks getting PhDs in the sciences is that they get to pay $100K for the privilege of not finding a job, or finding a job that doesn't pay anywhere near what most folks going into law school expect.

    I've seen a large number of seminars this year from young synthetic professors with absolutely massive research groups, and I wonder where on earth these folks are going to find work. Yale bought the old Bayer site and is converting it into this 'state of the art' biomedical research campus. Again, great for professors who can bring on board graduate students and post-docs, but where will all of these folks land when their time is up?

    You've got to go into any graduate level education with your eyes open. If you're at North Dakota State to study synthetic chemistry, you've got to think about what this will get you. I'm sure even the Ivy graduates are having a much harder time to find work, as the original subject of this thread indicated. It would be interesting to know specifically what field he got his degree in.

    The best picture on that initial link was of some paunchy protesters on top, and a picture of several bone-thin starving kids in some 3rd world nation. The title was "You may be in the 99%, but to them you're still in the 1%"

  24. "people should already accept that science is a very poor career choice now and they should downgrade their expectations"

    Yes, but people graduating now entering grad school 5 years ago -- in 2006. Things were different then.

    I agree that the ACS & potential PIs should tell the truth about job prospects to potential students. I also think limiting the number of students is probably good idea, considering the circumstances right now. Gee, with all these out-of-work scientists you'd think that profs that want to crank out work could find something to do with them...

  25. The increasing number of students in graduate schools are the problem!!! Corporations are using university collaborations to accomplish some to ALL of their research. Students are much cheaper than a full time or part time employee experienced in industry. Any remaining research is rapidly being shifted to lower cost countries.

    There are no US jobs in industry BECAUSE of the high number of students in university. It is only a question if the pyramid scheme will ever collapse. My bet is no. Even if US students stop going to US graduate schools (against all odds from the propaganda about high paying rewarding careers in science), they will be easily replaced with an increase in the number of training visas in sciences.


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