Thursday, November 29, 2012

How many 1st year grad students will get their Ph.D. in chemistry?

A little evening tidbit: Dan Drezner is a professor of international political economy and a longtime foreign policy blogger. He's been involved in an interesting debate about whether or not a Ph.D. is required for going into policy in the Washington, D.C. area. He is pushing back strongly against any encouragement of a doctorate as a terminal degree. Here is a tibdit from his latest long post about it that I found stunning:
Furthermore, not finishing a Ph.D. is not exactly uncommon.  Click on this slide show about Ph.D. attrition rates from the Council of Graduate Schools, and note the following three facts: 
1)  Only 46% of all entrants finish their Ph.D. after seven years in a program.
2)  For social science Ph.D.s, that figure is even lower -- 41%
3)  If you extend it out to ten years, the lowest completion rate among the social sciences is political science -- only 44% complete a doctorate after a decade.  In other words, entering a Ph.D. program and then not finishing is the modal outcome. 
From that report (written in 2008, collected from data before then) the 10-year completion rate was 62% for a doctoral degree in chemistry. (I wonder what that number is now? To SESTAT!)


  1. I bet it is lower than that now. Started my Ph.D. in 2001 and the attrition rate was >50%.

  2. Some fun math:

    62% chance of graduation x 19.2% chance of becoming a research chemist = 12% chance of continuing a research career after entering graduate school.

    And yes I realize that 19.2% is a narrow pick, but the number does not become much better even if we took the broader career choices into account!

    Graduation rate for medical students 94.1% x 95% residency placement = 89% chance of continuing a career in medicine after entering medical school.

    A big mystery is why are graduate schools still able to recruit any American students who will work 6-7 days/week for nearly seven years and then do it again in a post-doc, all while vying for something that has little chance of happening at all. Not to mention the pay is probably not too great these days even for that 12% that still works directly in research! Maybe medical school is actually worth the debt when considering the odds and opportunity costs.


  3. Now that you mention SESTAT, lets look at what SESTAT had to say about the lifetime earnings of a PhD scientist:

    "Regets's Ph.D. scientist earned $1.4 million over the course of a 35-year career, whereas the biologist with a bachelor's degree earned $1.3 million. His model is based on 2006 survey data in NSF's Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT)."

    From UC Davis:
    "Medical oncologists, for instance, earn up to $7,127,543 during a 35-year career, while family medicine practitioners earn as low as $2,838,637."

    Remember, $2.8M is the low end for an MD and $1.4M is the AVERAGE for a PhD scientist! The PhD study was conducted in 2008 with old data and the MD study is more recent, so the disparity is probably much greater.

    For anyone on the fence about PhD vs MD, definitely think about the career outcomes + financial outcomes, that might make the decision a lot easier.


  4. In grad school we referred to those people that mastered out as "the smart ones."

  5. There's a lot more incentive to START grad school than there is incentive to FINISH grad school. The NSF awards undergrads and 1st years with 4.0 GPAs and cheery essays on how they're going to save the world with 3 years of funding. That's long enough to get through candidacy and then some, w/o the PI needing to fire you for being incompetent. Then you're a fourth or fifth year, having to teach while trying to finish up... a great recipe for giving up.

  6. I attended a large Midwestern university that needed lots of teaching assistants for all of the freshman engineering students taking chemistry. In orientation, they said look to the person on your left, and the person on your right. Only one of you will leave with a PhD. They were right.

  7. AS a recent Ph.D graduate in organic chemistry I already regret it. I graduated from a good school with a couple of 1st author publications.
    I’ll tell you what a PhD is worth and it is about 20-40K in an adjunct faculty, postdoc, QC chemist, or tenure track chemistry professor at a small school if you are real lucky.

    Why are chemistry undergraduate students pushed so hard to get a PhD in chemistry?
    These kids are only 21 or 22 years old and they don't know what they are doing. They receive poor advising from professors who have no idea how poor the job market is in industry or academia. These professors have not looked for a job in the last decade. These kids are still pushed through with still >2000 PhD chemistry grads every year (not including biochemists), but the demand for all these chemistry graduates is still not there.

    I have to but the blame on poor academic advising it is really sad to see all these students take out student loans, work really hard, and then get a job that only requires a B.S. degree at 30-40k a year. Just don’t do it……..why are students pushed so hard into white collar careers anyways. What is so wrong with being a blue collar worker? Some of best friends are blue collar workers earning 30-40K a year, but they have no student loan debt. They have been enjoying there life and have not been making sacrifices for the last 6 years pursuing a stupid Ph.D in chemistry.

    You really are a fool if you pursue a PhD in chemistry in our current economy. It used to be a great career path, but things CHANGE. Be prepared to Postdoc for 3+ years after your PhD!! Employers no longer think of a PhD chemist as someone with great problem solving skills. Instead they look for someone who did research in exactly what they are looking for to match their job description perfectly. Come on that is crazy, are we not capable of learning new chemistry and science? What are we glorified technicians with a specific skill set that an employer is looking for?

  8. PhD in organic chemistry is the dumbest fucking stupid degree in the history of time and is completely useless.

  9. Wow, reading these comments is really depressing. What about a BS in chemistry? What are the useful college degrees?


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