Monday, November 12, 2012

Podcast: "The Doctoral Glut", See Arr Oh and Chemjobber

Last Thursday, there was the ACS Webinar titled "Doctoral Glut Dilemma", with Professors Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan, discussing the issues surrounding Ph.D. chemists. This weekend, See Arr Oh and I talked about the webinar, and recorded it for a podcast, which is below:

[I should really thank See Arr Oh for really encouraging me to get this posted as soon as possible, and actually serving to make my weekend reasonably productive.]

0:00-10:45: Intro, discussion of the "demand-side" problem with chemistry
10:45: Are young chemists just screwed?
13:00: Oh, how we hate the term "transferrable skills."
15:00: CJ's analogy of the job market as a gigantic DMV
17:45: Professor Freeman's "personalized medicine" terminology for distinguishing yourself in the job market, discussion of the "purple squirrel" problem
22:00: The importance of industrial internships in getting hired
23:45: When will the job market in chemistry get better? Try 3-4 years, says Prof. Freeman.
24:15: Prof. Stephan's strong suggestion that university departments report the job outcomes of graduates. (Link to my comments on the Tilghman report.)
31:00: Will lower-tier Ph.D. programs go away? Answer: No.
32:30: Taking alumni employment statistics with a pound of salt.
35:00: What about alternative careers?
38:35: Chemical entrepreneurship is the future!
41:00: Concluding thoughts


  1. CJ, thanks for the summaries with timestamps. It makes it very nice for me to listen to interesting points without having to set aside an hour of my day.

  2. Enjoyed the podcast. As a recent PhD graduate who is about to come face-to-face with the job market, I have a bit of a catch 22. I would like to become a professor and run a small lab, however I'm very concerned about the job market my future of my students will enter. If I don't want to contribute to the doctoral glut, I will be forced into industry, where I myself will be surrounded by all the issues I want to save my future students from! What's an aspiring academic to do?

    1. There's no reason that 1) you can't be a professor, 2) and be upfront about the problems in the job market, and 3) advocate well for your students to think seriously about all options.

  3. Hey, that robot you used to simulate my voice? VERY convincing.

  4. Page 24 of this week's C&EN contains an interesting blurb about international grad students.

    "The number of international graduate students in the U.S. has grown for the third straight year......The report is a sign that graduate students, and in many cases the countries that fund their students, recognize the quality and return on investment provided by U.S. graduate degrees."

    I don't think it surprises anyone that this is happening, many of us predicted this exact scenario. Americans are tired of being taken advantage of and speak with their feet, so let's do it to people from another country! USA! USA!

  5. Excellent podcast and blog. I'm a grad student who is interested in industry, this helps confirm my belief that an internship would be helpful for me in the long run. I also liked the idea of thinking about the grad careers of other chemists and seeing how my degree path has been different.

  6. How much of the doctoral glut is due to doctoral candidate's lack of experience outside academia? Think about the unchallenged assumptions made by someone who has spent essentially all their 'working' life in academia, from preschool to grad school. Thirty years, or nearly so, of being in school leaves you with a lot of ideas about how non-academic life works, but you don't have any actual experience. And your peers and even some PIs are equally ignorant of the world outside the ivory tower. This seems like prime breeding ground for the "won't happen to me" and "I'm special" thinking that seems to keep graduate candidates thinking their current choice can't possibly be hurting their future job prospects.

    The train tracks from high school to undergraduate studies to graduate school are strong and efficient as they shuttle large numbers further up the line. I remember hearing that one shouldn't get off the track because once you're off 1) you won't be able to withstand school pressures once you've had a taste of the good life of 'real' work (ha!), 2) admissions will be suspicious about why you left academia only to return, 3) you might find out you don't like your future prospects, thus wasting all the time you've spent in school up to then, etc.

    I have a bachelors degree in chemistry. I had decided not to pursue a PhD after seeing the working conditions of those grad students with whom I conducted research (aka, I bumbled around the lab like the undergrad I was). I don't think those students had correct assumptions about what a real working life was like. I don't think they had the same feeling that someone working at a large corporation has: you may be brilliant, but you may still lose your job, sometimes for arbitrary reasons. I think too many graduate students put up with complete BS from a PI because they don't have the private sector experience that teaches you to quit and find a new boss sometimes, or that the people you work for often don't have your best interests at heart.

    Summer internships don't solve the problem. After your summer of fun, you get scooped back into the mothership, not having experienced many of the real pressures of industry. I'd argue a lot of candidates would do well to take at least a year off before starting graduate school. You would then learn valuable life skills: how to craft a resume and interview so someone actually wants to pay you to produce something; how it often happens that companies and your bosses have opposing incentives from what you want in life; you may learn you like something better than chemistry, or that you like a certain aspect of chemistry better than another; etc.

    The world will not end. Grad schools will not think you have the plague. If they were so willing to turn away an otherwise valid candidate, there would not be the increasing numbers that CJ and See Arr Oh discussed.

    Sorry, I'm ranting now. Final point: part of the problem with academia and PhD candidates/graduates comes from their own ignorance and inability to see other opportunities because they've sold themselves the idea that there are no other opportunities than the railway tracks of school.

    1. Speaking as a former Director of Graduate Studies and multi-year member of our graduate admissions committee, we LOVE students coming back from doing some industrial time after their BA/BS. Such students tend to be highly motivated, understand time management, and are usually possessed of the many skills industry teaches with respect to teamwork, communication, etc. So, far from echoing any urban myth that taking time off is bad, let me instead say that Minnesota (and I hardly think we're alone) looks favorably on people returning from the work force. I suppose that I should caveat that ever so slightly - they have to be coming back for the "right reason", namely, that they perceive that an advanced degree will further their career prospects relative to what they see as possible given their experience with a bachelors. (Debating whether such perceptions are correct or not is fodder for a different discussion topic - here, let me simply re-emphasize, no significant lost opportunity associated with going straight to industry after undergrad degree.)

    2. I'm with Prof. Cramer on this one. I spent a few years out "in industry" before returning for my degree. Certainly gave me a better perspective, because I knew exactly what job to shoot for upon leaving school. I found I was also more interested and engaged with classwork, where I could apply the mentality of "how would this help me develop drugs later on?"


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