Tuesday, December 11, 2012

4 remarkable assertions in the ACS Presidential Commission Report

I could talk about the 2012 ACS Presidential Commission Report on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences a lot, but instead, I think I'll just quote a few statements of fact that were made:

On #chemjobs:
"Given what seems to be a permanently restructured employment market for PhDs, the Commission perceives a risk that the number of career opportunities in the chemical science professions may be insufficient to accommodate those qualified for and desiring entry." 
"In the last decade, 300,000 jobs have been lost in the pharmaceutical industry worldwide. This total is larger than the entire US pharmaceutical employment base. Large US research facilities have been closed and sizable systematic reductions in domestic research capabilities have been implemented or announced, apparently driven in significant part by consolidation in the industry. Some of the reduced functions have been outsourced to other technologically strong nations."
On too many chemists:
"A large undergraduate teaching need is not a sufficient justification for a large graduate program."
"In discussing the employment scene earlier in this chapter, the Commission was frank in its assessment that the current rate of PhD production is too large. While some portion of the excess reflects the current stage of the business cycle, there is evidence, in the growth of postdoctoral employment and in stagnant salaries over a long term, that the nation is producing a systematic excess of PhDs."
On teaching undergraduates:
"While graduate students are certainly exposed to teaching through teaching assistantships, their experiences generally are not drawn from carefully crafted programs designed to teach students how to teach."
On postdocs:
"Some statistics about postdoctoral associates are enlightening. In 2009, the most recent year for which the NSF has published detailed data, there were approximately 4200 postdocs in chemistry, 2350 in biochemistry, and 1100 in chemical engineering. The percentages of temporary visa holders in these groups were 64.7%, 60.7%, and 62.4%, respectively."
"A significant problem in the current employment pipeline for chemists is a bulge at the postdoctoral level. Particularly in more biological areas of chemistry, many current postdocs have previously been postdocs for one or even two appointments. For these individuals, the second, or later, postdoctoral appointment serves largely as a buffer zone in the ebb and flow of the job market; it is not a position that significantly improves one’s job chances." (emphasis mine)
Quite an indictment of the current state of affairs.


  1. I hear both Rudy and MJ made the same comment on the report: "That is why I did not get a PhD. That was good thing, because I got very big bucks to pretend to care about chemists and encourage students to get PhDs to solve the always impending chemistry worker shortage. I guess I am the smart one in the end."

    1. You sound like a horrible person -- maybe just cynical and morally bereft -- a sad condition to publicize.

    2. Hey, looks like old Rudy finally found the blogosphere! Guess he has more time on his hands now. Just one hint--you can leave your name under the "Reply as" pull-down menu.

  2. "the second, or later, postdoctoral appointment serves largely as a buffer zone in the ebb and flow of the job market; it is not a position that significantly improves one’s job chances."

    Perhaps the future is more stable postdoc positions (5+ years) and maybe even ones that offer more skill training than fulfilling the PIs unquenchable thirst for "more papers"?

    Yes the permadoc revolution may be the beginning of the end, but maybe better than the current situation?

    Im now in my 5th year of postdoccing (after a 3 year PhD!!) and Im not learning much anymore. But in the absence of a better offer, it beats moving home with the folks and trying to teach myself to be a web designer, or whatever.

  3. "A large undergraduate teaching need is not a sufficient justification for a large graduate program"

    This excuse never really made sense to me. Grad students earn around $25,000 per year plus student health care, plus free tuition, to teach perhaps two four-hour lab sections or 3-4 one-hour discussion sections per week, perhaps totalling ten hours per week, forty weeks per year total. You could easily find qualified people at $75,000 per year plus standard benefits willing to teach four times that load, plus handle some other department duties.

    The solution here seems obvious: more full-time lecturer positions, fewer grad students. The total cost should not be significantly different.

    1. Actually it would be a lot cheaper, - as far as I understand once you account for chemicals, instrument time, etc. your average grad student costs something like 100 g/y.

    2. Typically, contingent faculty are hired to "cover" the teaching load at both small and large institutions after the tenure track folks have a full schedule. Non-tenure track folks are rarely hired as full-time lecturers. If someone is lucky enough to get a full-time gig, it won't be for 75K per year. AAUP does a salary report each year, and it shows the average for full, associate, assistant and instructor positions at institutions. They also show those categories for males and females in each of the above categories.

      The AAUP data does not report salaries based on academic department, but from my experience, the highest paid non-tenure track (and tenure track) faculty are in business, computer science and economics departments. Chemistry is on the low side. It's all about supply and demand.

    3. As a former discussion and lab TA, I can tell you that if you're doing it properly, labs can be cut down to 15 hours a week for two that you're the head of, if you're doing it properly and after some experience. But if you're spending less than 20 hours on discussions (the 3-4 sessions per week; I actually had 5-6), then you're doing it really badly. Not only do you also have to go to the class and do office hours, you also have to grade, and supervise online homework and some new-fangled discussion boards, and if you want to get good reviews (because you keep being threatened by some old, bitter man who doesn't want to retire and thinks you have 'attitude' and wants to throw you out of the graduate program), then you have to answer emails and meet people outside of discussion and arrange review sessions to re-explain things the prof didn't explain properly in the first place in class.

      Waaaaaaaaay more than 10 hours a week. And you're expected to publish in Jackass or Andjewandte as a first author once a year as well. This is why after I got a research grant in my fourth year, I cut back my work hours to 30 hours a week out of spite, and the rest of the time spent at home playing video games.

      The poor suckers who are hired on as non-tenure track teaching faculty probably earn much less than 75K and work waaaaaaaaaay more than 40 hours a week, because they are expected to do four times as much of all of that.

  4. " But in the absence of a better offer, it beats moving home with the folks and trying to teach myself to be a web designer, or whatever."

    You might want to seriously reconsider this statement- acquiring marketable non-chem skills is almost certainly a smarter way to spend your time, even if you have to move back home.... don't make the mistake too many of us have already made! Jumping off the train only gets harder!

  5. Sure it's not a legitimate post offering us alternative career paths? ;)

  6. Anon, your comment about the spam filter got eaten (naturally) by the spam filter. Irony abounds.

  7. A lot of big names are on the list of commission members. And they became big names by doing the exact opposite of what they're recommending.


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