Monday, December 10, 2012

ACS presidential commission on graduate education: "rate of producing PhDs is... too high."

Credit: Anon121020121039a
From the ACS Presidential Commission Report on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences (emphasis CJ's):
There is little doubt that the rate of producing new chemical sciences PhDs in the US is too high for the current employment market, but the current imbalance could not have been avoided without years of forethought. Because the average time-to-degree is about six years in our fields and because many PhDs temporarily occupy postdoctoral appointments, the time constant for adjustments in new employment candidates at the doctoral level must be something like 7-9 years. It is simply not possible for the system to adjust to changes in demand taking place on shorter timescales, and certainly not to those with the suddenness and degree of the 2008 contraction. 
The question of greatest relevance to the work of this Commission is whether the employment markets have undergone or will be proceeding through systematic changes that should lead PhD producers to alter the scale or the balance of their programs. By the word “balance,” we mean the mix among distinct areas or capabilities fostered in the program. Among departments of chemistry, balance would relate to the number of new PhDs produced in traditional subfields, or the numbers produced, for example, with synthetic, computational, or measurement skills.
Just in case anyone (including myself) did not believe in a PhD glut, senior chemistry professors believe it now.

My goodness, we are in a big, big hole.


  1. In other words, anyone who is currently a chemistry grad student now is hosed.


  3. We need to shift our NIH/NSF funding away from the current model, which is largely focused on graduate students and post-docs, towards one that creates a higher proportion of permanent jobs, such as those at national labs, or longer-term contract research positions at universities.

    Another idea that I like is to focus on *older* workers. What about fellowships that brought older, perhaps recently retired, workers out of industry and placed them into an academic lab for a few years? Elderly corporate researchers returning to universities is not that uncommon in Japan, and I have seen it provide some excellent cross-fertilization.

    Anyway you cut it, we need to quit over-subsidizing the creation of new graduate students.

  4. @CJ: What do you think about the story on pp. 46-47 of the December 10th C&EN? Back in grad school, a friend had applied to a formulation job for these types of product. We joked about what the QC SOP would entail.

    1. Ha! The public health aspects of the case are pretty frightening, considering that um, (please forgive my prudishness), most intimacy advice columns seem to rely heavily on a "more product = better experience" rule of ah, um, thumb.

  5. Just admit grad school is cheap labor, a great way to dodge certain tax and accounting rules and also a way to keep labor around without having to worry about the ol' two week notice? No sane person would pay to be in grad school, since it's not school, it's just a research job with a heavy dose of on the job learning.

    If we just hired researchers like a normal job, a bad economy would create a cheap reliable labor supply in current grad labs that would automatically outcompete the new, inexperienced labor (i.e. new grad students). Also, PI's would have to contend with the fact that other PI's could poach their best workers, hence there would be an incentive for PI's to make the work environment nice for the researchers! PI's, just imagine, at any moment, your researchers could all quit within a few months for a better research project or PI! Checks and balances!

    1. Have people be accountable for how they treat their "employees"? Unthinkable! It's academia, not some sort of hippie commune!



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