Too Many Scientists

And yes, Vox Day is correct: this is a consequence of government-stoked malinvestment.

One of the interesting things about the problem with American science is that those reviewing the situation are entirely forthright about the way the best and brightest have avoided pursuing scientific careers for decades now. To put it simply, the smartest students are not dumb enough to fail to notice the way in which the supply of science degrees considerably outstrips the number of jobs available in the various scientific fields or that there are far more remunerative and intellectually satisfying fields in which to pursue employment.

And yet, those who weren’t smart enough or aware enough to consider their future employment possibilities are the very individuals who tend to claim that those who were are less intelligent and their opinions about scientific and non-scientific matters alike are less valid because they do not have science degrees. (Never mind that I do, in fact, have a Bachelor of Science, that’s beside the point.)

So, this tends to suggest that in addition to whatever structural changes are being proposed by the various parties that are interested in solving the problem, a course or two in logic would not be amiss. And for a group of people who claim to be better educated and more highly intelligent than the norm, they do tend to expose a shocking ignorance of some very basic economic concepts that were solidly established more than 200 years ago. The reality is that the problem is simply a variant of the conventional one of malinvestment caused by credit expansion; the huge and unsustainable government allocation of financial resources to the scientific sector in the thirty years from 1940 to 1970 clearly sent a false signal about the market’s demand for scientists to students pursuing science degrees over the subsequent three decades.

This is true in other fields, but especially science. The glut in science funding during the Cold War–for good or ill–set in motion a funding apparatus that handed us our current dilemma: far more trained scientists than there are available jobs at the prevailing wages. Many scientists are going to be faced with some awful choices: (a) be willing to settle for less money and job stability than you hoped for, (b) switch professions, (c) hope something opens up while you languish in postdoc hell.

When I started college in 1985, I majored in aeronautical engineering. The future looked bright: Reagan was President, the Cold War was on, defense spending was high, morale in the military was outstanding–I was aspiring to go either Army or Air Force ROTC–and EVERYONE was hiring aeronautical engineers. I saw those graduating seniors going on to careers as Air Force pilots, Army engineers, and private-sector engineers for Boeing, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglass, Rockwell International, Grumman, Northop, and Martin Marietta. (Many of those companies have merged since then, but you get the picture.)

When I graduated in 1990, Reagan was no longer President, the Berlin Wall was rubble, the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union was one year away from extinction, defense spending was heading south, and aerospace engineering jobs were quite scarce. Many ROTC scholarship grads were being given the option of walking away–with an all-expenses-paid education, courtesy of Uncle Sam–with no military obligation. (This is because the number of graduating Second Lieutenants exceeded the Army’s need for them.) Two weeks before I graduated, Northrop had flown many of us to Los Angeles to interview for positions with the B-2 program. All but two of us received rejection letters. Right before my final exams, I received an offer from EDS, and I jumped on it.

I was leaving engineering–which I enjoyed–for IT, which I would learn to enjoy.

My career has nothing to do with my chosen fields of study. At the same time, I might be the only person working in my venue where I can answer a wise ass who asks me, “What do you think you are, a rocket scientist?” in the affirmative.

My point in all of this: in the economy we have, we all gots decisions to make. No one said that life was fair. Sometimes, we must make adjustments. College degrees are all well and good, but the bottom line is earning potential. You either need to go where the jobs are, or find a way to create the job of your choosing.

But if you are willing to spend at nearly 20 years in undergrad, masters, doctorate, and postdoc studies, just so you can get a tenure-track position in a higher-ed system that is teetering on the verge of financial collapse, you go right on ahead.

Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

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