Nothing against those who are seeking PhDs–they are usually very hardworking folks who embarked on that venture in search of a career path that they thought would be awaiting them upon receipt of that terminal degree.
The problem is the system that awards them, and–I would add–the Academic-Governmental Complex that has fed that beast through widespread malinvestment. At any rate, Nature is picking up on the problem.
According to the multipart series in the journal Nature, the world is awash in Ph.D.s, most of them being awarded after years of study and tens of thousands of dollars to scholars who will never find work in academia, the traditional goal for Doctors of Philosophy.
“In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack,” the cover article says.
Of people who received Ph.D.s in the biological sciences five to six years ago, only 13% have tenure-track positions leading to a professorship, says Paula Stephan, who studies the economics of science at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
All together, 10% are working part time or out of the labor force entirely, 33% are in academic positions that don’t lead to a professorship positions, 22% are in industry and 20% are at community colleges or working in government or non-profit jobs, she says.
That 33% of Ph.D.s in non tenure-track positions is especially troubling, she says. It used to be that “post-docs,” post doctoral research positions in a professor’s lab, were a steppingstone to one’s own lab and professorship. But now one-third of Ph.D.s are permanently stuck “basically working as research assistants.” They have no job security and salaries start at $39,000 a year. “That’s appalling: You could get that with a bachelor of science degree,” Stephan says.
It’s not necessarily the education that needs to change, but how the endpoint is presented, says Maresi Nerad, director of the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Even the way anything but being a professor is termed is a problem, she says. People refer to “alternative careers,” which just screams “It’s not the real thing, the real thing is becoming a professor,’ ” she says. The presumption is that if they don’t become a professor, “something isn’t right with them.” But that track hasn’t really existed for the majority for a long time.
In fact, her studies have found that about half of the science Ph.D.s end up working outside of academia in industry, government or at not-for-profits, and they’re very happy and actually make more money and have more autonomy.
The glut tracks back to predictions in the 1980s that an impending wave of professor retirements and rising college enrollment would require a hoard of new Ph.D.s. This didn’t prove to be true, but Ph.D.-track students flooded universities and then couldn’t find jobs.