The Quantum Pontiff

Whatever you do, Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Mary America, make sure to tell everyone you know not to go into science and engineering! You see those who major in science and engineering are certain to not get jobs, because, as many commenters love to point out, all those jobs are being exported overseas! But wait, what is this:

The overall unemployment rate of scientists and engineers in the United States dropped from 3.2% in 2003 to 2.5% in 2006…according to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT). This is the lowest unemployment rate measured by SESTAT since the early 1990s. It continues a trend of lower unemployment rates for scientists and engineers compared with unemployment rates in the rest of the U.S. economy.

Who knew? A degree in science and engineering actually appears to help your employment chances :)

Comments

  1. #1 Naum
    April 8, 2008

    Misleading statistics are cited… …even if they are close or correct, they cannot capture all those forced into “early retirement” or motivated to a career change…

    …I have a degree in Computer Science and I work at a salary (though in large part due to my own choice to be located close to home) at 1/3 of what I used to make and can tally thousands of jobs that were at one time filled by Americans, but now are offshored or filled by imported non-immigrant visa holders.

    The effect is less opportunity, especially for younger programmers, and wage depression. I get emails for positions at $10 / hour, and consulting rates are lower than they were 20 years ago.

    You can point to internet startups and a few emerging tech companies, but those slots are drop in the bucket compared to the 10X-100X jobs eliminated.

  2. #2 Dave Bacon
    April 8, 2008

    Naum did you look at the statistics at all or did you just write the comment? Note first of all that this is employment over all sectors. Also note that these statistics are across all of “science and engineering.” Computer programming does not equal “science and engineering” last time I looked.

  3. #3 Travis
    April 9, 2008

    Dave, I don’t think anyone can draw many conclusions from this data.

    First of all, note that the data is for scientists and engineers, where those two categories are defined as those holding degrees in S/E plus anyone else with a degree who is employed in S/E. That second criteria is naturally going to skew the data towards lower unemployment. For example, if I defined “baristas” as all those holding a coffee-serving job, I’d find a remarkable zero percent unemployment rate among baristas. That doesn’t mean applying at Starbucks is a good career move.

    Second, you are making a correlation-implies-causation error. You are inferring from lower unemployment rates among those with a S/E degree (assuming that that trend remains after we correct for the aforementioned problem) that the degree improved their odds of getting a job. It’s also quite possible that anyone smart enough to complete a S/E degree is a desirable employee, hence the lower unemployment rate. To actually do the study right, you’d need to take a pool of S/E degree program applicants, and randomly assign half to a S/E degree program and half to a “null” degree program (insert arts joke here), then compare results. Failing that, you could at least take two pools of students with comparable SAT scores, with one pool choosing S/E and the other choosing some other degree program.

    Finally, Naum is right that the data doesn’t say anything about wages. It may be that S/E guarantees you a low-paying job, whereas other options can provide higher wages, but with more risk (i.e., college drop-outs doing high-tech startups). The risk-adjusted average salary could be the same.

    I’m done raining on your parade now :-)

  4. #4 Naum
    April 9, 2008

    @Dave:

    It probably shows my age, but degree in Computer Science == Computer Programming to me, no matter what it’s termed these days… …I reckon younger sorts fashion themselves as “software engineers”, but code is code, call it what you will… …and one of your links points specifically to “Computer Science”… …and “Computer Science” is listed in the footnotes as included…

    Beyond that, it is simply absurd to denote occupation blocks off, without any indication of how person entered/departed… …I know of many who have a degree that falls under “science and engineering”, yet may be tallied as working “in their field”, when they accept employment supporting user desktop computing… …or freelance web development at a fraction of what pay used to be…

    I also have a daughter with a degree in Chemistry who works at far less pay than classmates who pursued business / PR degrees…

    And as one progresses into career, long term prospects are not as lucrative as those other fields — like teaching, you must really enjoy the field of study, as age discrimination is prevalent, and again, marketing and business orientation is greeted with much greater reward… …granted, some start off in a path of scientific discipline and change over to administrative duties later in career, but many see that eschewing such a progress journey is unnecessary… …especially if they speak with their parents or older siblings on the matter…

  5. #5 Dave Bacon
    April 9, 2008

    Travis: Well if you look at the data, you can separate out the effect of non SE degrees (Table 3.) The unemployment is still significantly lower than the general population (even with just a Bachelors its 3.4%, Masters its 2.5% and Ph.D. its 1.8%) So while the 2.1% number is B.S., the numbers are still very good.

    Of course this doesn’t prove anything about causation. It does however show the B.S. of those who claim that there are tons of unemployed scientists and engineers.

    And of course it doesn’t have anything to say about salary. Of course, there is salary data included as well and I will note that the scientists who work in science and engineering positions all make more than those who don’t. As for actual facts, median salaries for Ph.D.ed scientists are, by the way, 120000.

    Naum: Well, to me, computer science includes pretty much everything computer related…so all those B.S.s in computer science that are working over at Microsoft in manager positions (there is no other position at Microsoft, as far as I can tell) are counted. I make no claim that a S/E degree is a traineeship, which is, I think what many would like to think. It is, simply, a very good education which, when done properly, doesn’t just teach you about nondeterministic finite automata. Hell most computers these days don’t sit on your desktop: they fit in your pocket and you yack on them all the time (and loudly and in public grrr!)

    “I also have a daughter with a degree in Chemistry who works at far less pay than classmates who pursued business / PR degrees…”

    No claim that a S/E degree is going to lead you to the fames and fortunes that all business majors strive for. Compare however S/E degrees salaries to large chunks of humanities majors?

    ….just pointing out that the vast majority of scientists and engineers are well employed, fed at night, and enjoying their life. Of course my perspective is certainly jaded by the fact that I live in Seattle.

  6. #6 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 9, 2008

    I could comment anecdotally about what my wife and I have earned when and where as Scientists and Engineers. But this anecdote (triggered by the vitriol in this thread about whether or not Computer Science is Science) is more fun.

    My wife and I both worked for a giant ISP (Earthlink) where I was a Manager in the Web Services department. This was, for me, September 1998 to March 1999.

    My wife, now an Assistant Professor of Physics, earned about $10/hour in Customer Service at EarthLink, despite her Ph.D. in Physics and other credentials. In the same department was a friend of ours with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry, who’d worked at the same electo-optics company as my wife, before Dick Cheney personally ensured the company’s bankruptcy. The Chemist also started at about $10/hour in Customer Service, but worked his way up to about double that in a few years.

    Both the friend and my wife resented having less intelligent slacker coworkers promoted past them, based on swing-dancing with the boss, or attending the same church. “Isn’t a Ph.D. in Science worth anything here?”

    I earned $64,000/year plus stock options (which I cased in on exactly the high point, when it hit $90/share).

    A Senior VP walking past Customer Service said to a VP, as I eavesdropped:

    “These guys make $10/hour. You get what you pay for.”

    That year’s Christmas Dinner for EarthLink, in the ballroom of a big hotel, featured a raffle for overseas vacation packages (entirely won by the HR department who ran the raffle and kept the winning tickets for themselves) and the VP and Senior VP in question boasting to the assembled multitudes that their stock options were each worth over $100 Million. “And, because we could not have succeeded without your hard work, everyone in Customer Service gets a big prize: a catered lunch!”

    I was amazed that the VPs were not immediately lynched. When the dotcoms crashed, and these VPs had used their stock options as collateral to buy more tech stocks, they lost it all. The $10/hour folks cheered.

  7. #7 Travis
    April 9, 2008

    @Dave
    One more point–with our economy (during 2003 and 2006) at essentially full employment, it’s not clear that these numbers really mean anything. When unemployment falls below 5%, it’s usually just what economists call frictional unemployment–in other words, the sort of normal brief periods of unemployment that occur when one is switching jobs. It may simply be that, due to the nature of S/E jobs, frictional unemployment periods are shorter (i.e., scientists usually line up their next postdoc or professorship before leaving their current post).

    I’d be much more interested in seeing salaries of those with S/E degrees compared to those with non-S/E degrees and comparable IQ scores/GRE scores/SAT scores or whatever. It would also be nice to see how S/E unemployment fares during a recession–is it more or less stable than other types of work? Comparisons of S/E graduate degrees to medicine, law, and business would also be appropriate.

    @Jonathan: Dick Cheney personally ensured [EarthLink]‘s bankruptcy.
    Based on what you said about EarthLink, it sounds like he did us all a favor. Score one for Cheney. Now if only he could take out AOL…

  8. #8 Travis
    April 9, 2008

    @Jonathan: sorry, I misread your post and thought you meant Cheney bankrupted EarthLink, not the electro-optics company. Now I’m curious–who was the company and how did he bankrupt it? Did it involve a hunting accident, by any chance?

  9. #9 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 9, 2008

    Since you ask, Travis, this comment is in memory of my late friend James B. Stephens, the 2nd most patented guy in Caltech/JPL history. Jim connected me to Marion and Cindy Todd. I wrote a solicited proposal for Laser Propulsion, which included Jim’s innovation of mixing chopped optical fibers into the propellant, to make a tailored thermal gradient. Edward Teller reportedly loved this proposal, which I submitted via the Todds’ Talandic Research Corporation.

    Teller said that I had the best equations (some really neat nonlinear wave equations using Laplace transforms with strange kernels, and repurposing some of my Mathematical Biology Ph.D. stuff. Reportedly, the funding dried up, but the guy administering it has been identified subsequently as a plagiarist and slanderer, so for all I know, Jim’s ideas have once again been absorbed into National Security without official acknowledgment, as was the case with our stealthy hydrogen ice satellites. See
    Hydrogen Ice Spacecraft for Robotic Interstellar Flight
    http://www.magicdragon.com/ComputerFutures/SpacePublications/STAR.html
    which seems (as EarthLink changed their web server) to have a zillion bogus linebreaks, but is still correct in content.

    My Physics Ph.D. wife Christine took the job offer from the Todds which I could not (my having accepted a lower-paying job the day before and being a man of honor), and was central to their work for years. My wife wrote proposals, won them, administered them, and was co-PI on the research (such with the whitest of white paint ever used on a satellite, or her one making and testing thin-film gallium arsenide superlattices on diamond substrate).

    Let’s see. Talandic Research Corporation was originally based in Pasadena, then (as it grew) moved to Irwindale, CA, with a second facility in Tucson, AZ.

    They worked mostly as a subcontractor to major aerospace companies, such as Boeing, MacDac, Lockheed. They invented and patented stuff, such as
    http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6123436-claims.html
    and did studies such as “Carbon-Carbon/Refractory-Metal Heat Pipes for Leading-Edge Cooling on Reusable Hypersonic Vehicles.”

    They were a subcontractor for a huge “Star Wars” contract. The customer (perhaps the Strategic Defense Initiate Office) evaluated all the proposals, and concluded that the one with Talandic as subcontractor was technically the best, and the best on cost.

    Dick Cheney insisted that the panel revisit their evaluation. They did. Again, the proposal with Talandic as subcontractor was technically the best, and the best on cost.

    Dick Cheney now insisted that the panel re-revisit their evaluation. They got the message. They awarded the gigabuck to the losing proposal.

    Marion and Cindy Todd had been paying employees (at first all 220, then the core including my wife) out of pocket while waiting for this political process to unwind, for about a year or a year and a half. When the final award was made, Talandic went bankrupt. Marion and Cindy Todd, who had taken a second mortgage on their home to help pay their key employees, went personally bankrupt.

    The really weird thing, to me, was that the Todds still voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket, because of so-called “Conservative” ideology.

    I’ve just heard 2nd hand that Marion Todd is battling cancer. I sure hope that he comes through. One’s boss (or spouses boss) rarely becomes a friend. And our mutual friend Jim Stephens was more than a friend — he was a professional mentor in many ways.

  10. #10 Dave Bacon
    April 9, 2008

    I’ve seen estimates of “full employment” which range from 2 percent to 6 percent depending on assumptions (and the political leanings of the economist doing the estimates.) Brad DeLong has a cool animation of the Philips Curve, which I’ve always thought was cool http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/multimedia/USPCurve.html