From the last week’s issue of Nature, More biologists but tenure stays static. From the article:
The data, compiled by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) (opa.faseb.org/pages/PolicyIssues/training_datappt.htm), are from many sources, including the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Council of Graduate Schools and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And one message is clear: increasing numbers of bright young students are eager for a career in biology and biomedicine, but fewer than before will gain the coveted tenured academic positions.
Although more and more PhDs are awarded every year, the number of tenure track positions in the US has “remained steady since 1981, at just over 20,000.” I wouldn’t have guessed that based on the expansion of many biomedical campuses such as U. Mass, Harvard and Columbia over the past decade. The article points out that although the NIH budget doubled between ’98 and ’03,
Most of the money went into infrastructure rather than tenure-track jobs (see Nature 443, 894; doi:10.1038/443894a 2006).
This is best exemplified by this graph that plots the amount of total NIH funding and the amount of this funding being used for NIH grants and fellowships.
In any case the end result is that the number of PhDs in tenure track positions dropped from 45% in ’81 to 30% in 2005. All those extra postdocs end up in industry or down a black hole. For those that stay in academia, they are in for a rough ride, as exemplified by this often cited statistic:
And the average age of scientists earning their first R01 grant — the NIH’s bread-and-butter grant to an independent researcher — has risen from 34 in 1970 to 42 now.
So hold on tight, it’ll be a rough ride.
[hat tip: Andrea D’Ambrogio]