Scientific Careers and Job Security

From Study Finds Science Pipeline Strong, But Losing Top Students, Science 30 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5953, p. 654

A new study finds little evidence for leaks in the U.S. pipeline for producing native-born scientists except for a steep drop in the percentage of the highest performing students taking science and engineering jobs. The findings suggest that the United States risks losing its economic competitiveness not because of a work force inadequately trained in science, as conventional wisdom holds, but because of a lack of social and economic incentives to pursue careers in science and technology.

Yes that's what I've been ranting about for the past 5 years.

Then towards the end,

Lisa Frehill, executive director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, thinks the key to keeping talented [science, technology, engineering, or mathematics] majors in science is to emphasize the opportunities that exist to solve society's problems. "Really good people will be less concerned about money if they can do work that is meaningful to them," she says.

No, really good people will stay in science and do work that is meaningful to them if this line of work came with a higher level of job security. The only way to attract more talented students, is to make a scientific career more compatible with living a decent life.

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"The only way to attract more talented students, is to make a scientific career more compatible with living a decent life."

Right, but have a scientific career (at a prestigious institute, no less), and I'm sure you have a decent life. Those who want a scientific career will do whatever it takes to get one, and those who won't must settle for less.

(I'm just playing devil's advocate here, but that seems to be the way things go, no?)

By anonymous (not verified) on 19 Nov 2009 #permalink

I admit that I now have a decent life, but that's because I survived postdoc-hood.

A question is how many PHDs does the average professor at a PHD granting institution advise in a career? What percent of these PHDs do not go on to other PHD granting institutions. What I am wondering is what is the growth rate in PHDs. If the number is larger than a few we have a Malthusian problem in science, in that the number of folks looking for grants exceeds or will at some time exceed the available resources. I have thought for 30+ years that research should more be done in non degree granting institutions, (this would also avoid the slave labor period in the career called grad school)

If the number is larger than a few we have a Malthusian problem in science, in that the number of folks looking for grants exceeds or will at some time exceed the available resources.

Exactly. Except that you can replace "grants" with "faculty positions". One way of countering this trend, as I've stated before, is to create long-term postdoc positions.

Except that grants=faculty positions if you can't get the former you wont get the latter. The issue with long term postdocs, is does it pay as much as wall street does for the mathematically inclined? While post doc positions does avoid the compounding the replication problem, it still over time leads to increasing the size of the scientific body, all be it a slower rate. (And you build up a class of people who will go to other professions as post doc hood goes to 10 or 20 years). It seems also that there is a conclusion that by the mid 40's a person has done all the good research they will do and is left with grant writing and admin both of the grant and the school. Of course thats the way it is in industry to get ahead move to project management, and eventually management as doers are outsourced. Also I wonder if the current generation will put up with the hours demanded to get ahead, or will decide I want a life. (This is true in more than science, of course)

The issue with long term postdocs, is does it pay as much as wall street does for the mathematically inclined? While post doc positions does avoid the compounding the replication problem, it still over time leads to increasing the size of the scientific body, all be it a slower rate.

I agree that Academia will never be able to compete with Wall Street financially. But given a decent pay and some career stability, I suspect that number of Americans that would choose an academic career over that of a paper pusher with an MBA would increase.

While post doc positions does avoid the compounding the replication problem, it still over time leads to increasing the size of the scientific body, all be it a slower rate.

Yes creating career postdoc positions is not THE solution, but it would help ameliorate a bad situation.