03 September 2012

Monday Infographics: The Labor of Science

For today, in honor of Labor Day here in America and Labour Day in Canada and many other parts of the world, I thought I would post this infographic on "The PhD's Job Crisis" that came to my attention thanks to Dr. Michael Campana at WaterWired. There have been a couple of these graphic lamentations in the past several months regarding the surplus of doctoral graduates and the dearth of jobs for them, mostly in academia but in public and private positions as well. I remarked on Twitter a while ago that an earlier story on the topic was focused entirely on biotech and biomedical graduates, though many (including the mainstream media, which isn't helping matters) took the story to be true of all sciences. I can certainly see trouble in bio-tech/medical fields, where so many qualified graduates with applicable skills emerge from NIH-funded academic labs to meet either more academic work in university settings, with competition for funding similar to what they just left, or an industry where testing, pharmaceuticals and hospitals are largely private, with a lot of government regulation and oversight and even more cut-throat competition for profit and those billion-dollar patents on the latest and greatest medications or methods. (Those of you reading this who are knowledgeable on that, please correct me as needed.)

Compare and contrast this infographic with a story published on Friday by Slate.com, in which the author argues that seven years of graduate work toward a Ph.D. is certainly worth it, despite the opportunity costs of that time in higher education (and the previously-published criticisms of the graduate education, listed there). I have my own ideas about many of those stories (and their authors) that suggest the time spent in graduate school is far from worth it, but my ideas boil down to this: if things stay the way they are now in academia and elsewhere in professional science, and if your only goal is to maintain the status quo, then sure, things look bad in many places, and a higher degree won't make much difference for one's career opportunities. But there are obvious problems with the status quo (and many of the people who built and maintain it), and things are changing. By the time my daughter enters the workforce, and then I'll retire a few decades later, the pace and scope and methods of research and science will look entirely different from what we have now. Well... allow me to qualify that: they must become different, because if things stay the same as we have now, much of humanity is on an abbreviated course through our future.

Of course, my own path to the Ph.D. has been non-traditional, so I welcome opinions and experiences from others. As for the missed opportunities... I think that I see about once per week, advertised in various places across the 'net (including Dr. Campana's great weekly round-up), open permanent positions for which I will eventually be qualified, with that Ph.D. on which I am working, and likely a post-doc position to add to my professional experience. Of those advertised positions, I think that I see about two per month that make me say "Wow, that would be pretty cool!" But have I really lost those opportunities while I am in graduate school? Not at all, as even now I am doing good and relevant work. Will the need for qualified individuals, those with my knowledge and interests and skills, diminish with time? Given the issues in our physical environment that society (and eventually government) are coming to recognize, I doubt it. For all the good work that is going on now in Earth science, even better work is ahead of us...

PhD Job Crisis
Created by OnlinePhD.org

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