IT and other engineering companies talk about a shortage of skilled technical talent. However, Derek Lowe and his “In The Pipeline” blog this week talks about the converse case — too many PhDs in the life sciences, tied to a recent article in Nature News called “The PhD Factory.”
Of course the incentives are all wrong: many science professors want postdocs to help them with their research and teaching, without regard to their abilities to find career jobs after graduation. The problem is particularly bad in Japan and China, where the government has intervened to increase the supply in excess of market demand.
But the US and Europe are not much better. Compared to 30 years ago, half (if I understand their statistics) as many US PhDs are getting real academic jobs. In contrast, Germany is working to find PhDs jobs in industry.
Other solutions are being tried. The accompanying article, “Rehinking PhDs”, talks about an alternative developed at the Keck Graduate Institute. One of the Claremont Colleges, KGI is offering a business-oriented masters (the Postdoctoral Professional Masters) for life science PhDs who’ve given up on bench science and want to go into senior management or creating a startup. The careers blog of Science published interviews on Feb. 4 and Feb. 11 with PPM alumni who were very satisfied.
If any of these efforts cause American PhD programs to become more practical in their orientation, it’s money well spent. With government funding of pure research declining in relative importance, even the most research-oriented scientist must increasingly consider practical applications or at least science that might have such applications.