Abortion is more humane than child neglect

Apr 20 2016 Published by under Academics, Postgraduate Training

jmz4 asks:

DM, what's your reasoning behind advocating for reducing grad student numbers instead of just bottlenecking at the PD phase? I'd argue that grad students currently get a pretty good deal (free degree and reasonable stipend), and so are less exploited. Also, scientific training is useful in many other endeavors, and so the net benefit to society is to continue training grad students.

My short answer is that it is more humane.

The long answer is....

I'd argue that grad students currently get a pretty good deal (free degree and reasonable stipend), and so are less exploited.

I'll point out that as with most labor exploitation, there is always an argument that the worker gets something out of the arrangement. And yes, we have been through this before about how graduate student stipends are better than minimum wage and the working conditions can be pretty decent in most cases. However, the simple fact is this.

Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

Let's set up some basics with Fuhrmann et al, 2011.

Two prior studies have looked at doctoral student career preferences and how these career preferences change over time (Golde and Dore, 2001 blue right-pointing triangle; Goulden et al., 2009 blue right-pointing triangle; Mason et al., 2009 blue right-pointing triangle). In a 1999 national survey of doctoral students in 11 arts and sciences fields, Golde and Dore found most students entered graduate school strongly considering a faculty career, but students reported a change in interest for this career path during their training: 35% of students reported becoming less interested in this career path and 21% reported becoming more interested

Yep. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor. The authors continue on to report their own study.

We surveyed all basic biomedical sciences doctoral students at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to determine what career paths they are strongly considering, whether these preferences are different from when they started their training, and, if so, why....

Respondents initially identified all categories of careers they were strongly considering. As expected, the vast majority of students (92.3%, n = 432) were strongly considering careers in scientific research (i.e., in academia, industry, government; Figure ​Figure1).1). Seventy-two percent (n = 338) of students included a traditional academic career path (i.e., as faculty with a significant portion of their time spent on research) among the career paths they were considering.

Yep. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

And the fact that disillusionment sets in during the course of graduate training....

When asked to choose a single career path, confidence in the chosen career path depended on the stage of graduate training (p = 0.006). A large change in confidence occurred between the first and second year in graduate school, with the number of students “still considering a range of options” increasing from 48.8% (n = 40) to 66.7% (n = 52; see Figure S2 in Supplemental Material 2). Uncertainty in career choice remains high (61.4%, 61.8%, and 55.2% for third, fourth, and fifth years, respectively) until students approach the expected time of graduation (sixth or later years, 33.3%, n = 23). How do we explain the drop in career choice confidence during the second year of graduate school?

makes no nevermind to the simple fact that most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

So when jmz4 asserts

Also, scientific training is useful in many other endeavors, and so the net benefit to society is to continue training grad students.

and Comradde PhysioProffe reminds us that unemployment rates for PhD holders in the US are pretty low, this only nibbles around the edges of the exploitation issue.

Graduate students work their tails off compared with the average Bachelor's degreed technician. Longer, harder with more responsibility, effort and overall input to the job. On average. They do so because most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor and the system tells them that they have to bust ass to achieve that goal.

The people telling them this, i.e., their supervising Professors in labs, on their Committees and running their graduate programs, understand, or should understand, that most of the graduate students are not going to reach that goal. And they benefit professionally from the extra hard effort that is expended by the graduate students. Again, the graduate students do not put this effort in because of their extra awesome salaries, they do it because most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

Inducing people to work in part for a reimbursement that you know they will never get is exploitation. Cynical and evil from a certain point of view.

The fact that we have evolved all sorts of TrueBelief about how graduate education MustBe to cover up the system of labor exploitation does not impress me in the slightest. Don't fall for it. Notice how the monolithic dissertation has been replaced by de facto or explicit requirements for three first author papers? or for publishing papers in certain high JIF journals? All the while bleating at the poor sucker graduate student "well if you want to be competitive for a faculty job...". It's a scam.

Postdoctoral "training" is more of the same. The following graph is handy to illustrate the central issue underlying all of this, namely that the essential research force for the NIH extramural grant apparatus is....the trainee.

taken from RockTalk blog

Labor.

That is all that the vast majority of the graduate students and postdocs working on NIH-funded scientific research are there for. Not for their own training. Not so that they can become the future Principal Investigators. For their labor.

And the system is set up to create this huge backlog of highly selected and "trained" experienced individuals who now want very badly to obtain the schweet, schweet life of the Professor. Or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof as a PI in a soft money appointment. Some of them manage to get in a position to apply for NIH grants. Increasing the number of mouths at the trough. While budgets stay fixed and their supervising Professors (remember them? look up) do not retire to make way for their several-times greater doctoral progeny than replacement value. That would be one*, for the slower members of the audience.

So. Why shut off the tap at the entry to graduate school?

Because it is the most humane thing to do. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor. The Fuhrmann et al study shows that it is possible to beat this out of people in the course of graduate training but I see this as a terrible, horrible outcome. They change their minds because they think they cannot reasonably attain their goal. I do not believe it is some natural and organic process of deciding that other things are more attractive (although this must be true for many). That Fuhrmann thing showed that these poor students wanted to get as far away from academic science as possible. Now sure, UCSF may be a particularly horrible environment but I think we will find things not too terribly different in most of the high energy doctoral programs that pump out most of the science PhDs.

The realization that the schweet schweet life of a Professor isn't going to materialize comes with a lot of emotional pain for a lot of people. If you deny this you have your head up your ass and I can't even discuss it with you. I was there at one point. I know a lot of people who were there in my approximate scientific generation. I've listened on the Internet for years now to the various brands of disgruntledoc. People go so far as to commit suicide.

There is something deeply wrong with leading people down the rosy career path into their mid 30s or later and then saying, in essence, "see ya! good luck with that alt career-y thing!". After we, as a business, have profited handsomely from the extra effort they put out in hopes of obtaining the, say it with me now, schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

It is far better to head these people off in their early twenties, fresh out of their Bachelor's education and have them try some other pursuit.
__
*Oh sure. Someone has to staff the SLACs and teaching Universities. I realize. But we're still way, way over producing PhDs, people. Let's not lose sight of that.

92 responses so far

  • A postdoc says:

    This is a good argument. I wonder how you weigh these considerations against a few other compelling concerns. It seems to me that a strict bottleneck at the grad admissions stage would force us to choose the next generation of scientists based on their performance in undergrad courses, undergrad research, or pre-grad school teching, which are either so-so predictors or lengthen the career trajectory. A mediocre undergrad student can be an amazing grad student or vice versa. Once people have the opportunity to prove themselves in grad school, things become clearer. Along these lines, a harsh cutoff in graduate admissions would probably end up favoring people with relatively greater privilege earlier in life. It would be possible to actively work against this in admissions, but it is more difficult to increase diversity when you are simultaneously decreasing overall admissions. Granted, we are doing people at the margins no favors by selling them on an academic dream they have little chance to achieve... except when we totally mis-estimated them and they do!

    Obviously these concerns are less relevant to a 20% reduction in graduate admissions than to a 50% or 75%. I wonder how much of the problem you describe can only be addressed by decreased admissions (presumably due to NIH pressure), and how much can be addressed through better graduate training and expectation setting at the pre-grad school and grad school admissions levels.

  • Zb says:

    The reason to restrict at the PD phase is that otherwise any restriction at the GS stage will not reduce the number of PI seekers because post-docs from other countries will fill spots.

    One could restrict at both phases, but GS isn't enough. And I myself think the 5-6 years in the early twenties are not nearly as damaging to future choices, and, furthermore that is the period in which one learns whether one can be a scientist. Forcing people and programs to make that decision about newly minted 21 year old college students will privilege those who have have access to the pathway already.

  • Zb says:

    And, I do think NIH should restrict at the pd phase. And at the soft money phase.

  • Draino says:

    I love it when the title of the post exactly signals the level of hyperbole to be found within the actual post.

  • Grumble says:

    "Inducing people to work in part for a reimbursement that you know they will never get is exploitation. Cynical and evil from a certain point of view."

    I think this is just plain old bullshit. Droves of young people with big dreams go into athletics, music, and the arts. Very few achieve full financial success. Should we reduce the number of young people entering those fields? It hurts people when you tell them they can't follow their dreams. And pre-selecting who gets to go into these fields (because how else would you limit entry?) makes our culture less diverse and less rich. The same is true of science.

    Here's another analogy. Some kids join the Marines because of dreams of being a warrior and glory and all that. Then, after months and years of tedium and sometimes terror, they decide it's not for them, and don't re-enlist. Relatively few work their way up the ranks and become officers. Do you also clutch your pearls in horror that these kids have been lied to with promises that the Marines can't keep?

    If you really think there's a problem, the solution is to tell prospective grad students what this career path is really like so that they can make their own informed decisions.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    We do reduce the number of people entering those fields, Grumble. Every responsible adult that I'm aware of tells their kids that music, art, etc. might be nice *hobbies* but *strongly* discourages getting a worthless degree in them.

    As for the officer story, I suspect you don't come from a military family. Enlisted soldiers don't "work their way up the ranks"; at best they might be a non-commissioned officer one day. Actual officers are university educated (often from West Point or similar military university) and become commissioned officers right out of school.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Athletics, music and the arts all make it *very* clear that only the best will have top level success. This is very, very different from the way we imply as a culture that entering grad school is starting on a professional career. Beliefs on the part of the suckers shows this. I provided citations.

  • qaz says:

    The problem with culling early is that it reduces the possibility of recovery and second chances. Moreover, it means that students have to know how to play the game very early, which means that you are basically selecting for children of scientists and other elites and against first-to-college and first-to-grad-school. It means that people who do poorly in high school and end up in not the best colleges will not get into grad school. It means that people who do poorly in college will not get into grad school. The earlier you cull, the more you are selecting for the parents than the children. (Which I assume you agree is a bad thing.)

    What we really need to do is accept that someone not going to be a professor is not a failure. That these are not alternative careers. That being a teacher at a small liberal arts college is a GOOD thing. That having had some experience doing science and getting paid for it is a good thing. My understanding is that science PhDs have a near 100% job in research, even if it's not being a professor. What I've started seeing is that students decide to go teach at a small liberal arts college because they WANT to, because they don't want to fight for grants, not because they can't get a faculty job. So let's declare those kids successes. (A similar statement needs to be made for industry, publishing, popular science writing, policy, and everything else those kids are doing.) Why do we assume that graduate students changing their mind is a bad thing?

  • qaz says:

    If you're really upset about grad student exploitation, let's point out that the problem is not the promise of a Schweet professorship (which is often not that sweet, particularly when you are worried about your renewal and whether you will have to close your lab and what you will tell your techs who are depending on you for their livelihood), but rather that graduate students are cheap. Maybe a better answer would be to pay graduate students a real salary. I've got an idea - let's have the state pay tuition again and then we can take the tuition we're paying colleges and give it to the graduate student. Suddenly a graduate student is making $50k not $25k. That's not a bad salary coming out of college. Particularly for a chance at the big time for those that want and a solid (100%) guarantee that you'll get a good job afterwards for those that don't.

  • David says:

    Also, pretty sure a number of people have clutched their pearls over the idea that promises of glory and honor in war may be a tad bit misleading and that the people we send to war don't get fair treatment when/if they come back. I think some small number of those pearl-clutchers might have even made books/songs/poems/movies/art/speeches/political movements about the subject. Dulce et decorum est and all that. I suppose that does illustrate that promises of faculty positions after grad school aren't the worst way we lie to the young and naive...

  • drugmonkey says:

    qaz- you mistake me about SLAC jobs- there aren't enough of those either. Those fall under schweet, schweet Professor jobs too.

  • outoftune says:

    I think there are two other options here that would both help address the exploitation / disillusioned wannabe professor problem: one, make (paid) masters degrees a standard step before a PhD, and two, (as Qaz suggested), make PhDs real employees with a decent salary.

    Both of these are suggestions based on my own experience. Where I did my masters, it was standard to do a paid research-based masters degree, and then you could leave (with not stigma) or try to get into a PhD if you were inclined. A masters is only a 2 year commitment and probably makes it easier to find a related job afterwards than a PhD would. It lets the students see what research/academia is like firsthand while getting a bit of extra paid training in their field, and lets them voluntarily weed themselves out for further involvement in academia.

    The second point - I did my PhD in a country that pays a good salary to PhD students (€34k, around 70-75% of the average household income in that country). We had a contract, vacation days, pension, health care, and a collective labour agreement spelling these things out. Most of my colleagues didn't look for postdocs but went straight into industry post PhD, and the "real job" aspect of the PhD helped with that transition.

    The first option probably costs less than the current situation; the second option is more expensive than the current situation and would probably have the impact of decreasing the number of PhDs while making the existing ones less exploited.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    qaz:
    "My understanding is that science PhDs have a near 100% job in research, even if it's not being a professor."

    No. Do you notice how few of those "alternative careers" that get hyped up in Nature editorials and the like actually deal with research? Instead, they are things like patent law (actually know a couple of people who went that route after not getting tenure), or science writing (which could be a fulfilling career, I suppose, except that you'd be fighting against the hordes of unemployed journalism majors who wanted to be writers from the start).

    And typical industrial research isn't doing that well these days. All the big pharma companies have laid off large fractions of their research staff -- the idea that someone could have a life-long research career at Pfizer or whatever are long gone.

  • qaz says:

    DM - I thought that studies of unemployment among PhDs showed near 0% unemployment And that the percent of people in science-related jobs after PhD was very high (I don't remember exact numbers, but I thought it was close to 80 or 90%).

    There is no evidence that we are overproducing PhDs. The only data that we have is that PhD students go into grad school wanting to be research professors and go out wanting to do other things. Why do we assume that changing their minds makes them wrong? Kids are naive. They learn what the real options are. And they realize they would rather do a job they didn't know existed when they went to grad school.

    Here's a question - how many people with PhDs regret having spent five years getting their PhD? In my experience, very very very few. Most of them have jobs they are very happy with, ranging from policy to industry to college teaching to, yes, research professorships. But if there isn't a large group of people saying "I wish I had gone straight from college to job X" then I don't think we can say we are overproducing PhDs.

  • qaz says:

    @JBadger - How insulting and naive. How many people do you know who went into patent law not because they failed out of being faculty but because they wanted to? How many people do you know who went into science writing because they became passionate about communicating science beyond academia and decided that was where they were going to make their mark? How many people do you know who turned down postdocs with nobel laureates in order to teach at a small liberal arts college?

    What I've been seeing consistently in our graduate program is that the students doing these other things are not doing them because they have to, but because they want to. As one student said to me: "Don't call this an alternative career. This is not an alternative career. It's the career I want."

    There are plenty of jobs for PhDs out there. In my experience, most PhDs find jobs they are very happy with. And my understanding is that the surveys bear that out, even if they are not in professorships.

    Finally, you can't go say that because these other jobs aren't perfect, they don't count. Being research faculty is hard these days (especially if you're soft money, but even hard money is hard if you want to run a lab). Half of this blog is about how hard it is to be a research faculty. Do you really think that being an industrial scientist or science journalist or policy analyst is easier? It's not. But it is (like a research professorship) a fulfilling and difficult career where a talented person can put his or her mark on the world.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    The sunk cost fallacy applies to education as well as anything else. That's kind of a confounding factor in the "do people think they made a mistake in getting their degree?" question. Also that there isn't a whole lot you can do about it after the fact without a time machine.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    There's lots of people, like the great Carl Zimmer, who went into science writing because that's what they wanted to do. That's great -- I'm not dismissive of that at all. Same with being a teaching professor. I'm having a bit of a problem imagining people who dreamed about patent law, but maybe they really are such people too. That's not what I'm talking about -- I'm talking about the editorials which clearly are aimed at the "So you didn't get to do what you wanted; here are some things you could do instead".

  • qaz says:

    Life is sunk costs.

    But I agree that measuring regret is tricky. Nevertheless, we can measure the regret in another way. How many PhDs in non-professor careers go to colleges telling people "Don't go get your PhD" and how many go to colleges telling people "Go get your PhD, because when you do you can come (fill in the blank) like I do. You can make your mark in the world."

    The only people I hear saying that we are over-producing PhDs are R1 research professors. I wonder why that is.

  • qaz says:

    I agree completely about those editorials. But what I've found is that those editorials are still all working from the assumption that these are alternative careers for failures who don't make the cut. What I'm seeing is that these are careers being chosen by people who are learning that there are more options available than research professorships, which is a very different statement.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    It depends on what you mean by "R1 research professor". I thought it was more the soft-money crowd (who know just how precarious their research career is and realize that new students are only going to have it even worse) that are the primary critics in regard to the academic Ponzi scheme. The tenured professors have nothing to fear (and the fact that they themselves got tenure is validation in their minds that all is well).

  • becca says:

    " Do you also clutch your pearls in horror that these kids have been lied to with promises that the Marines can't keep?"

    "You'll be fighting for American Freedom against the terrorists!"
    "You can have any specialty you want, of course you can be a linguist intelligence officer!"
    "You can travel to so many places in the world! I was stationed in Hawaii, Japan and Italy!"

    Meanwhile, what they're *actually* doing is shooting children in Kabul and burning huge mounds of garbage.

    Let's Compare.
    "You'll be discovering the cures to diseases so the next generation won't have to face cancer/AIDS/malaria/aging/death!"
    "You can study an area you want, of course you can get a grant to study the parasites of the mites of the bunnies that hop!"
    "You can travel to so many places in the world! I went to conferences in Hawaii, Japan and Italy!"

    Meanwhile, what they're *actually* doing is deciding whether to report faked Western blots and autoclaving old petri plates.

  • becca says:

    I think the real problem is the American high school and college education is so incredibly devoid of Noble Purpose, Freedom of Choice and Travel that kids will buy anything...

  • Grumble says:

    "Beliefs on the part of the suckers shows this. I provided citations."

    Right. So the solution is to educate the suckers so that they are no longer suckers, not to put in place restrictions on how many people are allowed to become suckers.

    "We do reduce the number of people entering those fields, Grumble. Every responsible adult that I'm aware of tells their kids that music, art, etc. might be nice *hobbies* but *strongly* discourages getting a worthless degree in them."

    Right, this is called "educating your children." I wouldn't tell my kid not to go into any of these fields. I'd make sure she understands how difficult they all are - including academic science - and give her my opinion of her aptitude. Which she is free to ignore or not. Her choice, not mine. Get it? Same for every other ambitious kid.

    "I suspect you don't come from a military family. Enlisted soldiers don't "work their way up the ranks";"

    You're right, no military in my family. But I am aware that higher ranking officers come from a different pool; I meant soldiers working their way up the non-comm ranks, which is how a starting private makes a career out of being in the military.

  • Evelyn says:

    qaz - I am someone who got a PhD from a fancy school, a postdoc from a fancy school, with a number of decent papers - and am currently in an alt career that I love. Even so, I do regret doing a PhD and my postdoc from a career perspective. You do not need a PhD to do my job and the majority of people in my profession do not have a PhD. If I had gotten a masters and then went straight into my career, I would be making at least 30% more now and probably be a few steps up on the ladder. When I finished my postdoc, I met with a highly accomplished person (in my current profession) who quickly poured cold water on my "PhD is always awesome" attitude. She said that at the age of 30, I have 0 years of experience for any of the positions and would have to start at the bottom. And she was right. I have moved up quickly but not quickly enough to make up the 7 years late start. There is no positive spin here. And to say that we are not oversupplying PhDs is to be willfully blind. We just put out an announcement for a Research Technician and out of 10 applications (in the first week), 7 have PhDs.

  • qaz says:

    @JB - If you don't think tenured professors on hard money are also worried and complaining, then you don't know a lot of tenured professors. First, it's very hard to run a lab without funding. Second, promotion (and tenure itself) are dependent on funding. Losing funding will lose you lab space, intra-university opportunities, and many other things. And third, if you are running a lab, then your own salary may not depend on funding (*), but the people who work for you will. Personally, I find knowing that other people depend on my grant getting to be much more harrowing than knowing that I depend on my grant getting. Believe me, tenured professors who are not deadwood are just as worried and upset about the state of the field as soft-money professors. Most of the people writing those articles about overproduction and the like are tenured professors.

    * The actual line between hard money and soft is more complex than we usually acknowledge. Many "soft money" positions include a proportion of the salary paid [25%, 50%] and many "hard money" positions include incentives from grants. I suppose that it is really about your income and your outgo. But then, how is that different from any other profession anywhere?

    PS. And don't forget, the people who think that teaching at a SLAC is an alternative career for failures look down on professors at R1 research universities who make their contribution teaching classes. (Even though teaching a 100 person class brings a similar amount of money into a public university as an R21 and into a private university as an R01.) Compare how most deans treat a person teaching a large Intro to History class as to how they treat a faculty in bioscience with an R01.

  • katiesci says:

    "And yes, we have been through this before about how graduate student stipends are better than minimum wage and the working conditions can be pretty decent in most cases."

    Better than minimum wage? Not if you consider the long hours grad students put in and calculate an hourly wage.

  • Craig says:

    I agree with qaz. GS provides meaningful training to a lot of individuals and, while the majority of those people won't become a professor, it would do real harm if one tried to reform the biomedical workforce by restricting at the GS stage. Undergraduate success or failure would have too much of an effect on who makes up the field 10 years down the road.

    That isn't to say that GS shouldn't be reformed. There needs to be a push (which there is to some degree) to make it clear that non academic careers are the norm, not an alternative. Students should have a formal training to what these options are as soon as they arrive so that they can seriously think about their career track by time they have their qualifying exam and be ready to compete in that line of work when they defend. Or if they learn that they're already qualified for career X, let them jump ship with a MS and build actual experience earlier.

    There's also a trend in some departments to select students who have 1-2 years (or more) of technician experience before grad school. While this can be useful for someone whose undergraduate record isn't stellar, enrolling technicians should be an exception, not a rule. There's no good reason to add several years to an already slow career track.

    PD "training" and reforming the rest of the labor force is the more serious problem, by far.

  • katiesci says:

    My blog post from almost 2 years ago on this topic. Basically nothing has been done in the meantime by the NIH.

    http://sicknessisfascinating.blogspot.com/2014/07/alt-careers-arent-answer.html

  • Emaderton3 says:

    The attitude at universities and medical schools needs to change, particularly from the faculty, regarding whether one is considered a "failure" after getting a PhD and/or post-docing but choosing an "alt" career. That being said, I have noticed at my institution that both the graduate student organizations and post-doc office are offering a significantly higher number of seminars regarding career paths outside academia including round table discussions and meet-and-greets with people in these "alt" career tracks.

    And I agree with Qaz--tenured profs, at least at some institutions, still have to worry. Tenure no longer guarantees your entire salary, and the powers-that-be have no problem taking away your lab space and/or making you fire your techs when the money runs out. And in some places, such as mine (on the medical center side of things), salary requirements are 90-98% which requires more than one grant.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The only people I hear saying that we are over-producing are...

    You need to get out of your ivory tower more often.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Dudes, gotta say I think all this "failure" and "not making the cut" stuff is a huge distraction. The numbers are just too out of whack for this to be anything that is useful in diagnosis or treatment. It just blames the victim and lets the perpetrating system off the hook.

  • dsks says:

    That's a fiery title choice. Now I have visions of crazy people with megaphones driving around in vans sporting blown up photos of rejected PhD candidates on the side.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You can see a lot of "what about the baby's rights" in this thread dsks

  • PaleoGould says:

    I'm glad you see the problem. Though I confess I have some trouble squaring it with your general attitude to us trainees when we complain.

  • David says:

    I'm with outoftune on this. Encourage/require research masters degrees for everyone who wants to go the research PhD route. Let them spend 1-2 years doing research (and teaching). Some people will decide they don't like it (and getting a non-PhD requiring job with an MS is easier than with a BS or PhD). Some people will realize they don't have the aptitude and some will realize its not as easy and glamorous as they thought.

    But this also needs to be combined with professors and the rest of the university providing real information and feedback (and removing the stigma that a non-PhD or non-professor life is a failure). I was lucky, my PI in GS talked about what it took (and I kept my eyes open). I realized that I didn't have the personality to compete as a PI and I also realized I didn't want to teach (at that point in my life). I left with a great MS and got a research job outside of academia (yes, I know I'm lucky).

    I know far too many people who went straight from undergrad to a PhD program, people who didn't know what research was, didn't understand the effort required, and didn't understand the job prospects.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And what supposed attitude is that PG?

  • PaleoGould says:

    You are not, usually, particularly receptive to our complaining about our lot, even as your analysis of the situation is generally clear and on point. It's a dissonance I've perceived before.
    But I know your game, and I'm not particularly interested in digging through previous posts here to explain myself while you play Socrates.

  • Dusanbe says:

    As a recent PhD I can attest to the sentiment that all entering PhD students dream about their own lab, being PI and whatnot. When the alt-career atuff crops up, it's always because being a professor seems unattainable. Nobody busts their rear to get into a tip PhD program because they dream of working for Elsevier or BuzzFeed.

    The diversity argument is BS. Do you really believe that the way things are now, the ultracompetitive, dog-eat-dog 80,000-strong postdoc thunderdome is great for diversity?

    Why on earth do people operate under the assumption that the only way to include more URMs in science is to open the flood gates wide open? What about a concerted effort to be more inclusive of URMs, regardless of total number of PhD students admitted? Geez.

  • Grumble says:

    "And to say that we are not oversupplying PhDs is to be willfully blind. We just put out an announcement for a Research Technician and out of 10 applications (in the first week), 7 have PhDs."

    Yeah, so why is it that I put out an ad for a Post Doc position and I get precisely zero qualified American PhDs?

    Either:

    1. America is not producing enough PhDs.

    Or:

    2. America is producing plenty of PhDs who are (being, you know, PhDs) smart enough to avoid continuing along the academic track because of how shitty funding is now, and are instead opting for careers in industry or whatever.

    (Or 3. Grumble's lab sucks and everyone knows it.)

  • Brain says:

    "Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor."

    my experience is that most starting grad students do not have this on their radar and are aware of the probabilities. often they do not know what they want. perhaps grad school is not ideal but I'm not sure where else these students would go.

  • qaz says:

    DM - The failure issue is everything. If these other careers are just as good, then we need to actually do studies about job prospects and job satisfaction of PhDs in these other careers. If those job prospects are good, job satisfaction is high, and the PhD helps (what I've seen in students graduating from our graduate program), then we don't have a problem. If that job satisfaction is poor (as JB implies about his patent-lawyer friends) or if the PhD doesn't really help (as Evelyn describes her personal situation), then we have a problem. I don't think we have those studies. Which means that we DON'T KNOW whether the numbers are out of whack or not. But my observations of our students graduating from our large BigStateResearchUniversity program (better than anecdata but not much) is that the numbers are not out of whack at all. Once the kids discover that there are other options out there, they turn down research opportunities likely to lead to faculty jobs for preferred jobs in these other options. I see no evidence that these kids are settling.

    I also notice that we have spent all of our time arguing over these non-faculty careers. You have not responded to what I feel is the more important issue. The earlier you cull, the more you are selecting for parents and the less for kids. The earlier you cull, the harder it is for someone from a disadvantaged background to make it. I would argue that rather than culling early, we need to provide more opportunities late. (Rejecting the failure issue is a first step to providing more opportunities late.) That is the exact opposite solution to the stated problem.

  • Grumble says:

    @David: "I know far too many people who went straight from undergrad to a PhD program, people who didn't know what research was, didn't understand the effort required, and didn't understand the job prospects."

    That supports my contention that we need to educate prospective students better. On the other hand, at what point do those students bear some responsibility for educating themselves about the career path they are about to embark on? It's their lives and livelihoods, for fuck's sake, and no one is forcing them to choose grad school.

  • Joe says:

    I tell the interviewing students that their chance of an academic job is low. I've told undergrads considering grad school to maybe consider med school instead. (It hurts me to say that).
    Our grad program tracks all the students after graduation, and posts the info on the grad program website. Prospective students can see how many grads end up in which careers. We require grad students to spend at least a semester doing a professional development activity, and those activities include business, law, journalism, policy, biotech, or teaching. If you look down on people that go into those careers, then you are an elitist jerk. Nevertheless, I do hear faculty bragging about the number of students we place in academic positions as if that were the best measure of success.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Brain:
    Where other 21 year old graduates who aren't sure what they want go: entry level jobs that they don't necessarily like but have the advantage of promotions, raises, and a retirement plan

  • qaz says:

    PaleoGould - yeah, like serving coffee at Starbucks. Or working for stock options in a tech startup more likely to fail than to make it. Or interning at a law firm or publishing house. In fact, one of the nasty things that has happened over the last decade is that a lot of industries (law firms, publishers, tech, fashion, wall street, and many others) are now demanding a 1-2 year unpaid internship before giving them a chance to get a salary, let alone a promotion, raise, or retirement plan. There have been a number of lawsuits demanding that these companies pay their interns.

    And, maybe it's not so bad to go to a job that you actually like that pays enough to live on (even if not much) rather than an entry level job that you don't like that doesn't.

  • Evelyn says:

    "Yeah, so why is it that I put out an ad for a Post Doc position and I get precisely zero qualified American PhDs?"

    Qualified American PhDs? Ah... I see what you did there. It's not that you got 0 applicants. It's not even that you got 0 American PhDs. It's that you got 0 applicants who have American PhDs and are qualified (experienced?) to do the work. How many actual applications did you get?

    That is not an issue with under supply. That is a mismatch between the job and the applicant pool.

  • mensmentis says:

    I haven't finished reading all of these comments, but I want to say that I feel this so hard.

    I am a reasonably successful post-doc, and even just got an small award that pays my salary for another year (year 3) - and the university (?) decided that awardees are not "employees" and I completely lost my employer-subsidized health insurance. Eventually they relented on individual coverage, but not family plans (and in general it seemed absurd to everyone in this system that a lowly post-doc would need to provide for family).

    This was the final (but not only) straw for me.
    I don't think it is prudent for me to stay in a system that devalues my labor this much - I want that schweet schweet faculty position, but I also can't fall for the sunk cost fallacy any more. I think that I am done paying-my-dues into a system that wants to compensate me with "passion" instead of job opportunities in the same city as my husband, full-time employee benefits, or even job stability for more than 1-2 years at a time.

    I don't want to sound entitled, and its probably not fair for me to vent here, but I've been applying in the private sector and am probably not going to see this third year through. I am probably going to take a job that will have similar pay and job satisfaction as it would have if I had quit after my BS degree, but I am going to have a lot of things I don't have now.

  • drugmonkey says:

    qaz- Ok, I'll fess up. What I'm really after is a complete moratorium on any new entrant PHD trainees for at least five years. No selection = no selection bias.

  • drugmonkey says:

    qaz2- fine. So hire these grads as techs to do the labor that we used to get out of grad students.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Grumbke- it's 3. Srsly.

  • Craig says:

    PaleoGould-

    BS/BA in biology doesn't seem like it's one of those degrees that opens a ton of doors right out of college. Starting salaries are way down on the list, comparable to the humanities. Looking at surveys from my alma mater, only 20% go directly to employment. 15% head to GS, 20% to medical/dental/vet school, and who knows about the rest.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And to be slightly less dickish, Grumble, I lost two sequential prospective postdocs to industry during my last search. Part of this, I assume, is on me. That is, my laboratory did not appear to them to offer the springboard they needed to get on the schweet, schweet Professor track. Laboratories like mine would have appeared more promising in this regard 20 y ago.

  • physioprof says:

    Dude, this troll post is a weak rerun. Sad. Try to generate some new matterial, ffs.

  • Dave says:

    I think quality PhD supply has definitely slowed. As mentioned by several here, it's not easy to attract top quality talent unless you are a major BSD lab, and even then those people tend to be looking at industry also (see DM above). Post-doc salaries in industry are very nice, but the job is not as rosy as some make it out to be. I know a lot of people in industry at various levels and very few of them, if any, like their job.

  • Grumble says:

    @Evelyn: "Qualified American PhDs? Ah... I see what you did there. It's not that you got 0 applicants. It's not even that you got 0 American PhDs. It's that you got 0 applicants who have American PhDs and are qualified (experienced?) to do the work. How many actual applications did you get?"

    What did I do there? I mentioned American PhDs specifically because we are talking about the NIH and its potential role in limiting PhD production. I did get some foreign applicants who are qualified. But they are not relevant to the discussion because their numbers will be equivalent no matter what the NIH does to discourage or encourage biomedical PhD degrees in the United States.

    @DM: "my laboratory did not appear to them to offer the springboard they needed to get on the schweet, schweet Professor track"

    Must. Do. OPTO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • PaleoGould says:

    Craig-
    I'm actually OK with picking grad school for financial survival, as I am people picking postdocs fro financial survival. And I think grad students are becoming more savvy in that regard.
    BUT, when that change fully materialises, and grad school is simply treated as an entry level job? expect very different work attitudes from your grad students.
    Also, yes, the job market for entry level bachelors holders is hard everywhere. This is true. Does not let us off the hook, cos we are the Man in this situation.

  • David says:

    Grumble April 21, 2016 at 11:47 am
    I agree that the responsibility falls on both the universities (and even high schools) and the students themselves. I think part of the problem is that students get interested in something and the universities are happy to go along with it. Its all about the incentives.

    As has been mentioned by other posters, the problem would likely be diminished if the alt careers were better respected by PIs, if the work paid better, and if fewer people pursued PhDs and post docs. The NIH can affect the pay (and maybe the # of post docs), but likely nothing else. And I imagine they are between a rock and a hard place (lower budget, still want to support a large number of projects).

  • drugmonkey says:

    And I imagine they are between a rock and a hard place (lower budget, still want to support a large number of projects).

    Wait. How is this between a rock and a hard place that they want more science for less money?

    When I get my budget cut, the first thing I do in the first Progress Report is say "due to budget reductions we're going to do less of the proposed science". The NIH doesn't respond to Congress this way. No. They got a reduction (or flatline against inflation, same thing) and started pulling all kinds of tricks (the aforementioned budget reductions was a key one) to tell Congress all is hunky dory and the success rates are as high as ever. And they lie about how investigator-initiated R01s / equiv weren't being hammered to make up for various boondoggles.

    As far as I can tell the NIH also actively hides the way that their mandates for higher postdoc and grad student wages via the NRSA is transmitted to grant-funded postdocs/grads and therefore further reduces scientific output.

    In short, this is a hard place of their own making. The NIH should be forthright about all of these issues, harmonize expectations for output with their actual funding* and tell Congress what is what. They don't want to look bad by cutting their apparent footprint to match what they can actually afford.

    *the system is actually biased for funding applications that claim to be able to produce (or appear to have produced) more science than that grant mechanism can actually support.

  • jojo says:

    As someone who came out of SLAC undergrad to grad school in biology (and I'm about to go on to work at one), I always felt like no one in my co-hord knew the first thing about any job in academia other than R1 research prof. I guess because most people that got into my grad program (and maybe all grad programs) came from huge universities. So they had no idea what a job at any other kind of institution even looked like - like what do people do on a day to day basis. Why on earth would they report a job they know nothing about as a possible career in a survey during their first year? They are mostly going to put R1 research prof on the survey because that's literally the only job they know exists. And for that, I blame their profs, not the students.

    It's also the case that being productive in grad school is hard and some people are going to fail. And from what I hear, it's hard to tell who are who just from what's on paper and the interview. Better to let in a diverse group of applicants and weed them out before they get their PhD's but after they've figured out research is not their thing. Finally, I don't know what kind of jobs you're supposed to be able to get with a Bachelor's or a Master's in Biology? But that's likely MY ignorance talking.

  • Grumble says:

    " I think part of the problem is that students get interested in something and the universities are happy to go along with it."

    Of course they are. Set up a market, even a slave market, and people will participate in it. In this case, though, the "slaves" have lots of other options, and they're being paid, and they are supposed to be intelligent people who can look things up on the internet and decide based on real evidence what sort of career path they want to follow, so I'm not as concerned about them as, say, child laborers chained to a loom in Pakistan.

    "if the work paid better"

    Like Elizabeth Warren told Ted Cruz, I have two words for you: Boo hoo. Grad students in biomedical research are getting paid to get a degree. Who else, in what other field, gets PAID to go to school? Even in other branches of academia, like literature and social sciences and music, grad students need to take on work that's not related to their studies (e.g., teaching assistantships) in order to make ends meet. Or get loans. And yet we are sitting around whining about how much our students are exploited. Give me a break. They aren't. And ya know what? They can walk out the door anytime they like. They aren't chained to the loom. They never even had to walk in the door! They had plenty of other options before they even took the GRE.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Who else, in what other field, gets PAID to go to school?

    There are a lot of careers in which you are paid from the start as an entry level employee and through working at that job you become prepared for advancing to a higher level.

  • David says:

    "They don't want to look bad by cutting their apparent footprint to match what they can actually afford."

    I don't doubt this, my comment was more at the working level (the higher ups are on their own). My assumption is the working level people want to support many different projects and (hopefully) want all the people working on those projects to be paid a decent wage. But Congress isn't giving any more money and I am doubtful that would change if we explained to Congress that salaries need to be higher.

    "*the system is actually biased for funding applications that claim to be able to produce "
    What system is any different? If I have to pick between two projects that cost the same and one claims to be able to produce more, yeah I'm selecting that one (assuming I believe their claim). I'm fairly certain that is capitalism 101.

    If I can fund 10 projects properly or 20 projects in a half-assed manner, and I have 50 worthy projects, that's a rock and a hard place. I'm not saying the NIH or any other funding organization is without fault, but it's going to take buy-in from a whole lot more people (including Congress and PIs).

  • Emaderton3 says:

    The majority of science and engineering programs "pay" you to go to school as well!

  • David says:

    "Who else, in what other field, gets PAID to go to school?"

    I agree with this for a Masters. It is an incredible bang for the buck. But it starts to break down, in my opinion, for PhD programs and post docs. The time to completion goes up and the salary (relative to peers) goes down. It can still be worth it, if the job on the other side is worth it (either financially or personal satisfaction), but it seems a good number of students don't have the information at the beginning to make a smart choice [I can't define smart choice and this is an incredibly arrogant statement from someone who is far removed from having to make this decision, but I think the point is valid].

  • Scott says:

    4th year grad student. I agree with most of this. But I really would have liked a caveat that the life of a professor really isn't all the "sweet". Yeah, they do have more compensation in terms of pay and benefits, but the professor's I know have awful work/life balance. I was told from the start that getting a professorship was getting harder and harder. But I ultimately decided on industry not because of that, but because I saw how professors put in upwards of 60 hours a week even after tenure.

  • jmz4 says:

    There's a streak of careerism in these responses that I find a little disturbing. If you're doing research just to get to the next level (tech->grad->PD) and you're bitter because you never got to be at the "top" as a PI, then you're missing the point. This isn't the bottom wrung on a corporate ladder, it is an educational opportunity.

    I especially find the application sunk cost logic to be distressing.

    **If you view the research you did prior to exiting academia as a "cost", you are doing research wrong.**

    Given that attitude, I can see why DM sees grad students as exploited saps participating in a pyramid scheme.
    I look back on grad school, for me, as an invaluable period of training and learning that would have served me well no matter what I decided to go on to do. It was, as it is meant to be, an education, not a career.

    So yeah, if you see it as an entry level position towards being a research professor, you're probably going to be disappointed. If you see it as an opportunity to see what research is like, take some classes, meet some smart people, and think about hard problems, then it'll be hard to be truly regretful, even if you don't make the tenure track. It's more than just a couple letters after your name, the process is what's important. So in that sense, as to my original "net benefit to society", properly finishing the degree is largely immaterial, so I'd support increased masters programs.

    As far as the over-production of PhDs, here's a chart we might find handy:

    http://www.ascb.org/where-will-a-biology-phd-take-you/

    It's about a 70/30 split for students going on to a PD vs. other. So the "academic trajectory" is still *very much* the standard path, and other careers are alternative (out of grad school, not where you end up). Given the massive oversupply of PDs (of which there can be no doubt, only 15% get the job for which they're ostensibly training), I'd argue that would be where it makes the most sense to do the reduction. 85% of them end up somewhere else anyway, so why not move push that decision back to when they're exiting grad school?

    But clamping down on the number of people in grad school still makes sense, because these numbers are going to get worse. The numbers in the circles in that chart are current workforce numbers, so it is easy to get a sense of the massive workforce over-supply building.

    There are roughly 105k "science related jobs" being done by *all* people with PhDs (excluding postdocs). There are currently 85k PhD students (in a seven year cohort). So while the large majority of current PhD holders are using their degrees, that will not be true moving forward. If we use the replacement rate in academia (which is likely slower than average), than only 1/4 of those 105k jobs will turn over by the time the current crop graduates, leaving about 40-50k to figure out what to do with their degrees.

    So yeah, we don't quite need a moratorium on grad school, but kids going into need to know that they are entering a glutted market. And the NIH should absolutely stop paying tuition for PhD students, since that's a large part of the problem.

    As a long term fix, I'd be in favor of the NIH setting up something akin to the artificial scarcity med schools do, and only fund a set number of training grants at specific public institutions (geographically evenly distributed). If Harvard or Princeton want a grad program, they can pay for it out of their massive endowments.

  • ABC123 says:

    While PhD unemployment is fairly low, many of them are stuck in PostDoc purgatory (never getting a faculty position) while many of the rest are underemployed (in positions that do not require a PhD).

    It just seems to me that the problem of overproducing PhD's doesn't stop with the atrocious academic job market; it extends into industry where many PhD's are trained in areas and technique with no direct application in industry. This forces many into positions that they could've obtained with a Bachelors in any other subject.

    I think the need to restrict grad admissions is apt, but not at the point of entry (admissions). I think qualifying and candidacy exams need to be more rigorous; I'm at a Top 10 program in my field and almost everyone passes on their first attempt. The rest either have conditions they need to satisfy post-exam or are given another shot. While undergraduate success isn't a great predictor of grad success, most of the students who had conditional passes have turned out to be unremarkable and sometimes downright awful full-term grad students. Even I sometimes wonder if it would have been better to leave with a masters and pursue something else.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    @jmz4
    I'm pretty sure corporate types rationalize their internships as much the same thing -- as purely selfless attempts at providing an educational experience for young people for which the recipients should be grateful for whether or not they segue into an actual job. As someone who's experienced academia, the corporate world, non-profit research institutes, and government labs, there's much less difference between them than people only acquainted with one of them might think. You encounter people who claim to look down on "careerism" in others while playing office/department politics to advance their own careers in all of them.

    In regard to the NIH (and presumably the NSF, etc.) not paying tuition and/or limiting the number of training grants, that's exactly what I suspect DM is suggesting, not a law limiting the number of grad students or anything.

  • jojo says:

    "There are a lot of careers in which you are paid from the start as an entry level employee and through working at that job you become prepared for advancing to a higher level."

    This is true. Then a lot of people that take these jobs (even thinking it was their dream job) learn more about the career, decide it's not for them, and do something else. Just like the grad students who don't go into academia decide that somewhere along the way.

  • Ola says:

    Just had a discussion with some grad students at another institution while visiting. After the usual doom and gloom stuff, we got onto the topic of why the life of a professor is schweet (they asked "if it's as bad as you say it is, why are you doing it?")

    This brings us to the fact that, no matter how crappy we paint things to be, the life of a professor is a fucking schweet-fest with few parallels. You can work pretty much anywhere in the world. You get to hang out with bright people all day (YMMV). The level of self-determination is unmatched anywhere in industry or other career arcs. The travel opportunities are great, and the pay isn't bad either (caves in to temptation to quote Black Adder's lord Flashheart - " Tasty tuck, soft beds and a uniform so smart it's got a PhD from Cambridge").

    So yeah, it's good to talk about discouraging the young-uns, but you can hardly blame them for wanting it so bad. It's the same reason significant numbers of kids want to be actors, soccer stars, or the next American Idol. Who are we as PIs to deny people their dreams?

  • Grumble says:

    "There are a lot of careers in which you are paid from the start as an entry level employee and through working at that job you become prepared for advancing to a higher level."

    So academia's difference from other professions is a matter of degree (ha ha), rather than a qualitative difference. But nothing is guaranteed in those other professions, either. I'd guess that if you analyzed all professions, you'd find a direct trade-off between misery as a trainee and future schweetness. A journeyman plumber has steady work and little risk of failure in his career, but the job when he becomes a master isn't as schweet as a professor's. A 1st year grad student faces a high risk of failure (or at least of not becoming a professor), but if she gets that far, her life is schweeter than a master plumber's.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Ola
    Hate to disabuse you of this notion. But not everyone in other jobs is living a life of drudgery and unfulfilment, drowning their dissatisfaction in their holidays and 401ks
    My sister has worked her butt off for years to be a Civil Servant in the British government because she loves it. It's challenging, tricky, involves working with very smart (and devious) people, and because she gets up in the morning knowing that what she does matters (for better or worse, but it sure matters).
    The idea that academia is uniquely fulfilling is a problem, ESPECIALLY when fed to undergrads who are most likely to meet professors likely to tell them this, and not equally satisfied, content and fulfilled people in other career.s

  • another young FSP says:

    I think one of the major problems is that we automatically assume "graduate student" means "PhD", and we assess both trainees and mentors as though achieving a MS is a failure.

    When I talk to industry representatives, they want graduate-trained researchers. They just want masters students, not PhDs - the engineering model. They want their PhDs to come with industry experience - students who go out into the real world with a masters, and return for a PhD for the experience when they want to bump into leadership positions. Or true superstars.

    When we assess graduate programs, we assess them by completion rate - how many of the entering students can we push out in 5 years with a PhD? Anything less is... less, and a mark against the program. When we assess students in most physical and biological sciences, we consider someone who leaves with an MS and obtains a lucrative job in industry as a failure. When we assess PIs for P&T, we assess the quality of their mentoring by what percentage of their students they take to PhD.

    I think this is one major place where we've got perverse incentives set up.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The incentives all push toward more and more and more PhDs being awarded. Very true.

  • Rheophile says:

    Ola: "You can work pretty much anywhere in the world."

    Let me tell you, the first thing I mention about the academic career to incoming students is definitely how you can find a job in any location in the world. :insert liz lemon eye roll:

  • jmz4 says:

    Actually, that's one of the most appealing things about doing a postdoc.

  • Nat says:

    Two things always stun me when looking at the "Where will a biology PhD take you" figure that jmz4 linked:

    First, wow, the estimate for the numbers of biomed postdocs is absurd. "Eh, we could have a pool of postdocs about equal to the number of TT faculty, or maybe more than twice that. Who knows!"

    Second, there's fewer industry scientists than TT track ones? Really? Why did anyone ever say, "well, you could always go to industry." Because apparently one can't. Though, I wonder what the breakdown citizen/permanent residents vs. visa holders is in each of the categories in that chart.

  • bacillus says:

    Reagrding the argument that culling the grad student population discriminates against the disadvantaged. Is this really the case? I very much doubt that anyone from the professional class is urging their kids to become biomedical research scientists. Shit, I've never had a colleague during the past 35 years who encouraged their kids to enter the game, except as a gateway to med/vet/dental school. As I see it, most people entering grad school come from solid blue collar, batchlors degree professional (e.g. school teachers), or small business owner type backgrounds rather than from the upper echelons (the 10% ers). As for the opportunity cost, I started work in 1982 straight out of university aged 22, and the 7 years of pension contributions I made back then is worth more than my entire pay for the same period, and then some.

  • jmz4 says:

    @Baccilus
    I have seen the complete opposite among my cohort (PhD in the last 5 years). Anecdotally at least, the people sticking on the career pipeline from grad through PD to PI are generally have parents in the 10%. Many of whom are professors themselves. It would be interesting to have some hard data on this, though.

  • Iain Roberts says:

    @Grumble: Agreed. Yeah, yeah, most beginning PhD students want to be professors. Here's the thing: It is not a secret that there are many, many PhD graduates competing for few sweet professorships.

    I am particularly irked by drugmonkey's remark:

    I've listened on the Internet for years now to the various brands of disgruntledoc. People go so far as to commit suicide.

    That's horrible. But it's an argument for better support, career education, and not fostering unrealistic expectations. Seen the movie Whiplash? It's about a guy prepared to sacrifice his health and sanity to become the best ever jazz drummer. We blame his asshole teacher (wonderfully played by JK Simmons) for encouraging him. We don't blame the fact that there are lots of music schools and few openings for professional jazz drummers.

    So, we should try and get the early-20s PhD candidates to be realistic. Here's another thing: Bright, ambitious 22 year olds aren't very realistic. I know I wasn't. Some of that decline in desire to be a professor is not evil child neglect, it's a natural process of becoming more mature and knowledgeable.

    22 year old me occasionally dreamed of the schweet, schweet life of a Professor. 22 year old me was ignorant when it came to life and careers. 38 year old me is perfectly happy to have done a PhD, and then gone into industry.

    Here's a final thing: I don't regret doing a PhD, because I see it as its own reward. For four years, I got to work on really hard problems just because they were interesting, not because we needed to ship Product X by deadline. There was a lot of drudgery and angst, and I could have made more money doing something else, but I'm still not sorry I did it. I know that's just one data point, but I don't think I'm alone here.

  • becca says:

    I've not seen data on whether the top 10% are more likely to become TT research profs, but I will say "physical life and social scientists" on average came from families in the top 70%, and on average make in the top 70% http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/03/18/289013884/who-had-richer-parents-doctors-or-arists

  • Grumble says:

    "For four years, I got to work on really hard problems just because they were interesting, not because we needed to ship Product X by deadline."

    This, after all, is why we all went into academia into the first place, right? And like every other schweet deal in life, it's a hard one to get. Focusing solely on how unfaaaaaaair it is that not everyone who gets into grad school can continue along this track misses the point that having these experiences in grad school has a a form of value that is not financial.

  • jmz4 says:

    @Iain Roberts @Grumble
    Agreed, it is an education, not a job. There's a crucial distinction, and one that I don't think a lot of people (professors and grad students alike) don't fully understand. It's why I refused to call my grad advisor my "boss".
    And like any education, obtaining it has rewards beyond career advancement.

  • KT says:

    If it's an education not a job, then grad students and postdocs should not be treated like employees of the PI. They should be allowed more autonomy and freedom and the PI should not have the right to demand the students and postdocs work long hours to further the PI's agenda. In other words, if you truly see them as just students and not employees then the day to day relationship should center around their interests rather than yours. But that is not how it works, especially not in big labs with ambitious PIs.

    Every PIs I know does expect or demand their grad students and PDs behave and function like employees of the PI. PIs no longer do their own research, many never even step foot in "their" own labs. but they still want the credit because they wrote the grant proposal and administer the budget. The job description of professor has morphed into a manager of resources, marketer, salesman, and PR person. They have no time left for doing the research that they write and give talks about. So they hire grad students and PDs to carry out the research for them. This is all fine, this is how a research enterprise works. But. This is an employee-employer relationship and should be openly acknowledged as such. Yet when it comes to talking about fairer treatment of these employees then all of a sudden they are not employees t hey are trainees and thus should accept exploitation or leave.

  • qaz says:

    KT - Grad school is *supposed* to be a combination of education *and* a job. That is why grad students are paid half of what they are worth (an RA-ship is 50% time) and why they go to classes and get trained to leave in five years. If grad school were pure education they would have to take loans to pay tuition like med school or law school students (who don't get paid and don't work for an employer).

    One needs to look at grad school with a much larger picture than NIH-funded bio-land and an understanding of the history. Basically, there are three ways to pay for grad school: (1) you can pay your own way out of your own pocket. This is what professional school students do (med school, dental school, law school). (2) you can pay your way by teaching undergrads for part of the time. This is what is done in many programs that have large teaching loads, but little outside funding (many humanities majors as well as many physics and math students). Or (3) you can pay your way by doing research with a professor. Historically, (1) was the worst, (2) OK, and (3) the best because you were trying to learn how to do research anyway. If you could do (3) in a lab that worked on a topic you were interested in, wow, that was the best. But historically, lots of people did (3) in labs that they didn't care about, while doing the research for their PhD about on the side. In NIH-funded bio-land, the assumption is that you are doing (3) in a lab doing this research that will lead to your PhD.

    We need to remember that grad school is something you have to pay for, somehow. If someone wants to really be an employee, then we could treat them as such, but then they can pay for classes out of their own pocket and they shouldn't be wasting anytime on classes that aren't immediately relevant to their employer's needs. So no more coursework to make sure they can go on to teach/work elsewhere, no more internships or experience-driven research projects, no more presenting data at conferences for the sake of networking and learning. I don't want to hear any complaining about "not being trained" for jobs outside academia. If the grad student is nothing but an employee, then they shouldn't expect to be trained for anything outside of the lab.

    Personally, I think grad school is a very good deal, especially in NIH-funded bio-land.

  • qaz says:

    And, as CPP will point out when xe reads your note, if you don't think your PI is doing something in your research, then you're not paying attention. Just because the PI doesn't fill the pipette or run the gel or surgerize an animal or whatever, don't be fooled in thinking there's no work being done. One of the things a grad student is learning is just how much more there is to research than filling a pipette or running a gel or surgerizing an animal.

  • qaz says:

    Sorry, mistyped. That should say "If you are just an employee, then I don't want to hear any complaining about "not being trained" for jobs outside academia."

  • drugmonkey says:

    When did 3 ever mean working as an RA for whichever PI happened to be funded but not the PI of the lab for the actual doctoral work? How did that work? What PI wants graduate student level hands that they are not supervising for the PHD work?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Or maybe I should be asking "In which subfields does this occur?", qaz?

  • qaz says:

    I know that it used to be very common in physics and the engineering fields in the 1960s and 1970s. It think it is still very common in many of the humanities fields, where someone might work as an RA for one research project but actually be doing PhD work elsewhere. (I know people who had to do this in the 1990s.) You do work for someone who has money, but your PhD is about something else. My understanding is that in many of these cases, the RA-ship was more tech work and less grad-student work (running an experiment, but not really planning the projects).

    It was just like being a TA. (That's why it was called an "RA".) In many fields, the TA-ship you have has very little to do with your research. (Think being a TA for physics 101.)

  • zb says:

    grumble and newbiepi don't sound any different than any other employer trying to squeeze the most value out of their available labor (especially when they argue the impossibility of being competitive without doing so). qaz sounds like he drank some kool-ade, repeating all the self-justifying tropes (like research is required because of the undesirability of failing students, rather than because the requirements of employment are being continually ramped up in the modern economy).

  • drugmonkey says:

    Agreed, zb.

    I see qaz. I just thought that went out with the dinosaurs.

Leave a Reply