Too many scientists?

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Omegaton
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Omegaton » Thu Feb 18, 2010 3:16 am UTC

DNA wrote:Wow, this is really depressing. I've had my doubts about biomedical/pharmaceutical research (what I want to go into) ever since people started realizing that we won't be able to synthesize cures for diseases now that we know their DNA sequence/biochemical pathway as easily as we thought, but now that I'm slowly realizing that there's going to be a lot of competitions for research jobs I'm kinda losing momentum. Then again I live near a lot of public & private pharmaceutical companies which combined make Canada the top drug & vaccine suppliers to the WHO, so maybe (hopefully) I'll be the exception and they'll open their well lined suede arms to me.

Oh well, looks like I'll end up being a freaking doctor or somethig :?

If I had to guess, you'd probably be better off since your work has to do with human health, which means more money.

Nlelith wrote:What about work outside of academia (e.g. industry)?

This is surely dependent on one's field.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Zamfir » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:19 am UTC

Mokele wrote:Really? These conversations always drive home just how different various fields are - in mine, lots of effort is made to get the grad student to give talks/posters at conferences, to meet with faculty from other departments at seminars and conferences, etc. We're even usually first author (two-author papers are common in my field, usually as Student & Advisor, 2010). There's a lot of first-name basis, even with Big Names, and the Big Names actually remember the names of the grad students from elsewhere (especially if they've done neat work). Some of it is because it's a VERY small field, but some of the 'putting students at the forefront' is explicit in the documentation of the societies.

Seems like the moral of the story so far is "If you have to go into science, go into organismal biology."


A lot of this is related to your "k-selected" observation. Different fields do their selection at different points, and you get taken more serious as a potential colleague if your peer group is already past some selection points.
In some fields, the heavy selection comes before starting a PhD, so that all PhDs have at least a good shot to enter a life-timecareer. In other fields grad school is relatively easy to enter, and the big culling starts with getting a post-doc place. And I suppose a lot of the problems in this thread come from fields where the major selection is nowadays only made after years of post-doccing.

It's my outside impression that a lot of physics and microbiology tends to the latter strategy, so that people in their early 30s are still treated a bit like expendable student workers.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Rockberry » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:29 am UTC

Mokele wrote:
Yakk wrote:any career benefits after you are done the research, any status while you are doing the research,


Really? These conversations always drive home just how different various fields are - in mine, lots of effort is made to get the grad student to give talks/posters at conferences, to meet with faculty from other departments at seminars and conferences, etc. We're even usually first author (two-author papers are common in my field, usually as Student & Advisor, 2010). There's a lot of first-name basis, even with Big Names, and the Big Names actually remember the names of the grad students from elsewhere (especially if they've done neat work). Some of it is because it's a VERY small field, but some of the 'putting students at the forefront' is explicit in the documentation of the societies.

Seems like the moral of the story so far is "If you have to go into science, go into organismal biology."


I'm thinking of going into ecology. Is that considered organismal?

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:53 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:In some fields, the heavy selection comes before starting a PhD, so that all PhDs have at least a good shot to enter a life-timecareer.


Which fields are these? Certainly not chemistry,physics,mathematics,most biology, or any engineering field. Engineering is slightly less competitive because engineers tend to have options in industry, but you still find maybe 800 people applying to any open position. Colleagues in the humanities department tell me its generally no better there.

Also, I don't want people get get the wrong idea about professionalism. In theoretical physics,as a rule, we do tend to push students to the front, they attend conferences, get first author papers. They are treated as colleagues right until they can't get a third postdoc and leave the field. The problem is not that we are abusing students and hogging glory, the problem is that there aren't enough jobs to go around. Most years, every full professor in the field graduates at least one student, and does not retire. Obviously, this is not sustainable.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Zamfir » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:38 am UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Zamfir wrote:In some fields, the heavy selection comes before starting a PhD, so that all PhDs have at least a good shot to enter a life-timecareer.

Which fields are these?

There might a bit of a cultural difference. PhDs in Europe and in the US do not have entirely the same place in the system, with American PhDs often (but not always) coming a bit earlier in the system: I encounter Americans who started their PhD after just three years of college, and who are doing a significant amount of class-like studying as part of their PhD. Both are pretty rare over here. In return, more Americans start a PhD.

So my observations might not really apply to the US, or North America. I'd say that in geenral American PhDs are bit closer to being students, and European PhDs a bit closer to being staff, but with lots of exceptions of course.

I know quite some people in small fields, like small languages or old parts of history, where a department can only afford a (paid) PhD student every few years or so, and other department elsewhere are in the same situation. So there is significant competition to get such a place, but once in you are already very much part of the system, with a good (but far from certain) chance to get a lecturer position afterwards.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Feb 18, 2010 11:58 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:There might a bit of a cultural difference. PhDs in Europe and in the US do not have entirely the same place in the system, with American PhDs often (but not always) coming a bit earlier in the system: I encounter Americans who started their PhD after just three years of college, and who are doing a significant amount of class-like studying as part of their PhD. Both are pretty rare over here. In return, more Americans start a PhD.


Generally, in the US its 4 years of college then straight to phds. Because we roll masters+phd into one program, generally the first 1.5-2 years is spent taking courses. Generally, the total time from finishing undergraduate to phd is comparable between the two systems.

Per professor graduation rates in Europe and America are generally similar, though Europe tends to fund more postdocs in many fields. What this means is that postdoc competition is slightly lessened in Europe, but permanent position competition is incredibly fierce.

Zamfir wrote:So there is significant competition to get such a place, but once in you are already very much part of the system, with a good (but far from certain) chance to get a lecturer position afterwards.


A good chance for an academic position is something like 1/3 phd graduates land a permanent position. Thats still not a majority of phds.

Further, lecturer positions are like postdocs in the sciences- they aren't permanent and are usually very temporary. In some universities, you have to reapply for your position yearly, which means virtually no job security.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Hit3k » Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:05 pm UTC

I don't think there are too many scientists. In fact, in Australia BSc is one of the cheapest courses for a student to do because there aren't many people going into Science. But I cannot talk for the rest of the world and I don't plan on staying in Australia forever seeing as the job prospects for PhDs are academia or academia.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Mokele » Thu Feb 18, 2010 4:02 pm UTC

I'm thinking of going into ecology. Is that considered organismal?


Not in the strict scientific sense, but IME, the "culture" seems to be fairly close in terms of how grad students are treated, a k-selected viewpoint, etc.

A lot of this is related to your "k-selected" observation. Different fields do their selection at different points, and you get taken more serious as a potential colleague if your peer group is already past some selection points.In some fields, the heavy selection comes before starting a PhD, so that all PhDs have at least a good shot to enter a life-timecareer.


That definitely seems to be true in my department - there's ~20 faculty, but the school itself has so few undergrads that there's only enough teaching support for 4-5 entering students per year (with an application pool of ~150-200)
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Game_boy » Thu Feb 18, 2010 6:42 pm UTC

I'm going to do a Physics degree (Cambridge) next year. The impression I'm getting from this thread is that I should find an engineering job in industry with it, rather than progress to a PhD/research?
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Yakk » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:41 pm UTC

How much do you want to do research? How little are you willing to be paid for it? How much do you believe that you are going to be 1 of the 3 or 4 or 5 or 20 that gets a tenured job after 5-10 years of low-salary post-doc? How able do you think you are to push yourself in your PhD to get it done ASAP? How long are you willing to put "your life on hold" and work hard until you get tenure (note: you cannot be a primary caregiver for kids in your 20s/early 30s and expect it not to have a huge impact on your ability to make it to full tenured professor...)?

I have many friends who are in tenure-track positions at universities. I have others who are in their nth post-doc. Every one of my friends who are in the academic stream where top of their classes, as far as I can remember -- the kind of people who where on winning Putnam/acm contests (in some cases, both), and similarly skilled outside of contest environments.

I don't know a tenured professor yet out of the lot: I'm betting that some of them will make it. But it doesn't happen quickly.

So, in short, how much do you want to do research?

There are many upsides. Pick the right speciality, and you end up spending time with large numbers of ridiculously smart experts. You get to work your mind as hard as you want to. But don't be blind to the downsides.

... then again, the same can be said of entrepreneurs outside of academia. Generally, these high-risk, low-average, jackpot type careers attract people who believe they have a better chance than they "actually do". There is a reason why huge numbers of people gravitate to the "monopolistic professions" of medicine and lawyerdom (or, in some areas, engineering)
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Omegaton » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:37 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:The problem is not that we are abusing students and hogging glory, the problem is that there aren't enough jobs to go around. Most years, every full professor in the field graduates at least one student, and does not retire. Obviously, this is not sustainable.

If we're making analogies between scientists and scientific theories, this goes along with Malthus's growth in population vs. resources, which influenced Darwin's theory of natural selection. The only way this would be sustainable is if resources can sustain and grow at the same rate as population, or there are enough resources that competition doesn't occur.

Mokele wrote:
I'm thinking of going into ecology. Is that considered organismal?


Not in the strict scientific sense, but IME, the "culture" seems to be fairly close in terms of how grad students are treated, a k-selected viewpoint, etc.

I agree. If your primary interest is in nature and organisms you're pretty good. My undergrad university (Delaware) binned the BS Biology degree into four categories: Ecology and Organismal, Cellular and Molecular and Genetics, Biotech, and Pharmacy. I was in the first camp, though I'm technically interested in evolution which is going to bridge into genetics. People in the other camps tend to be trying to improve human health and cure cancer and such things, so the "culture" is different.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Shadowfish » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:46 pm UTC

So is there any point in going to grad school in physics if you are pretty sure that you are not in the small fraction of people who will "make it" to professor? (I'm smart, but I have not delusions of being in the top .1%) How's the industrial physics market? Are you just pricing yourself out of the market by getting more educated? Like, I have heard that the same jobs that are available to someone with an bachelor's are not available to a PHD because the PHD will expect more money and more interesting work. I want to go to grad school, because I like physics, and doing physics for a few more years sounds fun. But I'll have to reconsider if it would make me unemployable.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Birk » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:00 pm UTC

This thread doesn't really depress me and I think that's maybe the wrong attitude to take away from the discussion here. I knew that the grind from undergrad, to phd, to postdoc would be tough. I watched my brother get his Ph.D and when I decided to go back to school my father-in-law (his daughter married my brother) gave me the whole speech about the endless post-doc grind. He was a professor of mathematics at Auburn and did some work at Princeton.

Either way, I think it's important to be faced with this information and really take the time and evaluate why you are entering a research/academic profession and be realistic with yourself about what you are getting into. I plan to pursue a Ph.D in Astrophysics, probably focusing on computation and theory. I honestly don't care if I work the post-doc grind for the rest of my life as long as I make enough to cover basic living expenses. I would just be happy to be doing something I love.

That's not youthful optimism, I already had a high-paying job and I was miserable the entire time despite the paycheck. Now I'm making basically nothing, living off savings, and doing even the most tedious undergrad research and I could not be happier. But of course like anything involving living your life, YMMV.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:11 pm UTC

Shadowfish wrote:So is there any point in going to grad school in physics if you are pretty sure that you are not in the small fraction of people who will "make it" to professor? (I'm smart, but I have not delusions of being in the top .1%) How's the industrial physics market?...I want to go to grad school, because I like physics, and doing physics for a few more years sounds fun. But I'll have to reconsider if it would make me unemployable.


If you just want to do physics for a few more years and then move into some other career, consider going for a masters. But a phd can be a great experience- if you go in aware that you are putting off starting a career and establishing yourself to learn.

Different areas of physics have more industrial relevance than others- if you want an industrial job, don't go into high energy, for instance. If you are an experimentalist and learn a lot of fabrication techniques, etc, you might be able to get a job at a place like intel. A phd won't make you unemployable, but it will take some intro level jobs available to recent graduates off the table.

Birk wrote:I honestly don't care if I work the post-doc grind for the rest of my life as long as I make enough to cover basic living expenses. I would just be happy to be doing something I love.


First, a postdoc is not a given, they are competitive, extremely so in the field you are considering.

The one piece of advice I have is that situations change. A postdoc makes enough to support one person, not a family, and the constant across the world moves can destroy relationships.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Game_boy » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:16 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:So, in short, how much do you want to do research?


I suppose I'll find out during the degree. If I don't like the idea of doing exactly what I'm seeing the researchers do for a living then I won't carry on.

Thanks for the reply.

--

As for the thread, I think a technical/numerate education can help with a lot of jobs outside pure scientific reseach, and when the media says 'we need more scientists' they mean that a Maths or Physics or Engineering degree will be more useful to employers than Media Studies or Sociology. I see plenty of people (more than 10% of my year) from my school going to do a Psychology degree (on low grades) with no intention of going into the field; they want to go drinking for four years then end up married to / being a celebrity. The job they will end up doing is the same as if they'd left at 16, only they've now wasted 5 years and a lot of money to be in the same position.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Birk » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:09 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Birk wrote:I honestly don't care if I work the post-doc grind for the rest of my life as long as I make enough to cover basic living expenses. I would just be happy to be doing something I love.


First, a postdoc is not a given, they are competitive, extremely so in the field you are considering.

The one piece of advice I have is that situations change. A postdoc makes enough to support one person, not a family, and the constant across the world moves can destroy relationships.


Oh, I'm aware. But I do appreciate you making sure that people don't jump into situations with unrealistic expectations.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby masher » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:29 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:The one piece of advice I have is that situations change. A postdoc makes enough to support one person, not a family, and the constant across the world moves can destroy relationships.


That does depend. Where I am now, I can easily support a family. Having said that, there is no way I could do the same on a postdoc salary in the UK...

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Shadowfish » Thu Feb 18, 2010 11:09 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
If you just want to do physics for a few more years and then move into some other career, consider going for a masters. But a phd can be a great experience- if you go in aware that you are putting off starting a career and establishing yourself to learn.

Different areas of physics have more industrial relevance than others- if you want an industrial job, don't go into high energy, for instance. If you are an experimentalist and learn a lot of fabrication techniques, etc, you might be able to get a job at a place like intel. A phd won't make you unemployable, but it will take some intro level jobs available to recent graduates off the table.

I'm looking into condensed matter theory. I was thinking that the computer/analytical skills might be useful, if nothing else. Do you think this is reasonable?

Edit: I have applied to several schools, so I will have to choose what I do based on which ones I get into. I want to study condensed matter because it feels a little bit more "real" to me than some other areas of physics. There is also an emphasis on how materials organize themselves, which is fascinating to me, at the tiny bit that I know. I've liked to study physics because of the way that physical arguments work and the way theories are structured than any specific physical system.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Feb 18, 2010 11:25 pm UTC

Shadowfish wrote:I'm looking into condensed matter theory. I was thinking that the computer/analytical skills might be useful, if nothing else. Do you think this is reasonable?


There are far less industry jobs for theorist than experimentalist. Knowing programming languages will help boost your profile, but keep in mind, nearly every graduate in physics will have programming experience and analytical skills come with the territory.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Shadowfish » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:14 am UTC

Are all theorists the same as far as industry is concerned?
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby howardh » Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:32 pm UTC

How does the job market look for cognitive science?
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby RockoTDF » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:25 am UTC

This thread may be depressing, but it does not apply to all fields or all universities. When I did my grad interview weekend they actually gave us a list of their graduates from the last 5-10 years and what they had done (postdocs, jobs). This might be a good thing to acquire. You don't want to be mislead into being someone's slave and then forced to do 244 postdocs. A good way to increase your odds is to publish as much as you can. My advisor recommended getting your name on at least 5 papers in 5 years. Based on some independent work I have done, my masters thesis, and the pace of my lab, I think this is doable for me.

howardh wrote:How does the job market look for cognitive science?


Some people with Cog Sci Ph.D.s get hired by companies that do AI type research (I know of Cog Sci Ph.Ds at Google and Microsoft for example).

However, one major disadvantage in academia is that certain accrediting bodies (such as the main one in the southern US) will not let department X hire someone unless they have a certain number of graduate hours in X. So even though you might be perfectly ok to work in a Psychology, Linguistics, or Comp Sci department (depending on your speciality within cog sci) you can't get hired unless your courses were LING/Psyc 5xx and not COGS 5xx. It can also be a problem for people that do behavioral/cognitive neuroscience and want to get hired by a psych department. I was warned about this when I was an undergrad because they were having a hard time filling a position held by a physiological psychologist who had just retired. Today many people that do physio psych have Phds in neuro.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Korandder » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:33 am UTC

Is there requirement for graduate course work in all disciplines? Is it only a requirement for some US schools? If so it is bad for those of us who went straight from a bachelors to a British style research only PhD.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby MadRocketSci2 » Mon Feb 22, 2010 1:40 pm UTC

Assume a country, let's call it Brainistan, where Einstein level brilliance is the mean intelligence. What's more, everyone has a temperament such that, if given the choice, they'd rather be doing physics and math than watching TV, or supervising machines. In such a country, I would guess that physics and science would actually end up being a very low paid profession, due to supply and demand. From the perspective of the Brainistanians, there is a very low personal cost to noodling around with academic subjects, science, ect and great personal reward relative to doing a typical job, and the number of people who would like to make a career of it is very high; unlike in a normal country where the average person would view physics as terribly hard and dull work, and a normal job as a tolerable alternative, and only a few people actually want to do that sort of work.

In Brainistan, you might expect physicists to be heckled and shamed into getting a real job, and horribly mind-numbing occupations being well paid and respected, to compensate for the sacrifice involved and the few people who would want to do them. Brainistan might end up being far more productive anyway than a normal country, due to automation and technology compensating for the lack of will to work on immediately practical ends.

So, if medical researchers ever invent a drug that radically increases human intelligence or will to learn, you can kiss the economically protected advantages of education goodbye - education will become an abundant resource. :twisted:

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby RockoTDF » Mon Feb 22, 2010 11:03 pm UTC

Korandder wrote:Is there requirement for graduate course work in all disciplines? Is it only a requirement for some US schools? If so it is bad for those of us who went straight from a bachelors to a British style research only PhD.


In all disciplines in the US there will be coursework. However, it might all be completed during the masters degree portion of the grad school experience.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:53 pm UTC

MadRocketSci2 wrote: From the perspective of the Brainistanians, there is a very low personal cost to noodling around with academic subjects, science, ect and great personal reward relative to doing a typical job, and the number of people who would like to make a career of it is very high; unlike in a normal country where the average person would view physics as terribly hard and dull work, and a normal job as a tolerable alternative, and only a few people actually want to do that sort of work.


I think the point of this thread is that there are more people who view academic subjects/science to be a good job with great personal reward than there are jobs in these fields. i.e. Welcome to Brainistan.

So, if medical researchers ever invent a drug that radically increases human intelligence or will to learn, you can kiss the economically protected advantages of education goodbye - education will become an abundant resource. :twisted:


As I'm trying to point out (indeed, the point of the thread!), in many fields more education is NOT economically advantageous because of the over abundance of educated people and increased world wide competition. Viewing a technical education as a free pass to a job without considering the lifestyle is a recipe for ending up unhappy with your decisions.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby sippawitz » Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:27 pm UTC

its the same problem in australia. I'm currently doing my honours in science, and there are voluntary redundancies being put on offer at the moment. My school even got rid of support staff such as the tech guys. I mean, WTF? you have about 200 computers just sitting around, and no-one to fix them when the inevitably bugger up?
There is one associate professor in my school who didn't get made into a full professor this year. they are moving the first year office into his office, and not giving him a new one. He is literally being forced out, because some fuckwit can't find the budget for his salary, while a few other people wrote some shitty papers, had money embezzled from their OS research, and are rewarded by promotion.
Meanwhile, i can't get the internet in my lab, because it costs $10 a year or something, but technically i should be able to access the wireless network, but some dodgy bastard wont pay to make it powerful enough to reach into the building i work in.

yeah, i can't wait to finish.

(sorry, that turned into a rant about the state of science in universities :oops: )

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby MadRocketSci2 » Wed Feb 24, 2010 12:18 am UTC

As I'm trying to point out (indeed, the point of the thread!), in many fields more education is NOT economically advantageous because of the over abundance of educated people and increased world wide competition. Viewing a technical education as a free pass to a job without considering the lifestyle is a recipe for ending up unhappy with your decisions.


Yeah, I was sort of obliquely attempting to refer to that. Universal education has been a goal for ages. If we actually come closer to attaining it though, it means it's no longer a patent of nobility. My lame attempt at humor.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby QwertyKey » Wed Feb 24, 2010 1:06 pm UTC

MadRocketSci2 wrote:Assume a...


I especially love the first line.

The situation seems gloomy, though I guess that is not new. As a scientist-wanna-be, I still say I am sticking to science. Anyway, in my country there are too many smart people(in all sectors/industries excluding manual labour/ maid or cleaner) already, so it does not really matter if I am going into science or not.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby ZZamfir » Wed Feb 24, 2010 3:15 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:As I'm trying to point out (indeed, the point of the thread!), in many fields more education is NOT economically advantageous because of the over abundance of educated people and increased world wide competition. Viewing a technical education as a free pass to a job without considering the lifestyle is a recipe for ending up unhappy with your decisions.


I think this rests a bit too much on drawing a strong divide between a PhD as an education, and it's alternatives as jobs. To some extent, a PhD program is on-the-job training for scientists, different but not extremely different from the entry-level jobs other university-educated people start in.

Many people have jobs like "Junior analyst" or "Junior consultant" or "Doctor in training" or "Management trainee"( or even "Second lieutenant":) ). They all get some formal training, lots of informal training, responsibility for real jobs but with a supervisor in the back. And in most case, you get to do such a job for a few years and then it's either up or out. In other words, not that different from a PhD track.

Sometimes PhDs who look for a job outside of academia underestimate this. They see themselves as having had more training then others their age, while, at least for the job they are considering, other people have had more relevant training, not less.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Vaniver » Wed Feb 24, 2010 4:31 pm UTC

To some extent, a PhD program is on-the-job training for scientists, different but not extremely different from the entry-level jobs other university-educated people start in.
Well. My friend who is getting a job at a Goddard contractor after he graduates (with a bachelor's degree) will be earning around $60k a year; if I go to graduate school, I'll be earning about $20k a year- and his potential for raises is a lot higher than mine. Even assuming we both get raises just high enough to cover inflation, we're talking about him earning $200k more than me, if it just takes me 5 years to finish a PhD (which is faster than average).

Research is great, and being a scientist is nice, but is it worth $200k to buy the PhD?
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Josephine » Wed Feb 24, 2010 5:31 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
To some extent, a PhD program is on-the-job training for scientists, different but not extremely different from the entry-level jobs other university-educated people start in.
Well. My friend who is getting a job at a Goddard contractor after he graduates (with a bachelor's degree) will be earning around $60k a year; if I go to graduate school, I'll be earning about $20k a year- and his potential for raises is a lot higher than mine. Even assuming we both get raises just high enough to cover inflation, we're talking about him earning $200k more than me, if it just takes me 5 years to finish a PhD (which is faster than average).

Research is great, and being a scientist is nice, but is it worth $200k to buy the PhD?

Well, would you have a greater initial pay with the PhD? Would your potential for raises be as high or higher than the Goddard contractor's? How long would it take to make up the difference?
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby ZZamfir » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:13 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Well. My friend who is getting a job at a Goddard contractor after he graduates (with a bachelor's degree) will be earning around $60k a year; if I go to graduate school, I'll be earning about $20k a year- and his potential for raises is a lot higher than mine. Even assuming we both get raises just high enough to cover inflation, we're talking about him earning $200k more than me, if it just takes me 5 years to finish a PhD (which is faster than average).

Research is great, and being a scientist is nice, but is it worth $200k to buy the PhD?


If you stay in academia, then by the time you retire, he will probably have earned around a million (current) dollars more than you. Is being an academic worth a million? To many people, it clearly is. And they have a point. If you like being an academic and don't like working at Goddard's, and if being an academic pays enough to have a pleasant life, then a million dollars won't buy you the pleasure of having a job you like.

nbonaparte wrote:Well, would you have a greater initial pay with the PhD? Would your potential for raises be as high or higher than the Goddard contractor's? How long would it take to make up the difference?

I'd say this is often a mistake. If you want to (try to) become an academic, then a PhD is good preparation. For most other jobs, doing that actual job (or something like it) for 4 years is a better preparation. So getting a PhD to get a job outside of academia is not something you should do as an investment, only because you like the PhD work itself.

There are some exceptions, usualy some form of industrial research that resembles academic work enough that a PhD is a good training for it. In those cases, companies are very happy if a university has paid their trainees for them.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Korandder » Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:50 am UTC

It looks like it is a buyers market right now for astronomy post docs. Hopefully conditions improve by the time I finish my PhD.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Eternal Questionner » Fri Mar 12, 2010 5:44 pm UTC

How bad is it really out there? Do most people who get PhDs regret it, or are most able to find some kind of relevant employment? Should we be discouraging people from going into science because of the glut in the market? I would like to become a phyiscist in future, but not if i will end up regretting it later on.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Vaniver » Sat Mar 13, 2010 1:14 am UTC

nbonaparte wrote:Well, would you have a greater initial pay with the PhD? Would your potential for raises be as high or higher than the Goddard contractor's? How long would it take to make up the difference?
It depends on what the PhD research was on. The group I'm working with right now (as an undergrad), our PhDs tend to get starting salaries of 100-120k; but we also do work directly relevant to the semiconductor industry. So, for some people, you catch up quickly- if it were 100k and again raises were just enough to cover inflation, it would take the same amount of time to catch up as it would to finish the PhD, then the PhD would be ahead.

Looking at average incomes, here's a comparison between a BS in chemistry and a PhD in chemistry- as a senior chemist, the PhD earns about 10k more (80k instead of 70k). Median salaries are rather different from starting salaries, but probably give a better idea for long-term comparisons.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 12:06 pm UTC

Eternal Questionner wrote:How bad is it really out there? Do most people who get PhDs regret it, or are most able to find some kind of relevant employment? Should we be discouraging people from going into science because of the glut in the market? I would like to become a phyiscist in future, but not if i will end up regretting it later on.


Ask yourself this question (this is for theorists, but an experimentalist version can be made):

If you do your phd+ 1 postdoc and then due to bad luck you have to leave the field (maybe you have a kid you need to support, maybe you don't want to move across the world, maybe funding is drying up, etc. ). At this point you get a job at a software company, where you make an ok living. Your coworkers who started out of undergrad have more savings than you do, make more money than you do, know the job better than you do, and will be able to retire earlier than you(due to forementioned savings). HOWEVER, you got to spend 7/8 years as a scientist working on the problems you wanted, you know some very smart people, and you've probably traveled quite a bit. Are you happy with that outcome?

If the answer is yes, by all means go for the phd.

If the answer is no, then think carefully about your career decision.

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Mokele » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:39 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
nbonaparte wrote:Well, would you have a greater initial pay with the PhD? Would your potential for raises be as high or higher than the Goddard contractor's? How long would it take to make up the difference?
It depends on what the PhD research was on. The group I'm working with right now (as an undergrad), our PhDs tend to get starting salaries of 100-120k; but we also do work directly relevant to the semiconductor industry. So, for some people, you catch up quickly- if it were 100k and again raises were just enough to cover inflation, it would take the same amount of time to catch up as it would to finish the PhD, then the PhD would be ahead.

Looking at average incomes, here's a comparison between a BS in chemistry and a PhD in chemistry- as a senior chemist, the PhD earns about 10k more (80k instead of 70k). Median salaries are rather different from starting salaries, but probably give a better idea for long-term comparisons.


I'd actually note that there's something left out here - promotions. My bit of anecdata is my dad, who got a PhD in chemistry and was able to go from "lab peon" to "R&D RP for global chemical corporation" in part due to it - having that degree gave him a subtle edge that paid off in promotions and made him more likely to be retained during mergers.
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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Zamfir » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:57 pm UTC

Mokele wrote:I'd actually note that there's something left out here - promotions. My bit of anecdata is my dad, who got a PhD in chemistry and was able to go from "lab peon" to "R&D RP for global chemical corporation" in part due to it - having that degree gave him a subtle edge that paid off in promotions and made him more likely to be retained during mergers.

Do you mean that having the PhD on his CV gave him that edge, or the things he learned during the PhD? And of course, he might have been good at the job anyway, with the PhD as symptom instead of cause of the skills.

The latter effect makes wage comparisons as in Vaniver's post very tricky. It seems very plausible that the PhDs were already (on average) better skilled than the BS students before they got their PhD. The comparison should be more between PhDs and "BSs who could have entered and finished a PhD, had they chosen too"

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Re: Too many scientists?

Postby Mokele » Sat Mar 13, 2010 4:25 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Mokele wrote:I'd actually note that there's something left out here - promotions. My bit of anecdata is my dad, who got a PhD in chemistry and was able to go from "lab peon" to "R&D RP for global chemical corporation" in part due to it - having that degree gave him a subtle edge that paid off in promotions and made him more likely to be retained during mergers.

Do you mean that having the PhD on his CV gave him that edge, or the things he learned during the PhD? And of course, he might have been good at the job anyway, with the PhD as symptom instead of cause of the skills.

The latter effect makes wage comparisons as in Vaniver's post very tricky. It seems very plausible that the PhDs were already (on average) better skilled than the BS students before they got their PhD. The comparison should be more between PhDs and "BSs who could have entered and finished a PhD, had they chosen too"


Exactly - disentangling these factors is pretty difficult. Was any given promotion of my dad tipped over by the subtle psychological influence of the title "Dr. _____", by skills he gained in the PhD program, or just because he's a damn good chemist with or without the degree?
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