One of the most depressing articles I’ve ever read in my entire life describes the problem American students face when pondering a career in science. For years, the conventional wisdom was that our education system was failing to properly educate our children in STEM subjects (science, tech, engineering, and math). However, this article in Miller-McCune directly challenges this assumption.
The authors contend that the real problem facing American students is a lack of careers in science. The case they make is compelling: Although the number of graduates receiving Ph.D.’s has increased, the number of job opportunities has not kept pace. This trend is particularly noticeable in academia, where young Ph.D.’s spend years as post-docs, with only a small chance of ever landing a permanent position as a professor. Indeed, the average age of a scientist who earns his first independent NIH grant– a huge milestone in the medical science field– has risen from a researcher’s late 20s/early 30s to the ripe old age of 42.
One of the biggest causes indicated in this article is the flood of foreigners who are willing to take post-doc positions. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that a massive increase in labor supply will both eat up opportunities and drive down salaries. Post-doc positions, which were once viewed as prestigious, are now treated as temporary, cheap labor. With such a dismal prospect for career advancement and compensation, it’s no wonder that American students would rather get an MBA or MD… or to forgo higher education altogether.
Alex B. Berezow is a Ph.D. Candidate in Microbiology at the University of Washington.