The recent issue of Nature has a News Report "The PhD factory - The world is producing more PhDs than ever before. Is it time to stop?" which summarizes the job prospects of PhDs in Japan, China, Singapore, USA, Poland, Germany, Egypt and India.
“In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack. Supply has outstripped demand [...]”The below graphic (from mentioned Nature News article), shows the distribution of academic post-doctorate jobs in science and engineering in the USA:
This shows the unfortunate trend towards more and more research done by scientists on temporary contracts that we talked about in my earlier post Short-term Thinking.
Germany by and large seems to be doing well as far as job prospects are concerned, though few PhDs remain in academia:
“[In Germany] just under 6% of PhD graduates in science eventually go into full-time academic positions, and most will find research jobs in industry [...] The relatively low income of german academic staff makes leaving the university after the PhD a good option.”That agrees with my experience.
But back to the USA. One of the over-produced PhD-students from Illinois, Sergey Popov, has developed a model according to which top US universities have economic incentives to lower their standards, because the better their students' grades the better their students' job prospects and the better the university's reputation (and finances) in return. The Times Higher Education cheerfully titles Elite US students are securing top jobs 'despite being less gifted' and summarize Popov's model:
“Universities "choose [a] grading standard to maximise the total wages of [their] graduates". [Popov] said his theory suggested that grade inflation would be highest in top universities [...] the risk was that the process went so far that there were Harvard graduates in top jobs who would not have got an A at Illinois and who had fewer academic gifts and social skills than every Illinois A-student. This, he said, was not "socially optimal".”
Popov has his data online on a website called gradeinflation.com. His model is interesting but there doesn't seem to be sufficient data to tell how well it actually describes reality. Anyway, I'm sure though it will leave some people chuckling. Did I see you grin? Did I?
Actually, the Scolarly Kitchen reports that the whole higher education thing might just be the next bubble to burst! That's at least according to Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal:
“Thiel’s belie[ves] that higher education is the next economic bubble into which we’ve moved the air expelled from Web 1.0 and housing.”
The cited data shows that College tuition fees have increased 375% since 1982-84 (3 year average).
And Scientific American has an editorial, Dr. No Money about the unpleasant duties of those PhDs who dare to remain in academia:
“Most scientists finance their laboratories (and often even their own salaries) by applying to government agencies and private foundations for grants. The process has become a major time sink. In 2007 a U.S. government study found that university faculty members spend about 40 percent of their research time navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth, and the situation is no better in Europe. An experimental physicist at Columbia University says he once calculated that some grants he was seeking had a net negative value: they would not even pay for the time that applicants and peer reviewers spent on them.”
So you want to get a PhD...