Sunday, July 8, 2012

A troubling article on scientific careers

In this weekend's Washington Post: U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there:

Michelle Amaral wanted to be a brain scientist to help cure diseases. She planned a traditional academic science career: PhD, university professorship and, eventually, her own lab.

But three years after earning a doctorate in neuroscience, she gave up trying to find a permanent job in her field.

Dropping her dream, she took an administrative position at her university, experiencing firsthand an economic reality that, at first look, is counterintuitive: There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs.

The article suggests that the problem is a combination of cuts in academia occurring at the same time as cuts in industry:

Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs.


Traditional academic jobs are scarcer than ever. Once a primary career path, only 14 percent of those with a PhD in biology and the life sciences now land a coveted academic position within five years

The author suggests that, overall, this is substantially influenced by changes in federal government policy:

One big factor: Since 2004, federal research spending across all agencies has stagnated relative to inflation, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Interesting, and worrisome.

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