Too many doctors!

Mike the Mad Biologist has a post up, Yes, We Have a PhD Glut... Which is interesting, because it isn't has if getting a doctorate is financially lucrative. Though getting a medical doctorate is financially lucrative. Perhaps the medical profession has the right idea, control labor supply?* Right idea for medical doctors at least....

* At least the medical profession hasn't opened the floodgate and enabled the overproduction of those with MDs who will never practice the profession and so be saddled with a lot of debt, which is the case with the legal profession (and for those who do pass the bar and enter into the legal profession, there's a two-tiered pay scale).


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Another contributing factor is cost of medical school. Medical school is far more expensive than law school. A qualified medical school needs proffesors in many biological displines like biochem, pharmacology, physicology, anantomy, ects. You need to have labs which can do lab teaching and anatomy class. You need to be able to get and store human bodies for anatomical classes. So a medical school is not very lucrative bussiness for universities.

Law school is different story. All it needs just teachers and classroom. Yet tuition is similar to that of med school. Then you have proliferation of law school and lawyers. Proffessors need cheap and motivated labors for their research. You end up with too many PhD candidates.

I've read Dr. Katz's essay before, and though I've entirely failed to take his advice I admit he's pretty much right. Where he goes wrong is to dismiss the non-academic world as a place of employment for science Ph.Ds. Should the academic world not pan out as a career for me (which I admit is likely by sheer force of numbers), I'll more than happily jump ship into some science-ish or engineering-ish job in the private sector. It simply isn't true that "there are hardly any industrial jobs in the physical sciences" unless you take this to specifically mean pure research jobs. And I'm not wedded to that as a career, as much fun as it would be.

Hmm, should've made this a post on my own blog. Maybe I still will.

matt, i tend to agree with you. the truth is complicated. consider one case, a friend of mine with a phd from a prominent new england school who is now an semiconductor engineer. at first he perceived himself a failure because he spent all that time getting a doctorate, and initially thought he'd do academia. then he sees people who are way less intelligent than him making bank as medical doctors. OTOH, he's doing quite well for himself as a senior engineer....

The bias within academia regarding non-academic jobs is doubly cruel because of the impossibility of the majority of trainees getting these jobs. If you look in the comments of heavily academic blogs like DrugMonkey, you will routinely see PhDs working in publishing or industry as "failed postdocs." I published pretty well as a PhD student and will probably do pretty well in my current postdoc, though things like dual-career considerations, geographical snobbery, and bad luck may temper my academic ambitions. Am I a failure? Many of the (older) faculty in my department got their first tenure track job without a postdoc or a single publication.

The ivy league research university I'm at routinely hosts tepid "careers away from the bench" seminars where they show you a powerpoint slide with a list of job titles that people with PhDs have ("science writer, consultant, patent attorney, etc"). Free sandwiches. I'm afraid this is the state of willingness to change the current system. It costs them nothing to burn through trainees and their careers in the service of is the most efficient system for universities to generate patents and publications.

It's not just control of supply. The demand for physicians and researchers is completely different.

you will routinely see PhDs working in publishing or industry as "failed postdocs"

It shouldn't be so but, unfortunately, that's the case - majority of PhDs working in publishing used to be very poor scientists before they got into journal editing. Also, on average, quality of people in industry is not as high as that in academia (in biomedical sciences, at least).

Take Science mag, for example. One influential editor in Science: Did a postdoc with a super-star famous person. Has grand total 6 papers in entire life, two of them as first author. Another, senior editor in Science: was in grad school in a lab of a star scientist in a famous institution. Seems to have two papers ever published. Moved to Science from Nature. Another: 8 papers ever published (two as first author). Considering that in many graduate programs two papers as a first author is borderline acceptable for getting a Ph.D., these records for people with Ph.D.+postdoc past do not exactly look stellar.

By Nanonymous (not verified) on 25 Feb 2010 #permalink

I worry about my son, who has just begun a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology. It seems like such a rate race, and so much harder to get a job then even 10 or 15 years ago. I have only a master's degree in my field but somehow managed to get a tenured job as a lecturer. Every time our department puts out an ad for a job, we get hundreds of applicants from people who seem to be much better qualified than many of us in the department. It is depressing.

@Nanonymous... there are a lot of reasons not to rack up publication numbers besides being a "poor scientist," and lots of reasons for smart, capable scientists to choose a career in publishing over research. Maybe your a postdoc and want to have kids (after all, you're at least in your mid-30s) and need a non-humiliating salary and benefits. Maybe you want to live in Cambridge or San Francisco or London and the only tenure track openings in your field are in Oklahoma. Maybe you were brave (or foolish) enough to choose a risky but creative project that didn't pan out (although this rarely happens now, as taking risks and being creative has been completely beaten out of trainees by careerist concerns created by the funding/publishing system).

Your bean-counting evaluation of those editors is the attitude that has created this bizarre funding/publishing environment (that and Thomson) where paper number is valued over quality (and don't try and tell me journal IF is a measure of individual paper quality--it is demonstrably not). This is one reason so much horseshit is published--you will never be evaluated for how your work has impacted your field, or how creative your research is, or the pure quality of your data, only by how much salami slicing, buzz-word laden hand waving you can pump out. I know a senior scientist who just retired early--at peak productivity, regularly publishing in "high impact" glamour mags--simply because the current funding/publication system (at which he excels) sucks all the joy out of doing research.

Anyway, my point is the system does not reward creativity or even scientific ability--it rewards dogged, single-minded pursuit of meaningless stats.


This is one reason so much horseshit is published - --you will never be evaluated for how your work has impacted your field, or how creative your research is, or the pure quality of your data, only by how much salami slicing, buzz-word laden hand waving you can pump out

And it is these editors who make these decisions that define these scientific policies! As you probably know, majority of "make it or break career" decisions in most influential scientific journals are made without any review - most papers simply never pass editor's filter. The thing is, I know several editors personally - definitely not the brightest bulbs around. The "bean counting" was simply an attempt to give some measure of objectivity. Fact still remains: these people objectively were not successful in there scientific occupations. But more frequently than not, they come from places that benefit most from the current corrupt system - and they are its best enforcers.

On all of your criticism of the current system I wholeheartedly agree with you!

By Nanonymous (not verified) on 26 Feb 2010 #permalink

The bias within academia regarding non-academic jobs is doubly cruel because of the impossibility of the majority of trainees getting these jobs

This is even more true of jobs unrelated to academia. Someone who decides not to live as a pauper for the near decade of grad school and post-docs until they get an university or research job are often seen as less intelligent even though arguably getting a high paying job soon after college and avoiding the sacrifices seems to be far more rational. (Which is not to disparage those who go on with grad school and post docs, just that this doesn't necessarily say anything about intelligence)

@Nanonymous... yeah, I knew I painted myself into a corner defending editors from the system they perpetuate. Fuck'em. Hacks.

I've got a lot of venting to do... I look around and KNOW that I could run a successful lab given the opportunity, but between dual-career considerations and my hair-trigger disgust with things like grantsmanship and making basic research findings sound like miracle cures (working hard on these--I can read Nature News on a full stomach without vomiting in my mouth already!), being solidly late-30s with the same income and worse benefits than I had when I was 25 (outside academia), not knowing which one of us (if either, probably not both) in 6 months will be employed in the professions we've trained for for a nauseatingly long time...

I was at a small regional university with only a Masters program, which we thought very successful. Most of of our MS graduates went into industry, teaching at junior college, etc. A smaller number went on to PhD or professional schools. So the attitude in the department was different than in a top tier school.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink