Monday, December 08, 2014
The Ecosystem Problem
As long as each institutional sector can look only at its own needs, we’ll have gaps between them. If we’re serious about bridging those gaps -- and reducing the human damage from hardworking scholars falling into an economic hole -- it’s time to tie the fates of the various sectors together. Until then, we’ll keep seeing the same ridiculous graph, year after year.
The undergrad program in biomolecular engineering is more problematic, since those students are competing with MCD bio students for the same jobs, of which far too many are produced nationwide. I think that we prepare students a bit better, but I don't know how they fare in the job market (our campus doesn't track alumni very well—or maybe the fund-raisers do, but they hold that information very tightly, as more precious than gold).
Susan's comment above reminded me of the spike in physics degrees when the faculty market dried up circa 1970. There appeared to be a "get out while the getting was bad" pattern (followed by a collapse in the number of PhD students). However, in that case the reason was that they could grab the available industry jobs, which did not require polishing your research/academic skills.
When I was a graduate student, my thesis advisor, who was principal investigator on a fistful of grants, was also department chairman. Consequently, he was almost never seen in his own laboratory, and added little more than his name to the papers written by his students. But as a friend of mine pointed out, the graduate students do all the work but the principal investigator on the grant gets all of the credit. He is the one who has the fancy office, he is the one who gets the big salary, he is the one with lifetime job security, and he is the one who gets invitations to all of those fancy conferences and symposiums held in exotic locales.
Anonymous: 7:23 AM got me to thinking. I agree that the constant propaganda from government and industry about the supposed shortage in STEM graduates is almost entirely bogus. This is true only in certain specialized fields or in certain locales. When Bill Gates complains about a shortage of qualified computer engineers, he is talking through his hat. The few ads that I see for science and engineering positions all seem to require much more experience than any single mortal could have. The few employers who are actually hiring anyone are *extremely* fussy—they want someone with extensive experience in the programs that the company is actually working on, not wanting to spend any time or money in training. I think that a lot of this talk about a “STEM shortage” is designed to justify shipping a whole bunch of technology jobs offshore or to justify bringing in more H-1B visa holders.
Here’s a thought. Why not apply all of those “gainful employment” regulations to the graduate programs of R1 universities? After all, the government is paying for much of the graduate education system through research grants and the payment of overhead. How many of their graduates actually end up working in the fields for which they spent so much time in training, and how many end up tending bars or driving taxicabs?
I don't really know if what Susan said about them cutting admission for humanities PhD students! I don't see HOW they can cut them if the need to have them as cheap labor continues!!! :-( I'd be curious to know if my graduate institution has cut positions. My current experience as an adjunct in TWO institutions (One an R1 with 50 grad students in my department alone) indicates that this problem is still huge and growing.
Now, my husband has a PhD in physics I have a feeling that the problem is WAY worse and deeper in the humanities. Although more recently there is a relative equivalent to the postdoc (from science) in the humanities: the full-time lecturer. The difference is that lecturers end up staying a the same institution for longer, if not permanently, and postocs only do it for a few years (which would be a visiting professorship in the humanities).
I don't see a solution for this problem any time soon and it upsets me a lot! :-(