We have been told time and again that the United States needs more scientists, but when it comes to some of the most desirable science jobs — tenure-track professorships at universities, where much of the exciting work is done — there is such a surplus of Ph.D.s that in the most popular fields, like biomedicine, fewer than one in six has a chance of joining the club in the foreseeable future.
While they try to get a foot in the door, many spend years after getting their Ph.D. as poorly paid foot soldiers in a system that can afford to exploit them.
Kolata reports that even someone as brilliant as Emmanuelle Charpentier, who in 2015 became head of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology after a momentous discovery in gene editing, spent the previous 25 years moving through nine institutions in five countries.
Yet although many yearn for such jobs, fewer than half of those who earn science or engineering doctorates end up in the sort of academic positions that directly use what they were trained for.
Others, ending up in industry, business or other professions, do interesting work and earn lucrative salaries and can contribute enormously to society.
But by the time many give up on academia — four to six years or more for a Ph.D., a decade or more as a postdoc, they are edging toward middle age, having spent their youth in temporary low-paying positions getting highly specialized training they do not need.
Now, as a new crop of graduate students receives Ph.D.s in science, researchers worry over the future of some of these dedicated people; they’re trained to be academics and are often led to believe that anything else is an admission of failure.
Every year the market grows tighter, and federal money for research grants, which support most of this research, remains flat. The journey of Dr. Charpentier, says Alexander Ommaya, acting chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, is not so unusual. “It happens,” he said. Job opportunities, he says, “are limited.”
For Kolata’s full New York Times story, click here.