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Education Science

Too Few American Scientists? Maybe Not 607

Posted by michael
from the simple-economics dept.
An anonymous reader writes "We've been hearing about bad K-12 science education, too few American science and engineering students, and the real-soon-now employment nirvana in technical fields for, like, the last 20 years. The reality: rising undergrad enrollments and unemployment rates, long years as an underpaid postdoc for those who finish a Ph.D. The Chronicle of Higher Education article quotes Harvard economist Richard Freeman: 'They're not studying science,' he says, 'because they look and say, "Do I want to be a postdoc paid $35,000 or $40,000 at age 35, with extreme uncertainty working in somebody else's lab, and maybe getting credit for my work and maybe not getting full credit? Or would I rather be an M.B.A. and making $150,000 and hiring Ph.D.'s?"'"
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Too Few American Scientists? Maybe Not

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  • I'm not surprised (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Omnifarious (11933) * <<gro.suoirafinmo> <ta> <hsals-cire>> on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:04PM (#9661737) Homepage Journal

    I think this is the primary effect of copyright and patent law. It becomes more important to be the person who controls the output of scientists than it is to be a scientist yourself.

    • by Metteyya (790458)
      It'll be like that until everyone realize that it takes a scientist to properly control output of other scientists.
      Well, but maybe USA needs more and more outsourcing and maybe some hi-tech crisis to realize that. But that's not something we'd like to see (and I'm not American).
      • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:54PM (#9662372) Homepage Journal
        It'll be like that until everyone realize that it takes a scientist to properly control output of other scientists.

        I'm an engineer you insensitive clod!

        Joking aside, I think it's important to point out that what we need a lot of are engineers, not scientists. Scientists are wonderful people who advance our knowledge from a 50,000 foot level, and do so for little pay. These guys dream math calculations that make my mind gloss over just thinking about it.

        Engineers OTOH, use a combination of scientific research and intuition to develop real and practical devices that advance civilization. Most of these guys are also very smart, but from a far more practical standpoint. Their job is to use all that research done by really smart scientists to exploit the laws of nature for the purpose of creating advanced machines that can do "work". (In CompSci, that would be a matter of applying the proper data structures and formulas to derive a computational machine that does work.)

        The primary difference here is that Scientists tend to do the research because they love it. They have a keen insight into the universe and its working, and generally won't stop research even if they can't find funding. In addition, country borders rarely mean anything to their research. They could be American, Russian, Indian, British, French, or whatever. When their research gets published, everyone benefits.

        Engineers (being more practical by nature) tend to aim for either the fortune of working for hire, or the fame of engineering some really amazing project. Their focus is to find a way to achieve whatever goals are put in front of them. I could tell some Aerospace engineers that I wanted to colonize Alpha Centauri, and they should be able to tell me how it can be done, how long it will take, what technologies must be developed, and at what cost. The idea that it *can't* be done is not the way they think. It's only about whether someone is willing to fund the project to its needs.

        While I'm painting something of a rosy picture here, I do have a point to this rant. The US is losing *engineers* for various reasons. One reason is lower pay. Another reason is today's poor education system that often denies potential engineers from becoming such. The most damaging thing, however, is the continuously laxing standards for "engineers". A construction worker is not an engineer. Neither is a programmer a "software engineer". Yet kids fresh out of school have scented money, and said "I'll be an engineer! I'll cram my way through the schoolwork, then I can stop learning because no one will ever make me prove myself again!" As a result, the signal to noise ratio of engineers is ever dropping.

        I'm not sure what the solution is yet, but I do know one thing: we need a different system for separating the wheat from the chaff. Traditional thinking says that School Degree == Knows His Stuff. Yet the reality is that you have a lot of people who go to school, but aren't really qualified for the job. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a lot of people who've made use of today's information mediums to become qualified without a degree. It's all a very confused situation.
        • Re:I'm not surprised (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Gilk180 (513755)
          I agree whole-heartedly.

          I happen to be a software writer (call me an engineer or a programmer, whatever you like).

          In my field, I have two ideas that are somewhat related.

          1. Create a certification program for various software disciplines. It should be by engineers/programmers for engineers/programmers. It should be free (as in speech) and as close to free (as in beer) as possible. Possibly developed using a model where certified practitioners give feedback and continue to contribute to the test as part
        • by wkitchen (581276)

          I'm not sure what the solution is yet, but I do know one thing: we need a different system for separating the wheat from the chaff. Traditional thinking says that School Degree == Knows His Stuff. Yet the reality is that you have a lot of people who go to school, but aren't really qualified for the job. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a lot of people who've made use of today's information mediums to become qualified without a degree. It's all a very confused situation.

          That is something that's be

    • by billstr78 (535271)
      I also the situation as a factor of the US being the richest nation with a strong corporate culture and influence. We are the upper management of the rest of the world. Of course our bright all american kids are going to be interested in bossing around other people rather than pursuing advanced knoledge through the study of science. This is not to say that there are'nt plenty of people who break stride from the norm, but our countries place in the world is a factor for those not influenced by any other.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:15PM (#9661799)
      Quite true, I think. Scientists and engineers need to realise that I"P" law is NOT about them controlling their work, it's about the MBAs and lawyers doing so. Mass disregard for copyright and patent law is not just a good idea, it's your duty as a scientist.
      • Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GCP (122438)
        If a scientist can't fund his own research, he can't do it. If he wants someone else to pay for it, he has to prove that his work is more valuable to that "investor" than anything else that investor could do with his money.

        That investor could be a person, a corporation, a non-profit, a government, whatever. It doesn't matter. Any of the above have more things they could do with their money than they have money.

        So with this in mind, consider your advice: "Mass disregard for IP laws is the duty of a scienti
    • by kevlar (13509) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:28PM (#9661882)
      I think this is the primary effect of copyright and patent law. It becomes more important to be the person who controls the output of scientists than it is to be a scientist yourself.

      You can really say its about money. Money is what funds the development, money is what funds the lawyers who file the patents.

      A PhD who could fund his own R&D and lawyers could have everything. The problem is that in order for them to fund it, they need their own fat savings account.

      The fundamental issue with PhD salaries is that there are so many PhD's out there who are perfectly willing to work in academia withthe basics of their financial life supported that universities and companies don't NEED to pay them more. Their love for work is their motivation, not the money. Thats why they'll always generally be paid just enough to survive.

      Of course... if they WERE paid more, and the costs were reflected in drug development, etc, everyone on Slashdot would scream bloody murder.
      • by Bishop (4500) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:47PM (#9661986)
        I think if you look back through the past 200 years you will find that academics have always been under paid, and poorly apreciated. Despite the lack of funds science has advanced because of self sacrifice and dedication. I don't believe this is good. Rather I wish to show that it is not a new problem.
        • by the gnat (153162) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @06:37PM (#9663162)
          Agreed, but over the last 200 years scientific research has expanded immensely as a career option, and the US has become a scientific superpower in addition to an economic/cultural/military superpower. This exponential growth in research fields, coupled with exponential growth in commercial engineering, is part of what's given us the incredible scientific and technical progress of the last two centuries.

          The problem is that while engineering traditionally pays pretty well, basic research never has (except for the elite professors, a very small fraction of the people doing the actual work). But you can't have progress in engineering without basic research. On the flip side, a lot of basic research doesn't directly result in marketable products for decades (if ever), so it's not economical for companies to spend a lot of money on it. (Besides, why should they? Your tax dollars already fund basic research, because the government cares about getting science done, not bringing products to market - that's just an occasional side benefit.)

          I'm entering the second year of my PhD in biology, and I spend more time than I'd prefer to worrying about this conflict. I love basic research, and I love seeing my name in print. I love the thrill of discovery, and while I'm happy to see my research used towards improving human lives, that's not my primary goal - I simply want to expand human knowledge. Unfortunately, I'd also like to own a car, and lots of books, and various musical instruments. I've been wanting a video projector for a while too.

          I don't think I'd find industry as rewarding in a purely scientific sense. But the odds of me getting a faculty job are slim, and even if I did, I'd be 40 by the time I was settled in with tenure (assuming I get it), and I'd probably still be single and working nonstop. Alternately, I could spend the rest of my career as a glorified postdoc, doing terrific science with some of the best people in the world, but making very little money and relatively little fame. The easier course would be to simply skip all this, go into biotech, and work in anonymity doing drug development, but without ever having to deal about funding problems or paying the rent.

          I know this sounds shallow and materialistic, but I live in the Bay Area, and since all the women here are shallow and materialistic, I figure I don't have much of a choice unless I want to remain single for the rest of my life. The only thing less sexy than being a geeky, underpaid, overworked 25-year-old scientist is being a geeky, underpaid, overworked, 40-year-old scientist.
          • The easier course would be to simply skip all this, go into biotech, and work in anonymity doing drug development, but without ever having to deal about funding problems or paying the rent.

            Maybe this is true in the pharmaceutical world, but not in 'real' biotech, ie: risky, small start-up type operations with only one or two solid products (if that), and plenty of blue-sky projects and antsy investors. I've spent the last 5 years working for a biotech 'startup' (they really can't be called a startup anym

    • A better explanation [johntaylorgatto.com]

      It was the goal of some rather influential people of the 19th century. The book at that URL explains it from the perspective of a retired public schoolteacher, and I urge all of you to at least read the intro and skim a few chapters.
    • by nwbvt (768631)
      No offense, but thats one of the stupidest things I've heard today. Which get paid more, research scientists in the private industry whose work is generally protected by patents or research scientists in academia whose work is generally not?

      If patent law causes private businesses to hire more scientists (which itself is a dubious claim, in reality they would still hire researchers but would keep their work completely closed as trade secrets), that helps employment of scientists. Yes, some businessmen ge

      • Re:I'm not surprised (Score:3, Informative)

        by jstott (212041)

        No offense, but thats one of the stupidest things I've heard today. Which get paid more, research scientists in the private industry whose work is generally protected by patents or research scientists in academia whose work is generally not?

        This is not correct (having worked as a researcher in academia).

        Both private industry and academia protect the IP generated by their research scientists. If you have a patentable idea, both will generally file the patent etc for you, for free (assuming in both cas

        • by Otter (3800)
          That's true, but:
          • The overwhelming majority (I'm guessing, could be wrong on overwhelmingly) of academic biomedical PI's have never patented anything. As a generality, the parent is correct.
          • Most academic patents are very early-stage work. They may generate a five-figure or low-six-figure sale, but ongoing royalties are rare. Certainly nothing like revenue from an FDA-approved compound.
          • The grad student or postdoc who did the work may get a few dollars kicked down; I've never heard of a tech seeing one cent
  • by raydobbs (99133) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:06PM (#9661743) Homepage Journal
    Possessing a Masters in Business Administration is not the end all be all of the world. There are a lot of people who have this degree - but could not manage their way out of a wet paper bag. What business truely wants, and needs are managers who are creative, intelligent, resourceful, unorthodox - not just people who have the book learning.

    Yeah, you can make a lot of money having this degree - but unless your passion is management, it's a waste of time - and talent.
    • by mOoZik (698544) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:11PM (#9661768) Homepage
      I don't think a passionless person would spend 6+ years studying something in which they have no faith or no love for. It is a fact tha the average MBA makes more than the average post-doc. Money seems to be the attracting force, but also a certain sense of freedom. At least that's the reason I'm a year away from my MBA.

      • All the MBA programs I'm aware of are 2 years. If you're including an undergraduate degree, well why not throw in the 12 years of primary education as well?

        If an undergrad degree is a given (all the jobs we're talking about require one) it's not really germane to the tally.
      • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @04:24PM (#9662548)
        Yes, plenty of people would spend 6+ years studying something they have no passion for or stink at. Being a student itself is often a short career, rather than what you do when you get *out* of school.

        Plenty of people who got into computer science in the dotcom boom realized how much they wanted to do something else, and are frankly much happier now making less money. They made an educated guess during college about their talents and careers, and it turned out wrong.

        Bless the people who were such programmers, web designers, etc. and who are now doing great jobs as artists, plumbers, teachers, etc., etc.
    • by the_2nd_coming (444906) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:17PM (#9661812) Homepage
      you just described a leader not a manager.

      managers are made to maintain the Status Quo, Leaders are made to give direction and vision and to get everyone on board.

      though a good leader needs good management skills to maintain the day to day garbage.
      • A good manager is BOTH a leader and a manager. Too many managers are piss-poor leaders, and barely passable managers. Partly the reason I decided that I wanted to have more control of my destiny, and move from the front lines to more of the managerial roles.
    • could not manage their way out of a wet paper bag.

      Yea I worked for a few. Let me recount my 3 days employment at "minka lighting":

      "Our platform is solaris on intel, windows, and SCO. One of your first assignments will be to do something about our spam problem, we seem to get about 5000 spams a day."
      "Great, I'll install and train a copy of dspam..."
      "We don't host our own email, SBC does. And we don't allow linux."
      "But SCO is linux?"
      "..."
      "I see, I need to take friday off for an interview."

    • Although I am at the moment just a pie-eyed undergrad, I am inclined to think that I would rather be an underpaid post-doc than a well-paid MBA, though I could also substitute "post-doc" with just about any other job and the statement would still be true. I don't doubt that it will be a little harder to maintain this position when it comes time to pay the bills.

      I have personally only worked with two post-docs, but they were certainly not in any danger of having their ideas and work stolen. Granted, the "h

    • by eril (759876) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:50PM (#9662001)
      Do we really want our scientific community to be comprised of people who are in it for the money and attention? Given the choice between the guy looking for financial success and the geek looking to keep scratchin' that curiosity itch, I'm betting all my chips on the curious geek.....every time.

      WTF people?!? How'd this even get on Slashdot? With all of the elitist attitudes espoused around here, I'm surprised you'd even consider encouraging the acceptance of bourgeois pricks into a field that should be filled with guys who are doing it because they're fucking CURIOUS!

      [/end rant]

      Anyway. Yeah, what's up with that?
      • by bobhagopian (681765) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:21PM (#9662190)
        Do we really want our scientific community to be comprised of people who are in it for the money and attention? Given the choice between the guy looking for financial success and the geek looking to keep scratchin' that curiosity itch, I'm betting all my chips on the curious geek.....every time.

        I think you've missed the point, and indeed don't understand the scale of the problem. (This is not a flame, but I do wish to inject some amount of reason into this discussion.)

        The major problem here is that there are plenty of people in the world who ARE curious. They're *not *doing it for the money (after all, nobody goes to school until they're 30 years old without making a dime for the money). The point is that many of these curious individuals cannot follow their passions in science because that career is just too unstable and underpaid to support a family with. I'm speaking somewhat from personal experience: until recently, I was planning on taking my bachelor's degree in physics with me to a PhD program. But doing my latest research with a 36 year old postdoc opened by eyes to the fact that, until you become a tenured professor, you're basically kicked in the balls over and over -- as a grad student for 6-7 years, then as a postdoc for several more years, you're underpaid ($0 - $30000) and overworked (80+ hrs/wk). That's discouraging to a lot of people.

        For the record, I favor paying scientists more money. Arguably, they do the most important work in this world -- think about where we would be without the Newtons and Edisons of this world. And the funny thing about science is that it's internally regulated -- you'll never get to a well paying job without first proving yourself (that's what a PhD is, after all), and even then, you won't be successful and you won't have your job for long if you aren't a "curious geek" that can actually produce results that people care about.
  • True for Me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by billstr78 (535271) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:09PM (#9661752) Homepage
    I know that the bleak employment opportunities for a Computer Science Ph.D. in a 50th ranked school were the main reason I left my program and finished with a Masters instead. Now I'm employed doing the same work I did while interning as an undergraduate 4 years ago. If I'm not able to move my way up through the ranks and get to some real development, going back for an MBA is a real possibility.
  • by cleverhandle (698917) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:10PM (#9661759)

    We've been hearing about bad K-12 science education, too few American science and engineering students, and the real-soon-now employment nirvana in technical fields for, like, the last 20 years.

    Longer than that, actually. The beginning of all of this was the launching of Sputnik in 1957. It was the prospect of losing the Space Race against the USSR prompted the infamous "New Math" of the early 60's.

    • For those who don't know what "New Math" is/was (I didn't).
    • It began, as nearly as I can figure, around 1850 or so. Read about it [johntaylorgatto.com]
    • It was the prospect of losing the Space Race against the USSR prompted the infamous "New Math" of the early 60's.

      They were still teaching a lot of New Math in the early 70s when I was a kid. My mom was always grumbling about how she thought that it was stupid for them to teach us about all these newfangled "sets", and they weren't drilling us on enough big arithmetic problems. (Even though this was about the time my dad got his first electronic calculator, after which I gleefully breezed through all my ar

  • career decisions... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davids-world.com (551216) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:10PM (#9661760) Homepage
    Let me rephrase that question.

    "Do I want to do cutting-edge research, find out about new things, finding solutions to problems, maybe getting patents, work with colleagues around the world, travel to conferences and workshops, or do I like to manage people and an organization, come up with visions, conduct hundreds of interviews with applicants, go to fancy dinners with my lab's sponsors or the company's clients?"
    • by gclef (96311)
      Well, kinda. In the real world, it's more like:

      Do I want to have a small chance at cutting-edge research, get taken advantage of mercilessly by entrenched professors, and distantly dream of seeing my work mentioned in a high-profile publication, or do I want to actually have a life?

      (For the curious: yes, I had to make that decision, and yes, that's about the position I was faced with in grad school...3 guesses which direction I went.)
    • by Duncan3 (10537) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:25PM (#9661858) Homepage
      *laughs*

      More like...

      Do I want to shuffle papers all day, make and remake long term plans, work 70 hours weeks becasue I'm salaried, never have time for my friends and family, and get no credit ever becasue the CEO and other vicious MBA take it becasue they are trained to...

      No, a geek should not try to be a MBA, and a MBA should not try to be a geek. They should however, understand each other.
    • Let me rephrase that yet again:

      "Do I want to do cutting-edge research (that only five other people in the world will genuinely understand), find solutions to problems (that will be important in a hundred years, but which don't matter at all right now), work with colleagues all around the world (via e-mail), and meanwhile struggle to pay my kid's day care bills, getting lousy benefits, and having credit stolen from me by my lab director, so that in fifteen years I can have a one in five hundred shot at a te
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do I want to be a postdoc paid $35,000 or $40,000 at age 35, with extreme uncertainty working in somebody else's lab, and maybe getting credit for my work and maybe not getting full credit?

    Yes, yes I do. I'd rather live in relative poverty and be happy doing what I like than having a lot of money, but waste my life doing something I don't enjoy.

    • by cTbone (632308) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:22PM (#9661836)
      Absolutely.

      I'd rather work in a lab doing research that I feel might change something in society or maybe cure just one person's illness than slave with an M.B.A. dealing with the business end of the deal.

      I really don't care if I'm getting 40,000 or so. To me it's not a big deal.

      I think it's a hidden blessing that salaries aren't grossly overdone with Ph.D.'s because you weed out those who are in it just for the money and you're left with the people that truly care for what they are doing.
    • by alptraum (239135) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:27PM (#9661872)
      I'd do this too, I'd much rather do what I love than be rich doing something I hate, you see this all the time with overworked lawyers and doctors and other high paying jobs, they have no time to enjoy all the money they make, their slaves to their jobs. Not saying that all lawyers and docs secretly hate their jobs, but a lot of them undoubtably do. On the other hand, my uncle, a chemistry phd, makes 35-40k a year but absolutely loves what he does. I currently am working on my masters in Industrial Engineering (Specifically Industrial Statistics and Quality and Reliability Engineering) I honestly have no idea how I'll fair salary-wise when I get out in a year, but I love what I do and that's what matters to me, to me engineers and scientists and the like are my heroes, and IMHO, of all human pursuits, there are none more noble than those of science and engineering.
    • I couldn't have said it better.

      It seems the author of this article thinks that having money is the primary motivator for people going to school. For undergrads, I'd say that's probably true. For Graduate students, however, there is usually a love of the field that is the primary motivation, and money comes in somewhere beneath that.

      I'm still in school because I want my Ph.D. I want to do original research, make breakthroughs, help people, and above all do scientific work. As long as I have the necessi
      • Really? The primary motivator for college (the first opportunity people have to even *opt out* of school) is family, friends, teachers, guidance counselors, and even perfect strangers pushing them towards it. Don't know what you want to study? Fine, go anyway, figure it out when you are there. Threats of flipping burgers the rest of your life, promises of wealth, happiness, relative comfort (at least compared to RSIs working on one of the last assembly lines in this country)... these factor in.

        Maybe not fo
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:12PM (#9661774) Homepage
    Most of the hard science majors I know didn't get there because of their K-12 education. It couldn't come really even close to covering what they needed to know to do anything with it. I can look at schools' "computer science" classes and see basically identical results. Most of the real coders in my computer science classes are the ones who didn't waste their time with "computer science" classes in K-12. I tried taking one for fun and found it to be quite possibly the most asinine class there, even more so than PE. K-12 is designed to build up the lowest common denominator to a point slightly above dark ages superstitions about the world. Overall it is an abysmal system and I see no reason anymore to fix it or fund it more. Think of education like hemp rope. Some will use it for good and useful purposes, some will hang themselves with it, but the majority will do nothing with it except maybe try to smoke it and get high off of it.
    • by cmorriss (471077) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:54PM (#9662026)
      You're right in that an education is what you make of it, but I disagree that what we have is an abysmal system. If someone doesn't care about school, usually because of the environment in which they were raised, there is little the educational system can do about it. It's a cultural problem and we need to start treating it that way.

      Far too many pepople rely on the educational system alone to turn their obnoxious little brats into good upstanding citizens. They don't understand that the educational system is just a tool. It generally takes a good upbringing to get kids to take advantage of it.

      Once someone wants to learn and sees the value in a good education, they'll get a good education, even in the "abysmal" system we currently have.

    • Most of the hard science majors I know didn't get there because of their K-12 education.

      I wholeheartedly agree. I remember as a child *hating* science classes. Up until 14 I wanted to be a musician, after that a writer.

      I went to college to be a science teacher, and was appalled. They concentrate more on the teaching than the science (now, i am not saying that being able to effectively communicate an idea is wrong to learn) but these idiots were getting D's in their science classes. Maybe the problem that
  • by jabberjaw (683624) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:13PM (#9661778)
    I am not a scientist (yet), I do however read the musings of a real scientist at Note Even Wrong [columbia.edu]. Scroll down to "There They Go Again..." and enjoy what he has to say about the article.
  • My decision: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mhore (582354) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:14PM (#9661790)
    I am a Physics student...with only one class left until Grad School. When I first considered Physics... I had a hard time justifying to myself making $40,000 as a postdoc (if I'm lucky) vs. making maybe $60-70k as a programmer...or more with an MBA or Engineering degree.

    What it came down to is this... I did what made me happy. I may never make much money at all, but I love what I'm doing. I made the choice to switch over to Physics, and I have never looked back.

    Mike.

    • Re:My decision: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Seminal (698722) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:26PM (#9661866) Journal
      It is too bad that money is often what makes a person make a decision which puts them on a path in life where the person is not happy. I remember reading the magazines in college which ranked pay by degree. If only I would have stayed studying what trully excited and interested me- biology. I was facsinated with the possibility of genetic engineering as a method of solving disease and sickness. Now I do programming work when I find it, or other office work, and I hate it. Why? Because I decided to follow the money not realizing money does not give happiness and often what is a hot job/field today will not be in 5 years. Plus, who wants to excel at something they hate doing. You know, the kind of job where by lunch you want to go home.
    • I really do commend you on following you heart rather than a paycheck. As the old Chinese proverb goes: "Water is like the wiseman, only does what is natural." Too many people in this world hate their jobs. Any anyhow, perhaps you will find a high paying job in physics, heck, vast majority of actors make 20 something grand a year, but a handfull in hollywood are making millions, it can happen.
  • PH.d's can't. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PeterPumpkin (777678) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:14PM (#9661791) Journal
    Well, part of the problem is that these PH.d's are 35, and have no actual experience. I've seen this at GE - there were guys, who shall remain nameless, who were brilliant with the formulas, et cetera, but who were comepletly devoid of common sense and unable to deal with real-world problems, due to too much time in a academic environment. I imagine it takes some time and several jobs before one could acclimate to the real world.

    Nothing that a few good internships couldn't solve, to keep one grounded ;)
    • Re:PH.d's can't. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by billstr78 (535271) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:26PM (#9661862) Homepage
      This is other people's problem with Ph.D's but does not generally impact their employment opportunities or job performance. They are paid to be good with the formulas, et cetera. They never fully adapt to the working life becuase their knowledge is deep not broad.
      The employment opportunities for U.S. Ph.D's are bleak becuase the field is competitive. There aren't that many positions outside of academia that require that specialized knoledge and there are plenty of talented people from other countries itching to plant themselves in the U.S. to get away from less than perfect conditions in their own country.
      • I've heard this said before, but being a loser without a real job, I find it hard to swallow. Are these PhDs simply unable to design the things companies want built, or unable to come up with research that companies find useful.

        Or do you mean they're unable to navigate the absurd sociopolitical burearacracies found in any large company? "Gee, Dr. Egghead simply doesn't get it, we can't do that... our shareholders can't understand it and Company X just laid off 4500 (a good thing for the bottom line), we ha
        • Re:PH.d's can't. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by foidulus (743482) * on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:21PM (#9662188)
          I don't personally see how you could ever have too many researchers. As a country, the more of them we have, the more technology we will have in the future (though since the payoff won't be soon, it might not look like that to retards). Or is it simply more profitable to raise generation after generation of sheep-like consumers?
          I think you hit the problem on the head. Look at some of today's most successful companies, do they do research? Dell doesn't do much, neither does Wal-Mart, and yet Wall Street follows them like a hawk. Wall Street only cares about ROI and getting rid of labor, no matter what the long term cost to the company is. At a place I used to intern, they hired very expensive consultants to come in and fire people, thus concentrating a lot of critical knowledge into a few hands, which they then proceed to treat like crap and pile loads of work onto them. How is this good for the company?
          Nobody wants to engage in risky R&D anymore because they won't be able to use the buzzword ROI on the project(Intel thinks that it is the governments job to do research for them)
          The long term consequences of this short selling mentality will be dire IMO.
  • Mr. Cohen argues that the United States should not look at those who do return to their own countries as a loss. "If they finish their Ph.D.'s and go back to their home country, then we have a friend for life," he says. "It's a win situation." That's true even in the case of China, he says: "We certainly are in some sort of a competition with China economically. But the people we train that go back, go back with many of our values."
    I think this is only half true. IMHO, I see two types of graduate studen
  • $150K MBAs? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mst76 (629405) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:17PM (#9661806)
    What I want to know is:
    1. Does a typical MBA really make $150K?
    2. If (as seems to be the implicit assumption) the science PhD could do the MBA's jobs as well, any company hiring PhD's can gain competitive advantage (lowers wage costs) by hiring science PhD's instead of MBA's. Don't companies realize this? Or is there more to MBA's than we all assume?
    • My father works for a non-profit organization. They don't need too many MBA's. They do need PhD's. He's got one. He makes $150k (a little shy of that actually) with is PhD.

      The trick with the PhD is finding companies that can fully use your PhD instead of companies that simply see PhD as better than a Master.
    • 1. No.
      2. Oh hell no. It's genetic.
    • 1. Does a typical MBA really make $150K?
      Only if they graduate from Harvard, Yale, Wharton, Stanford, or some other top 5 school.

      2. If (as seems to be the implicit assumption) the science PhD could do the MBA's jobs as well, any company hiring PhD's can gain competitive advantage (lowers wage costs) by hiring science PhD's instead of MBA's. Don't companies realize this? Or is there more to MBA's than we all assume?
      A lot of business is fuzzy thinking. In my MBA program, half my class is engineers. They're

  • by freeio (527954) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:18PM (#9661815) Homepage
    After 25 years working as an electronics engineer, the last company I worked for went into technical bankruptcy, stopped meeting payroll, and I was forced to reconsider whether I wanted to continue in this line of work. Result? I decided to take the savings, 401K, and such and put it into a more sane business.

    So my wife and I expanded her business (one of those "horribly overpayed wedding photographers") and now I work full time selling portraits, photographing weddings, doing bookeeping, and such. I couldn't be happier!

    The life as an engineer was (excuse me) pathetic. Why should I spend all my life chained to a desk, living in a cube farm, and putting up with the Boss from Hell who figured he owned me as so much chattel property? Life is much better now.

    So tell me again why I would even talk any teenager into becoming an engineer? They would be fools to do so.
    • by slashdotjunker (761391) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:38PM (#9662283)
      The life as an engineer was (excuse me) pathetic. Why should I spend all my life chained to a desk, living in a cube farm, and putting up with the Boss from Hell who figured he owned me as so much chattel property? Life is much better now.

      My life as an engineer is fantastic. I love staying indoors at a desk and exercising my mind. I don't have to suck up to my boss because my industry is a meritocracy. I enjoy the freedom that comes from being able to switch jobs anytime because good people are always in demand. Life couldn't be better.

      I am happy that you have finally found your calling in life. But, don't put down my industry. Leave those teenagers alone; let them find their own way. They just might enjoy engineering. I know I do.

  • by John Seminal (698722) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:19PM (#9661820) Journal
    Last fall the president of the University of Maryland found himself doing something that none of his predecessors would have dreamed of trying. While on a trip to Taiwan, C. Dan Mote Jr. spent part of his time recruiting Taiwanese students to go to the United States for graduate school.

    There should be no reason to recruit outside the USA for PhD programs. We should be able to have a good pool of undergrads in the USA to fill almost every PhD seat.

    I think the fix to the problem is not undergraduate education or high schools, but what is taught in the elementary schools. I knew two people in elementary/high school who went on to get PhD's. One was a person who was always entering science fairs and was excited and interested in discovery. The father of that guy never pushed the kid to "excel", but allowed the kid to feed his appetite of wonder. The other guy I knew as a kid did not really get excited about learning, but had a dad who pushed and pushed and pushed for his kid to be the best. I can't tell you how many times I remember his father telling him "do you want to push a broomstick the rest of your life?". Both did well in high school, both got into good colleges. The one who was liked studying and did not look at school as work enjoyed his graduate school days. The one who looked at school as another hurdle to jump did not like it, and dropped out early getting a masters (and now works as a programmer because it paid the best, even though he hates it).

    I think what needs to be done is schools needs to get fun at an early age. It should not be a pressure filled johnny is better than mike type environment, because johnny did well on some test (only to have mike kick johnnys ass after school). I had only one good teacher in my first 8 years of schooling (before high school), and what made that teacher great was not that he taught better but that he made everyone excited about what they were doing and made everyone feel good about their interests. Those who were interested in fiction books were no less important as people than those who were looking at leaves under a magnifying glass. The teacher always asked with an excited face "how did you like that" and "what did you learn"; and anwsered "wow". It might sound dumb, but he was one hell of a fifth grade teacher. Much better than the guy who taught me algebra in high school who always took off 1/2 a point off a right anwser just to show me who was boss (for shit like "can't read your handwriting").

  • It's about time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MisanthropicProgram (763655) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:20PM (#9661823)
    that someone published an article about this. I'm so sick of CEOs complaining that there are not enough engineers being educated in this country and therefore, they have to go to other countries. What horshit!

    Every job I've worked at had at least one engineer (many times a Ph.D.) who couldn't get a job in his chosen field - especially aerospace. So, he becomes a programmer. There's a reason that nobody is getting these dgrees - no jobs!
    Also, why should someone with that kind of talent "waste" it in engineering when they can go to medical school and make ten times as much?

    And another thing, I once was talking to some Indians about why there's so many engineers that come out of their country. Their response: "Every parent wants their child to grow up and become an engineer. If not that, then a doctor." Granted my sample size is four, but it was interesting to hear their mindset. I'm not saying that they're right or wrong, just that Engineers are held in much higher esteem there then over here.

    • by dodobh (65811)
      Its not a question of respect or esteem.

      The minimum qualification for most jobs is a degree.
      The people at those call centres that posters here keep whining about usually have graduates answering the phones.

      If you want to do anything more than be a clerk (and out here, book keeping is very low on the totem pole in terms of respect and salary), you need either a postgrad or an engineering/medical degree. And more companies prefer engineers than postgrads (except engineering postgrads).
  • If it's as bad as portrayed, then those (alleged) poor underpaid PhDs have only themselves to blame for buying into the MBA's game. You shouldn't accept starting at the bottom of the employment ladder after getting a PhD.

    Team together with other clever technical people (you don't even need to incorporate, though it helps), and make those MBAs that were allegedly getting your services on the cheap pay through the nose. It was hard getting a PhD, now it's time to profit from it.

    I speak from experience, bt
    • Graduating Ph.D.'s have to accept whatever opportunities come their way. Teaming together with other graduates to start a company or consulting group is a risky and poor decision for most. The venture capital does'nt exist for that type of company any more. The reality is that graduates are at the whim of big companies with big R&D budgets. It's a matter of supply and demand. Right now there is a strong supply of graduates and a weak demand. I will be willing to bet that you graduated with a Compu
  • by betelgeuse68 (230611) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:20PM (#9661826)
    The people who visit here tends to have "tech" under their skin (me included). But the average person who is considering college does not necessarily enjoy our enthusiasm for open source code, LINUX, cool science news, etc. That's just life. If someone were considering computer science I would tell them, "Unless it's something you think about an awful lot during your day, forget it." That is, unless computing is in your "blood" in some shape way or form, the prospects simply are not worth it. I went to a large Midwestern state university and left the area to be on the West Coast. I kept in touch with different people from my college days (I finished in '91). Nowadays there are quite a number of "engineers" in Chicagoland that are essentially at dead ends the changing dynamics of the tech industry. Unfortunately for them, Chicago had a rather telecom presence and the downturn in that space means there are probably lots of people who won't be in tech jobs anymore. Just yesterday (and also featured on Slashdot) there was a Businessweek article about consolidation in the software space. I see it as a given and it is something I have told people for a couple of years. You see, the railways saw huge growth in the second half of the 1800's then ther was consolidation. Then the auto industry went nuts during its inception, then it too went through consolidation in the first half of the 1900's. Frankly I don't see why the software industry would be any different or immune to these business dynamics. And despite the fact that software doesn't have a material cost, commodization directly (open source) and indirectly has dramatically altered the landscape from 10+ years ago.

    Here's a good article on Newsforge that makes my case, "There may never be another software billionaire":

    http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=03/03/28 /2 125237&mode=thread&tid=3

    Sure I'm only talking about computer science jobs but the prospects of studying some scientific field and making a living at it are rather grim. I've met my share of electrical engineers and physicists making a living by being code grunts vs. being in employed in their field of study. Nowadays there's a "nuclear engineer" on my team but the company I am currently at in no shape, way or form deals with that space.

    So yeah, if I had to start all over and had the business savvy, mindset, drive and acumen I would go do something else.

    After all, how many CEOs in corporate America have engineering and/or scientific degress?

    Point made.

    -M
  • Postdoc problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overbyj (696078) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:23PM (#9661838)
    The funny thing about the postdoc issue is that it is very much a damned if you do-damned if you don't. In science, if you want a good job, you basically have to have done a postdoc. However, I have known people that have done a postdoc for 5-7 years and then still can't find a job because many will view them with the attitude of "why can't this person get a job after having a postdoc for 5 years".

    An unfortunately reality in science, as it is in most of life, is that you have to have connections and you have to have timing on your side. When I was near the end of my postdoc (2 years), the academic job market was good that year. So was the industrial job market. However, two years after that, the academic job market actually shrank as the economy began to wilt and state funding for many schools shrank as well. Timing on my part was critical.

    I feel for all those postdocs out there stuck in the rut of that position. I felt it was critical to my development as a scientist but man oh man, there is no way I would ever go back to that.
  • Supply and demand (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:23PM (#9661843)
    It's a fairly simple equation. The reason you can get someone for under $40,000 with a bachelor's degree, and 2-10 years of postgraduate education in some esoteric field, is that there's too damned many of us. Worse, once we're done, there's no requirement for real-world experience. Few PhD's or postdocs have any knowledge of how industry works, so they can get hired into the workforce for about as much as you can make as a prison guard with a GED in most states. (We have lab techs with MS degrees that make less than prison guards start at in this state.)

    Amplifying the problem is the US's addiction to foreign graduate students. While they may work longer and harder hours, they're also cut off from their families or any social life, so they grind away in the lab early in the morning, late at night, and on weekends and holidays while us lazy Americans are off somewhere, complaining about how hard we have to work. The difference is that hard labor /= good results, and the papers these people crank out are often full of nonsense, repeat other people's work, or are completely superfluous. I've had foreign postdocs publish work with my contribution twice now, with no credit given to my input (which lasted for 15 months in one case), either out of ignorance or theft- I'm not sure which.

    But, really- if you want to drive a ten-year-old car while it's your boss and administrators that roll in the big bucks (with benefits like retirement and that sort of thing), by all means- postdoc is the way to go!

  • Ph.D Not So Bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UMhydrogen (761047) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:28PM (#9661883) Homepage
    Coming from one of the higher ranked engineering schools in the country, I find that Ph.D and masters enrollment seems to be quite up. I know most of the people I am around are not settling for just their bachelors - everyone wants to go to graduate school. I also am spending my summer in DC working for Boeing. Almost everyone here either has a Ph.D or plans on going back to get their masters or Ph.D. Engineering docotorates do not fall in to the $35,000 range and they actually get paid quite a lot. Now I am not so sure about "science" but it seems to me that getting a Ph.D doesn't leave you anywhere near shy on money. On top of that, if you're any good at what you do, you can always get a job as a Professor at a university. At Uof Michigan the Professors get paid very well and do a lot of research. I find it hard to believe that in an age so motivated and focused on technology, that a scientist or an engineer would have trouble finding work.
    • Re:Ph.D Not So Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Life2Short (593815) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:43PM (#9662317)
      "...you can always get a job as a Professor at a university." Ya. Those are real easy jobs to get. Ask one of your U. Mich. Profs. how many applications they get when they advertise a tenure track position. Ask them what percentage of their new hires actually receive tenure. Try reading some more articles in the Chronicle. There's a huge glut of PhDs. Just do the math. Each faculty member at a university has a number of graduate students. Sure, some of them don't get PhDs, but a lot of them do. So figure every 2 or 3 years that faculty member graduates another PhD. The faculty member retains his/her job for 20-30 years, so where are all these new PhDs supposed to go? Private industry? It's kind of like music/entertainment. Sure, there are a lot of big names out there, but for each one there are a lot more people tending bar, waitressing, etc.
  • by Cerlyn (202990) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:31PM (#9661901)

    I left a comfortable job position to try for a Ph.D. at a major US institution [ohio-state.edu]. I was offered a full stipend, and it paid for pretty much everything except car insurance and clothing costs.

    Unfortunately, when I got there, I found myself outclassed, and without help. Once my advisor came to realize I was not a specialist in the areas he thought I was, he rarely saw me, while discouraging me to look elsewhere.

    Finally, my advisor dumped me two months before my contract with him was due to expire, well after the point all the other Ph.D. advisors had already chosen their underlings for the next year. I later found one of my friends in that research group was originally under my advisor as well, and had been dumped just prior to this advisor taking me in.

    But it was too late for me. I lost a large amount of personal funding taking out loans to pay for the next two quarters. The politics in the Engineering department there were much worse than those I ever encountered working for the US government. Eventually I received a very good job offer from a private firm, and dropped out with the Masters degree I already had received at another school. But by that point in time, I estimated I wasted well over $10,000 in my own funds waiting for a new advisor I liked to take me in (it is worth noting he did come up with some funds for me, but I left just after this point).

    The paranoid should look at two professors' testimony before the US Congress for some insight. The first is the testimony of Dr. David Goodstein [house.gov] about how the US Ph.D. program attempts to only breed elite members like themselves. The second is the testimony of Dr. Norman Matloff [ucdavis.edu] (revised since 1998) on how there really is not a Software labor shortage in the US (one section [ucdavis.edu] of this paper discusses why American CS students tend not to go for Ph.D. degrees).

    • I started my Ph.D in the US and finished in Europe and while my experience with the US system was vastly different from yours, we seemed to come to the same conclusion: it's dysfunctional. I got a job in US industry later on and came to a similar conclusion. My conclusion was to vote with my money and move, I live in a smallish town in the EU and haven't looked back!

      The shame is the US can be a very cool place! (Hello to the folks in Huntsville, I still LOVE little river canon!)

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:32PM (#9661907)
    "Last fall the president of the University of Maryland found himself doing something that none of his predecessors would have dreamed of trying. While on a trip to Taiwan, C. Dan Mote Jr. spent part of his time recruiting Taiwanese students to go to the United States for graduate school."

    So, we're looking overseas for students to fill our tech programs....

    "Current data suggest that the new predictions may fare no better than earlier ones. In fact, contrary to prevailing wisdom, which fixes blame on poor training in science and mathematics from kindergarten through the 12th grade, record numbers of Americans are earning bachelor's degrees in science and engineering. And unemployment rates in at least some sectors of science and engineering have topped the charts."

    But we're turning out "record numbers" of AMERICAN graduates in those programs.

    "University presidents, government officials, and heads of industry have joined together in a chorus of concern over the state of science and engineering in the United States. The danger signs are obvious, they say. Fewer U.S. citizens are getting doctorates in those fields."

    And we seem to be producing fewer PhD's in those programs.

    "In fact, even as science leaders opined about the alarming NSF report from May, the agency announced last week that graduate-student enrollment in science and engineering actually reached a new peak in 2002."

    But we're enrolling more post-graduate people in those programs than ever before.

    "As the number of those men entering science has declined, national leaders have sought to bring more women and minorities into the enterprise."

    So fewer white men are going into tech and the difference is more women and minorities?

    So is this about the decline of the white male in tech fields or is it about the rise of everyone else in tech fields or is it about how the US is declining in tech fields?

    "And even if the visa difficulties fade, leaders both inside and outside academe say the education system in the United States must reform itself to maintain the country's technological edge."

    So, we're in decline because we're graduating more techs than ever before, but they're mostly women and minorities and lots of them go on to post-graduate work, and that is the fault of the education system?

    "The board noted in particular a rising reliance on foreign-born talent, a decline in homegrown brainpower, increasing difficulty in attracting overseas scholars, and a looming shortage of scientists and engineers."

    So, we are depending more upon foreign engineers and it is becoming increasing difficult to get them to come here.... ....which means that we'll have a shortage of techs soon unless we start growing our own.

    "Compounding the situation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2001 that the number of jobs in science and engineering would grow at a rate three times that of all occupations, on average, producing a 47-percent increase in science-and-engineering jobs by 2010."

    So we'll have lots of jobs available for people with tech degrees.

    ""Despite recurring concerns about potential shortages of STEM [scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics] personnel in the U.S. work force, particularly in engineering and information technology, we did not find evidence that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon," concluded the RAND Corporation in a report this year."

    So there won't be lots of jobs available for people with tech degrees.

    And the rest of the article continues in the same fashion.

    Is there a current shortage of techs? Is there a current surplus of techs?

    Are too many of the techs foreign? Are too few foreign students entering our schools?

    The only thing to be found in this article is that US-born citizens are not all working towards their PhD's and even if they did, they might not make any more money than they do right now.
  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:36PM (#9661927)
    At the risk of sounding too damn much like a archtypical communist (which I am not)...

    At the moment, there are many jobs that are not compensated for very well. Stock brokers, advertising / marketing types, lawyers, and executives make a great deal of money. Scientists, Teachers, Police, Firemen, and the like probably contribute more to civilization then the types listed above, but they certaintly dont reap much of a benefit for it.

    About the only profession that makes the kind of money they ought to are Surgeons. And that is only because they have a pretty compelling way to get the compensation they deserve. "Oh, you dont want to pay me that much? Ok. Let someone else perform that arterial bypass then."

    Scientists / Inventors in theory can use Patents to generate their income. But research costs money. And they end up having to sign the patents over to the company that employed them.

    I think that Patents / Copyright should never pass completely beyond the control of the creator for that reason. But Patents and Copyright are broken.

    However, for all my complaints, its not like I have a solution handy either.

    END COMMUNICATION
  • Speaking of jobs... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Uncertain Bohr (122949) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:37PM (#9661933)
    Well, I am a 36 year old post-doc, I am making under $50/yr, but I do not work in someone else's lab. Rather, I work with a group of great people who are very motivated and good at what they do. I wake up in the morning happy to have some real problems to solve. Life is too short to make it just about $.
  • by Bishop (4500) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:41PM (#9661950)
    The real crisis may not be one of quantity but of quality.

    I believe that this is the larger issue. In my experience many university science professors have a distorted view of the world beyond their walls. As a result the material they teach and their methods do not serve their students. This problem is not one of teching theory over practice. I am a big proponent of universities teaching theory only. Rather it is beliefs such as "If you want to do anything in field X you require a Ph.D." Or like my professor insisting that I would not be able to find a job with such a low mark in his course. (I was already employed.) Too many of my professors taught in such a manner that the highest marked students were the ones who memorized the material prior to an exam, and proptly forgot everything when they put their pencils down. This practice of encourageing memorization is a dumbing down of university curriculum. It is great for pumping out "scientists." But it dosen't encourage science.

  • by fermion (181285) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:41PM (#9661952) Homepage Journal
    Formal education can only do so much. The great scientists are able to look for the areas of the world which we have not fully explored, and then, without prejudice, collect data or create models in such a way as to support refute existing theories. All this must be done in a logical, auditable, and repeatable manner.

    I think in America we are losing this sense of adventure. I hear more people espousing their beliefs and superstitions as if it were The Truth. They are afraid of exploration and the unknown. Modern science does not exist to confirm personal beliefs any more that the CIA exists to promote political agendas. Both are there to discover what is, in a significantly tangible way, real about the world. Reality is often hard for us to understand and accept, but we are much better off when we have some assurance that we are close to the truth. The past few hundred years have shown one of the most reliable processes to get close to the truth is the scientific method.

    But we have a few religious nuts afraid of anything that will contradict their carefully crafted fiction. These people subvert the educational process and teach our kids that the scientific method is wrong. Make no mistake. If one claims evolution is wrong on the basis of scripture, if one claims that the earth is a few thousand years old on the basis of scripture, if on claims that one can go from an a priori truth, construct a data set that fit those facts, and then claim that is science, then one is so wrong as to be the greatest enemy of science, progress, and even the free market.

    When one makes these fantastic claims, that everything that does not fit your reality is wrong, even if a process that has proved successful for hundreds of years says it is correct, a thing called cognitive dissidence is set up in the mind of a child. I believe this often leads to the child falling on the side of superstition, and a scientist is lost. I believe that a whole generation of American scientists have been lost to this attack on science. An attack based on the assumption that it is preferable to get an MBA and oppress a workforce for personal profit, but not ok to challenge ancient superstitions for the sole betterment of the human race.

    Let me state I am not anti-religion. I am quite for it and have seen organized religion to a great many wonderful things. I am, however, against the use of religion, or anything else for that matter, solely for the purpose of personal gain, and without respect of what it does to other people. Certainly Christianity tells us not to harm others, that the truth will set us free, and in the example of Jesus, that personal sacrifice is not only expected but necessary.

    God may not play dice, but I am thankful every day for the quantum wells that make my life so much more convenient than my parent's.

  • When has science EVER been a high paying profession? What is new here?

    Honestly, I don't think people typically become scientists because they're chasing the dollars. They chase two things: 1) knowledge, and 2) fame, as it's always been.

  • my 2 cents (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gyratedotorg (545872) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @02:48PM (#9661990) Homepage

    Or would I rather be an M.B.A. and making $150,000 and hiring Ph.D.'s?

    it seems to me that if you're only concerned with how much money you're going to be making when you finish school, maybe you shouldn't be going into a technical field anyway. we need more people who love their jobs and do good work, and less people who are only interested in the size of their potential salaries. the dot-com bubble should have taught us that.

  • by Sans_A_Cause (446229) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @03:01PM (#9662076)
    I'm an American scientist, and I've been through this battle already. For you younger folks, back in the late '80s, many organizations, particularly societies like the American Chemical Society (whose main interest is keeping Ph.D.'s plentiful so the chemical industry can pay them $40K/yr forever) testified before Congress about the upcoming "shortage" of scientists. Many grad students, including myself, were told that this shortage would translate into good jobs when we graduated with a Ph.D. It was a complete lie.

    In the early '90s, testimonies and hand-wringings were still going on. Only thing is, those of us who had graduated with a Ph.D. had learned of a new problem. It was called "The Glut". Most places, especially in academia, were averaging 300-400 applications for teaching and research positions. There were postdocs out the wazoo, and most of us were in a holding pattern. I was a postdoc for 6.5 years, trying to find a place to land (I finally did; many of my colleagues stopped trying and went off to sell computers or work for biotech companies as a marketer or salesman). I remember one position that I applied for in academia didn't even respond with a letter. They had so many applications, they just sent out a postcard that began "Dear Applicant:".

    The Glut is still here. Don't believe the lies about getting research positions after you graduate. You may do it, but you'll need some luck. The shortage is in graduate students. Every faculty member would like 2 or 3 (or more) graduate students to work on their projects, mostly 'cause we faculty spend all day, every day writing grant proposals to keep our soft-money-funded postions on faculty. And the NIH and NSF budgets are tapped out, meaning the only way I get my grant funded is if my colleague loses his. This breeds a situation where every April, Sept., and Dec., everyone gets nervous, waiting for those grant scores to roll in. If your score isn't good, update your CV. And there's a pretty good correlation between the number of grad students you have and the score you get: more is better.

    Science can be a fun occupation. I love it. But don't be deceived into thinking your going to go from graduation to a faculty position in anything less than 6 years, or that you're going to get some cushy job teaching or in academia. Trust me.
  • by Ranger (1783) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @04:37PM (#9662619) Homepage
    Check out Philip Greenspun's Career Guide for Engineers and Computer Scientists. [greenspun.com] It is very insightful. In particular check out the graph that shows the relationship between your salary and education level. The pictures in the Achievement Gallery are just priceless.
  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @04:38PM (#9662624)
    First of all, if you're in science for the money, you're not going to be getting that PhD. It's simply too hard and too much work to get through unless you really love it. That aside, there are good economic reasons for going into science, particularly physics.

    For example, I am currently a physics graduate student. I get paid a little less than $20K a year, but have no fees.

    My brother is going to law school. He gets paid nothing and will have around $150K in loans to pay off when he's done.

    The balance is that he'll get paid more after he gets out, right? What happens if he can't find a good job? Not all lawyers (or MBAs for that matter) make a lot of money. What happens if he can't find any job? Unemployment among physics PhDs is always very low, almost never higher than 4%. Can MBAs or lawyers say the same?

    The numbers of $40K a year for a post-doc may be right for biologists and organic chemists, but many of those guys are being replaced by robots and combinatorial chemistry. That's led to some poor job markets for them. Here [ucsd.edu] are some actual numbers (as opposed to vague generalizations). While you don't make six figures as a physicist, you're doing pretty well.

    When it comes down to it, science is changing now in the same way everything else is. Computers are cheap, easy to use and more powerfull, allowing students to be replaced by a few good Labview programs. The revolution in nanoscale characterization allowed by AFM and STM has lead to new, better ways of doing chemistry and biology. Should science NOT use these tools because it means some people are now obsolete?

    The article is right on when it takes Universities to task for not teaching the skills which will be needed. Grad student labor is cheap, and some of this equipment is expensive. It's not even that more money is needed. It just needs to be spent smarter. Buying used equipment, testing prototype technology and forming collaborations with other groups to pool resources are ways of providing your research group with cutting edge tools (all of which are used in the lab I work in). Of course, there's nothing wrong with building your own equipment either (what I am spending a Saturday doing, after posting here, of course). In any case, it's dishonest for a University to hand out PhDs to people who are not able to get jobs for lack of training.

  • Finance (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mad Martigan (166976) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @05:06PM (#9662750) Homepage
    This is one of the reasons I'm going into the field of finance instead of teaching.

    When I started grad school (I'm a second year student in math), they told me, "When you're done you will almost certainly have to teach. Really good students will be able to land a post-doc right when they get out. You .... won't."

    Then, after slaving away at a three-year post-doc (or, more ilkely, multiple one-year post-docs), I could maybe get a teaching job. That's a big maybe, too. People fight tooth and nail for teaching jobs.

    Even if I could get a job, the pay is relatively low. Don't get me wrong, even bad teachers at mediocre colleges make enough money to get by, but the pay that you're getting for having a Ph. D in Math is lower than you would think is fair for the amount of effort you put into the degree.

    So, I've decided to get a job in finance [numa.com]. There's cooler jobs than you think. For example, my bachelor's degree was in math and computer science. Well, there're these jobs called 'quantitative developers' that combine your (very high level) understanding of math with C++ or JAVA development skills. You get to do math and code, and all for pay that is (on average) much higher than what people got at the height of the tech boom in the late '90s. It's not just the money, either. You wouldn't believe how much great theoretical math there is finance. Most academics will tell you that they're in it for the science, and that's why they can put up with lower pay. I say, why bother if you can do the science in the private sector? It's not quite as nice an environment as academia, but it sure pays well enough to help blur the distinction.

    With the scarcity of academic positions, people from lots of different fields, such as math, physics, and engineering are heading to the finance sector. Hopefully, I'll be at the front of the pack.
  • by Wansu (846) on Saturday July 10, 2004 @10:36PM (#9663958)


    This article should have been written long ago. It was true then and it's true now. There has never been a shortage of engineers or scientists. There certainly have been shortages of engineering jobs. As the article pointed out, these shortage claims were made by those interested in increasing the supply of workers for the purpose of holding down their wages. What they mean is theres a shortage of engineers at the nice price. By a similar line of reasoning, I conclude theres a shortage of gasoline at the price of $1 per gallon.

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