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Too Many Biomedical Graduate Students, Not Enough Jobs 226

stillnotelf writes "ScienceInsider is covering a National Institutes of Health advisory committee report that details problems in the U.S. biomedical research workforce. Current policies encourage the training of large numbers of biomedical graduate students, as they are the cheapest labor available, but the research enterprise is not structured to absorb them into full-time scientist positions. The report's varied suggestions include removing graduate student funding from investigator-linked research grants (shifting it to institution-linked training grants instead) and encouraging the hiring of staff scientists as permanent lab members. This would reduce the number of trainees, but increase the proportion of trainees that maintain careers as researchers. ScienceInsider further notes that a National Research Council report 14 years ago noted a similar problem, but never motivated change."
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Too Many Biomedical Graduate Students, Not Enough Jobs

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  • by neurocutie ( 677249 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:21PM (#40341935)
    The report cited is quite thoughtful and accurate in identifying trends, inefficiencies and recommends important solutions. Unfortunately the bulk of them cannot be implemented while maintaining US biomedical research excellence without a greater infusion of funds from Congress -- the system is the way it is partly because the research community is already being seriously squeezed for funding. If the Repubs/Romney have their way (Mitt has talked about a 20-30% slashing of NIH funding), then it really doesn't matter, as the whole system is headed for collapse and the US will truly fall behind and lose a decade or two at the least. The report is correct in looking at trends that span a decade, but even 4 years of a slashed budget would seriously cripple the system and drive away top talent. It is already happen even with the current NIH funding situation (very poor, less than 10% chance for any grant application to be funded).
  • Within the umbrella of biomedicine, there are vastly different job outlooks. Some areas can't hire post-docs and staff scientists fast enough. Others can't afford to pay anyone other than a grad student (who works for less than minimum wage in most cases).
  • by ph0rk ( 118461 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:51PM (#40342051)
    are nearly entirely made by people who don't know what they are talking about?

    This is a real problem in all of the sciences. The biomedical sciences have had the best money for a long time, and if they are beginning to have problems, it isn't good.

    For those not in the know: grad students are slave labor. postdocs are a notch better, but only barely. Remember how Gordon Freeman was treated in the intro to half-life? Consider that a documentary.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:51PM (#40342053)

    While this is also true, the current system is completely unsustainable unless the funding basically increases exponentially, which is never going to happen. The problem is that for each faculty (each lab), you typically have ~4 postdocs and ~4 PhD students at a time... so after 5 years, you've gone from needing 1 faculty position to 5. If they each get jobs, after another 5 years you're up to 25 positions... unless funding (and, equally as importantly, university positions/space) is going to increase exponentially, it eventually falls apart.

    It's exactly the same training problem as other fields (law, medicine) in that you're constantly training more people than there are current positions... except that in those fields if you really can't find a position, you can go open your own practice. In biomedicine, that's nearly impossible - any serious research lab is going to require a significant amount of funding and resources that you basically can't get outside the university/grant system, and it's very difficult to do a biomedical startup without having a prototype already existing (since it's biology, and the failure rate is high simply because we don't understand enough about most systems yet to know what will work and what won't without actually testing it).

  • In general, at the Bachelor's level, the material is extremely dense compared to the humanities, and the lecturers are selected based on their research value, not their didactic ability. I have rarely heard of someone switching into biology or medicine because they felt some other discipline was too hard. Since many of these degree programs require organic chemistry, getting through them with a decent average is a real trial by fire. Some of the graduates may not have the greatest critical reasoning skills, but surviving in such a program most definitely requires significant determination and dedication.

Money isn't everything -- but it's a long way ahead of what comes next. -- Sir Edmond Stockdale