Daniel Lemire's blog

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NSF Reports No Geek Shortage

2 thoughts on “NSF Reports No Geek Shortage”

  1. Mike Stiber says:

    Has there ever been a shortage of PhDs? Unless grad students are more naive than in my day, I don’t think that there are any “promises of great prestige and fortune”. Even I, someone who had little idea of what academia would be like aside from reading popular science articles, knew that the money I was forgoing in grad school would never be made up. And anyone who has ever heard President Bush speak (and win re-election) knows that prestige and contempt are neck-and-neck in the public’s minds, at best. No, we go to grad school because we really don’t have much choice: something drives us.

  2. Mike,

    When I began my Ph.D., the University of Montreal stated they wanted to double their faculty size in 10 years (what happened was a reduction instead!!!) and their greatest challenge would be to have enough Ph.D. holders to fill the ranks (their greatest challenge is choose one applicant out of 100 each time they open a position). At about the same time, many articles were written about “Science and Engineering Ph.D. shortages”. These articles were not balanced and fall squarely in the realm of propaganda.

    As early as 2002, I was told by the dean of a university that he was flooded by requests **from industry** for more Ph.D.s That’s the story he told all new students. Well, in Montreal, Nortel has closed most or all of its R&D labs. Solid science jobs in industry, right now, in Montreal? Maybe the pharmaceutical companies, or entrepreneurship. That’s it. Sure you can go and create a company and earn a good living with a Ph.D., and I did it, but not all of these students can do it.

    I’ve worked in industry, I’ve worked in academia, I’ve worked for a government lab. Nowhere have I seen any shortage of Ph.D.s These are lies. They are lies from universities to get more funding, and lies from industry to get cheaper labor.

    Should we just let these lies pass by because “the students ought to know” or “they would get the Ph.D. anyhow”. I don’t think that’s quite right. Some of these students may opt out for another path if they know what awaits them: 5 years for the Ph.D., 5 years for a post-doc, 4 years of tenure-track… and then, possibly, an average salary or unemployment. I’m thinking, in particular, of people who want to have a family, buy a house early, and so on.

    You know what happens to these folks who got a Ph.D. and just assumed there would be a spot for them? I see them all around me. They are lecturers earning $30k a year on the fringe of society. At the school I work, 65% of all classes are offered by lecturers. Professors only give 1/3 of all classes. Are they happy? Probably not. A lot of them are miserable. Can they go to industry? Most of them simply do not have the skills industry required for solid non-research positions. Can they start companies? Sure, but when you are in your thirties, you started a family, is it the right time to risk it all? Maybe. I don’t know.