Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

NSF Reports No Geek Shortage

Slashdot reports that there is no geek shortage. One of the comment is interesting:

There is a glut of Ph.D’s in the US creating an over-competitive environment that’s drastically deflating the pay level. What really should be done, is restricting the Ph.D’s that schools push out to help overcompensate for the over inflation. But this won’t happen. Why? Grad students are cheap labor for PI’s. Schools accept grad students not because they are interesting in training and bringing more qualified people into the field, but rather because they need them to work for PI’s. A PI is only as good as his/her grad students. If you add in a post-doc period, you are looking at, in some cases, 10 years (a figure nowadays that has been increasing as many people are having to do multiple post-docs) of getting paid 1/2 of what you would have gotten if you had just gone straight into industry. Mind you, this isn’t a bread and butter time either. This is a period where (in most cases), people are spending ridiculous hours working weekends/nights trying desperately to get data. And for what? An even more competitive academic environment where the positions to applicants ratio is (in some fields) 1:10. We haven’t even gotten to the whole tenure track part. Add in all these factors and it is not surprising that 1 in 3 of these students never even complete their graduate “training”–most fighting for a masters.

I hate to seem pessimistic, but this article is long overdue, and at the same time, disturbing. We are flooding the market with ambitious bright individuals with promises of great prestige and fortune.

I really think they need to make a “Sims:The rise to professor” game depicting the rather long and gruesome journey to professorship. It would have to be realistic, so on average, you should only be winning, say, 5% of the time. Most people don’t realize how different the actual and perceived opinion of prospective graduate students is from the actual reality of academia. I’m actually quite surprised that only 4-5% of Ph.D’s are working outside their field (mind you, this figure doesn’t include people that wanted to be in academia but couldn’t get a position and ended up in industry). Sadly, I know a few that are working in simple jobs as security guards.