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economics of science?

Postby Kim » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:42 am

A person is ultimately responsible for his/her own career choice.

I have more sympathy for people who went into PhD programs during the late 1980s and maybe early 1990s. At that time, the talk about the shortage of scientists and engineers was everywhere and advocated by many prominent scientists in the US. One of them is Atkinson, who was the Chancellor of UC San Diego at that time. Atkinson later was promoted to the President of University of California system for his promotion of science. A naive student may believe in the propaganda and subsequently made a wrong career choice.

I, however, have less sympathy for people who went into PhD program after 1995-6 and complained about it. By the late 1990s, the talk of shortage of scientists was already debunked. The talk became the glut of scientists. The signs were everywhere, in internet forum, in editorial pages of science journals, and in the labs...
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economics of science?

Postby Ken » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:47 am

"Salaries are governed by supply and demand. And the truth is that established scientists do quite well, thank you."

Are salaries determined by the free market? Really?

I think the complaints are primarily by graduate students and postdocs where salaries are clearly not governed by supply and demand. Graduate students get paid the same regardless of skill levels. In fact, I would say the better students, who end up going to the better schools which tend to be in high cost of living, metropolitan areas, end up doing worse financially!

You may be able to get a few more bucks if you are a hotshot postdoc, but clearly the salaries are set by the NIH grants, and NOT by the free market.

If the free market were allowed to reign on early career scientists, I think there would be a lot less room for complaining; you are, by definition, getting what you deserve. As it is now, any individual postdoc is receiving what the NIH has determined postdocs as a whole deserve.
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economics of science?

Postby Emil Chuck » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:53 am

I have to read up more on the NBER/NSF report, but my institution (i.e., Duke) has been in the throes of studying its diversity among its faculty and students. I have data about diversity among the postdocs which I have shared internally and may be willing to discuss "informally" at the upcoming National Postdoc Association meeting. But Madison's perception of a three-tiered system is an interesting one.

I'm trying to think of the demographics of our department chairs or deans. Gender-wise we're seeing progress though we still have problems with retention and tenure. The big problem I see is racially, but they are working on that (hiring more African-American/black faculty, though I am interested in hearing that there is subgrouping underrepresentation [African-based vs. Caribbean-based backgrounds]).

But of real interest to me is Asian-Americans. It's not obvious but I qualify in that demographic. I don't usually tout it much because for many years I recognize there is some odd animosity against Asian-Americans (and I won't go into details here). Many Asian-Americans really flock to MD or JD or MBA school, but not as many seem to go into graduate school. I was surprised to see myself as 1 of 28 grad students in my class who was Asian American (more shocked when I was one of the 7 men in that class). The other Asians were foreign nationals. I grant that my advisor grew up in Japan but was for all intents and purposes raised in the US. But I look over the landscape of the postdoc population and I don't see that many other Asian Americans like I would if I walked around the corridors of the medical school.

If you're worried about raw talent falling through the cracks, this is the demographic that is very troubling (to me). Not that I want to paint all the best and brightest students as being Asian-American, but maybe except for institutes in states like California and Massachusetts (where there may be a higher Asian-American population base), I don't know of that many "famous" Asian-American Ph.D. researchers (or administrators for that matter) at my own institution. Not that I need a role model but it is an interesting sign.
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economics of science?

Postby Kevin Rogers » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:29 am

Emil - don't you think that the lack of American-Asians in grad school is a cultural difference ? American Asian families put more emphasis on working towards a high paying job ?

maybe this is a stereotype I don't know - just curious.
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sociology of science?

Postby Emil Chuck » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:58 am

Again, I don't know any sociological literature on this (I'm trying to read up on these things in the context of understanding diversity).

From my own personal experience, yes, there is a cultural pressure to be sure that children (especially first-gen Americans) go for jobs that are relatively high-paying with a lot of job security. I admit I am a recovering pre-med. :) Through my exposure to high school students, there are a lot of Asian-American kids who are very good at math and science (heck, all academics), and I think their proportion in many of the excelling math/sci academies (Illinois Math and Science, Thomas Jefferson Science Tech, NC Science and Math as examples) have a pretty good proportion of Asian-backgrounded students.

So the dearth of this demographic is rather interesting to me. Not all Asian-Americans want to become lawyers or doctors, but I don't see that many Asian-American postdocs in chemistry, engineering, math, or physics here. My most recent survey of postdocs at Duke (via Sigma Xi) show that none of the participants in these departments identified himself/herself as Asian-American (there are some Asian Americans known to be in the graduate school here). Knowing that there exists quite a good number of these students before they enter college and as undergraduates, where the leak in the pipeline is (graduate school or postdoc) is of interest. I suspect the leak is strikingly similar as it affects other minority demographics. Maybe when they realize they have to deal with the struggle to get tenure and get grants.. but everyone has to struggle.

The other factor is that Asian Americans are not considered an underrepresented minority for the purposes of affirmative action-based scholarships. Maybe as an interesting control compared to the success of other programs for African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or other demographics for promoting these groups into science, technology, engineering, and math, I'm curious to see if Asian American students or Asians in general are being promoted into tenured and upper-level academic positions without this "help."

I'm still trying to think out what the effect of having so many foreign Asians in graduate school or postdoctoral positions have on the group of Asian-American students (undergraduate or graduate). I realize I am not as "demure" as the foreign Asians, and because I am interested in so many other things outside just my research, I probably am considered to be "less focused" than the foreign Asians. Do these foreign Asians behave as the "ideal lab worker" in a manner that turns off domestic Asians? I am not sure anyone can answer this question.
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economics of science?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Feb 18, 2005 1:13 pm

Hi E.J.

I liked your post, because I think it was good to see all the comments laid out in a concise manner. I would agree with Don and one or two others who felt it was tinged with a bit too much negative, however. My reason for saying this is that science jobs don't seem a whole lot different than other disciplines and other kinds of jobs. Every "trade" has a process that you have to go through in order to "make it." Science is different, but I don't really think that the rewards are all THAT much different than other jobs. I work with people in the biotechnology industry, and some of the salaries these young people make are just sky-high. While every niche has its ups and downs, there are certainly a lot of people who are well-rewarded for the work they do in industry.

What I agree with you on, and what I don't like, is the tendency that we have to put this "holding period" into the process, the Postdoc. I hate to hear that Postdocs are expanding to 3-5 years. A lot of times, this happens when the person hasn't been taught job-seeking skills and they get caught up in some kind of traditional "mail-the-CV" thing. They don't get offers dumped in their laps, and so they take on another Postdoc.

I think that a person has to start getting really nervous at the end of their second year of Postdoc. They need to be really thinking at that point about what their next move is, and where they plan to head. If it is industry, 2-3 years of postdoc is about all you can do and still remain in the game.

Forget the conspiracy theory. This is just the way the world of work works. I just spoke to an architect friend, whose son just graduated with an advanced degree. He's having one hell of a tough job search, and it all sounded so much like a scientist looking for work. Same problems, same "low pay and an internship" kind of scenario that is just like a postdoc.

When I am occasionally reminded of how difficult my job search was many years ago, I think that it is more of a right of passage than anything else.

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economics of science?

Postby Madison » Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:21 pm

Dave, I sooo agree with you about preparing early to move on. People expect it to be easy, and get disenchanted and/or angry when they realize that it isn't. I don't understand the sense of entitlement that so many postdocs have - like just because they've worked hard and sacrificed that people will bend over to give them a high-paying job. You have to work at it; like anything else worth having.
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economics of science?

Postby Kevin Rogers » Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:53 pm

part of the problem is the sense of entitlement is created by Profs - they say something like just produce good quality science and the rest will take care of itself - because thats what worked for them

if you are in an environment where this is the prevelant attitude then how are you going to learn any different ? The sense of entitlement comes from this ivory tower isolation.
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economics of science?

Postby Andrew » Fri Feb 18, 2005 3:10 pm

You learn different by reading and making contacts outside the tower. I see a lot of anger from people who feel that they were lied to by teachers, then Professors all who told them to stay in school, just study what interests you, and you'll get a job. They follow that advice, study plant biology or membrane protein structure, can't get a job, and somehow feel they have been betrayed. You can get advice from teachers, professors, and message board posters, but ultimately you are responsible for your own career choices. A lot of people don't seem to get that.

I agree with you though about how it happens. One gets a feeling that there is almost an implied social contract that if you get a PhD, you'll end up employed, but it doesn't really exist. Not for many years, anyway.
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economics of science?

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:15 pm

Nick is right here. Supposedly you work hard and it will pay off. Post-docs feel that they have worked hard enough and want some kind of return--is that so hard to ask for? Is that really some kind of entitlement? I don't think so. If people are strung along to believe that there is something at the end; that working hard will get you there, then people are going to go for it. Things are not like they were 10 years ago, especially with the NIH budget again decreasing. I guess people are enamored with the rags to riches stories and think that living in the post-doc ghetto, in fact, will lead to something good at the end. This is how low stipends are justified!
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