Education As the Key to a Bright Future, Again

I see that others are beginning to recognize the point that I made several years ago, that if you want more scientists you need to produce more jobs for scientists:

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it’s questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

The smartest math PhD I know is working at, essentially, the same job as he held before he got his doctorate, working as a computer programmer. Outside of a handful of fields, e.g. petroleum engineer—a field that produces fewer than 300 new graduates with bachelors annually from just a handful of programs nationally, or biomed, enormously subsidized, there just aren’t a lot of jobs out there. Even biomed is shrinking:

The pharmaceutical industry once was a haven for biologists and chemists who did not go into academia. Well-paying, stable research jobs were plentiful in the Northeast, the San Francisco Bay area and other hubs. But a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe; and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry, with research positions taking heavy hits.

Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs, according to an analysis by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In the latest closure, Roche last month announced it is shuttering its storied Nutley, N.J., campus — where Valium was invented — and shedding another 1,000 research jobs.

It’s hard to tally the unemployment rate among STEM PhDs. Lots of them take jobs as post-docs at paltry wages and post-docs that used to last only a year or so are stretching into 5, 8, or 10 years.

The decline in hiring by pharmaceutical companies cannot be explained by inadequate consumer demand. Further, spending on marketing (and lobbying!) continues to rise.

I’ve made my suggestion before: stop funding science, start funding mass engineering projects. At least there are residuals.

8 comments… add one
  • sam Link

    “I’ve made my suggestion before: stop funding science, start funding mass engineering projects. ”

    Manned mission to Mars comes to mind.

  • Icepick Link

    Presidents have been talking up STEM (some moreso, some less-so)as long as I can remember following Presidents. Not a one of them has encouraged THEIR children into STEM fields. I doubt there are many STEM types amongst the children of any of our lords and masters. They want OTHER PEOPLE’S children to go into those fields so their children, in law, finance, government, politics and lobbying, can make a bundle off them doing other things. It’s just another scam – for the Dems to pump money to their compatriots in governmental education services, for the Republicans to pump money into the Defense industry.

  • Presidents have been talking up STEM (some moreso, some less-so)as long as I can remember following Presidents.

    In my memory it’s been the case since Sputnik, since What Ivan Knows That Johnny Doesn’t. However, there’s a big difference between now and 50 years ago: the federal government was putting money into electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, math, and physics in the form of the space program.

    What I don’t remember from back then is higher education as economic plan. I think that’s a folie à trois of the last three administrations. I don’t remember it before then.

  • Since my wife is about to receive her doctorate in nuclear engineering, I humbly suggest a massive investment in nuclear technology.

  • I humbly suggest a massive investment in nuclear technology

    Actually, one of the projects I like is along these lines but I’m not sure it would make you happy. I like the idea of small scale, mass-produced thorium reactors.

  • jan Link

    Congratulations to both your wife and you, Andy!

  • Thanks jan!

  • Ran across this today which should resonate here.

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