So you were kicking yourself for pursuing that Ph.D. in humanities, just because it was a subject that made you passionate and that you thought you could excel in and maybe even make a real contribution to knowledge-building, teaching, and all that? Well, move over, pal, and make room for your colleagues from STEM.
Yeah, that would be the ones we’re told we need so many more of.
Turns out we’ve got a glut of those, too. Or maybe not so much a glut as simply a failure of will on the part of the body politick and corporate leadership to fund basic research. NPR recently ran a piece titled When Scientists Give Up, whose author detailed the failure of funding in the hard sciences and the consequent exit of scientists fed up with living on grad-student wages. One man, a tenure-track bioscientist at UC whose career path included Johns Hopkins(!) and Penn State and who has published in tier-one journals, threw it all over to buy a small-town grocery store. Another, a UC Berkeley Ph.D., is starting a distillery.
This article has generated three hundred and fifty-two responses. Overall the tenor echoes the sound of the humanities adjunct: the groan of those who are screwed, shafted, and living in poverty.
I was generating $3 million a year in billable services working in an IVF laboratory and I was begging them for a raise to go from $36K to $38K! No 401K and no pension and no overtime. We used to sneak into pharma lunches and pick off the stale food to avoid paying for dinner in the cafeteria! I had to fight to get them to pay for me to go to our annual scientific meetings so I could stay current. The job demanded 60+ hours a week, but because I was salary, I was “exempt” from labor laws. I was driving a 1979 Plymouth Horizon with 250K miles on it and repairing it in my spare time when it broke down. (I can now change an alternator in less than an hour!) 10 years later I had nothing saved, couldn’t afford a downpayment on a house and I gave up- I had to do something to get out from under the education debt. i couldn’t get a night’s sleep. Sales was nearly as demanding for time and urgency, we were expendable, but it certainly paid better. Later, when I worked in pharma sales- I’d order extra food so the lab techs could have something to eat. –Geraldine Merola
I have a Ph.D. from an ivy league university with more than 30 years working in academic (and some corporate) research. The US government invested millions of dollars training me and funding my research. I had to quit doing scientific research when I could no longer get any funding for my research laboratory, my own salary, and salaries for my assistants. I think the current glut of biomedical PhDs chasing (and failing to obtain) stagnant research dollars will have a chilling effect on US science for decades to come. That’s okay, there are plenty of other countries funding cutting edge biomedical research–we can just wait for them to publish their latest research. (Oh, you don’t read Chinese? too bad.) –Jen Jones
I am at the interface of life sciences and engineering. When I get enthusiastic young undergrads wanting to talk about research careers, I tell them the truth — Unless you go to the best schools working for the best professors and then still get very lucky, you will be bagging groceries when you are done and have wasted your entire 20s in the lab. If it wasn’t for a few personal connections, I would have never landed the tenure-track job I have now because I don’t have an undergrade at Ivy School A, a PhD from Ivy School B, and a postdoc at Ivy School C. The game is rigged and in a world of limited research money, it comes down to both luck and connections.
I need two PhDs for tenure consideration, but once I have tenure I will probably never train another PhD student. I won’t set up any more students to enter a world where their PhD is a burden to their careers and a waste of their time. –Mark99
It goes on and on like this. Overall the gist is that, like graduates in the humanities and social sciences, young STEM grads also find themselves unable to earn a living in the fields for which they spent years training — and for which the US taxpayer spent millions of dollars per student to train.
Once again we’re brought back to a thought I’ve posed elsewhere: that if we as a nation will not fund jobs for the best and the brightest, than we must legislate to prevent our young people’s exploitation. And that means federal and state quotas on the number of Ph.D. graduates any given university may have enrolled in any given year. Funding should depend on matching that quota: exceed it, and the institution is no longer eligible for taxpayer dollars.
That represents the easiest and the fastest way to bring a stop to the merciless abuse of graduate students and young doctorates. If you’re going to end up running a grocery store anyway, you might as well get started on it before you waste your time in graduate school.