Saturday, February 27, 2010

Too many Ph.D's

In the article titled, "Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists?", Beryl Lieff Benderly, a fellow of the American Associaton for the Advancement of Science, argues that the U.S. educational system actually produces too many qualified researchers for too few positions, and that a perverse funding structure perpetuates the problem. She says,

is not top-flight technical talent but attractive career opportunities for the approximately 30,000 scientists and engineers—about 18,000 of them American citizens—who earn PhDs in the U.S. each year. But today, however, few young PhDs can get started on the career for which their graduate education purportedly trained them, namely, as faculty members in academic research institutions. Instead, scores of thousands of them spend the years after they earn their doctorates toiling in low-paying, dead-end postdoctoral “training” appointments (called postdocs) in the laboratories of professors, where they ostensibly hone skills they would need to start labs of their own when they become professors. In fact, however, only about 25 percent of those earning American science PhDs will ever land a faculty job that enables them to apply for the competitive grants that support academic research. And even fewer—15 percent by some estimates—will get a post at the kind of research university where the nation’s significant scientific work takes place.....The firms using the largest number of H-1B visas, the type of immigration document that admits highly skilled temporary residents to the U.S workforce, are not supposedly talent-starved American technology companies but Indian-owned firms in the business of outsourcing work from American companies to the subcontinent.

Everyone who enters graduate school knows that the chances of getting a faculty position is less than 15%. After all, the number of graduate students graduating every year can not be equal to the number of faculty positions available. This article is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that someone with a PhD should have to strive for a career in academia and wind up as a tenured professor at a major research university. But scientifically trained people are needed at all levels of society. A PhD, more often than not, indicates some one with good skills in science, willing to work hard and likes doing what he/she likes to do. Many employers value this quality and that's why you can find successful people with PhDs in science or engineering even in the financial or consulting firms. However, another problem, which is not the focus of this article, may need fixation which is that the brightest undergraduates do not continue to pursue graduate studies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Publish or perish

As the attitude of publish and perish spreads indiscriminately in the developing countries, new problems emerge. In a recent article titled Science paper trade booms in China, the author states,

He defined five questionable paper-publishing practices in China: charging exorbitant publication fees, where instead of a peer review systems authors pay hundreds or thousands of yuan for publication in a journal; the establishment of illegitimate journals; ghostwriting of papers; paper brokering, where authors pay agencies to get their papers published in particular journals; and the fabrication of awards by illegitimate journals.

The open-access as well as the e-only journals have had an effect, which was not originally intended. Thus many dubious publishers have started new e-only open access journals, which bypass the peer review process and publish anything by charging exorbitant publication fees ranging from $1000 to $3000 per paper. Thus, we have a situation where nearly 5000 journals are published in India but less than 50 journals are actually indexed in Web of Science. In many institutions (not IITs), a point system is followed wherein 1.5 to 2 points are alloted for a publication in an international journal and 1 point to a national journal. In these institutions, selection and shortlisting for an interview call is done by an administrator who does not know the difference between a paper in Nature and a paper in some unknown non-peer reviewed journal.  The administrator just looks at the names of the journals and classifies them. For example, a paper in proceedings of the national academy of sciences (PNAS) is often classified as a national journal while a paper in International journal of beekeeping would be an international journal.

Despite the flaws and subjectiveness of a peer review system and a selection committee, it seems essential in this age of fake journals and dubious publishing practices.