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.

21 comments:

Sachin Shanbhag said...

Dear Giridhar, I agree with you that academia is not the only outlet for PhDs, as the article presupposes. However, if you consider the case of US science and engineering PhDs, perhaps a different picture - closer to the article's thesis - starts re-emerging. About 50% of the PhDs awarded in these disciplines go to foreign students. Due to a complex visa system, outside of computer science related fields, many private employers are very reluctant to sponsor H1-B visas. US national labs have even more stringent nationality requirements. Which in a sense, makes academia highly attractive to a significant fraction of PhDs.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem of top undergraduates not pursuing PhDs is much more prevalent in India than in the US. I am an Indian PhD student in a top 5 American University and I am impressed by most graduate students here.

In India, the research atmosphere in general is frankly quite pathetic and there is a lack of "research culture", so few top undergrads pursue grad studies and even if they do, they come to the US.

RIK said...

i am interested in aerospace engineering and willing to go for phd in advanced space propulsion systems or advanced space propulsion systems design at IISc or IIST. However I after my PhD I wont be looking for a job in academics. I am more likely to go for either R&D in ISRO or any such agencies where I can get my field to work in. And I wont be comparing my salary with others especially when that would be quite enough to support my family. I will be happier with my work. And I dont think I am the only one of my kind.

Anonymous said...

Too many PhDs graduating from American universities? It depends if these PhDs decide to work in countries were they would be more necessary(?).

Anonymous said...

Prof. Madras,

I am joining IISc soon. A trivial question: Is maid servants easily available in the IISC campus. What is thee approximate cost.

Thanks

Giri@iisc said...

Maid servants are available in plenty. The cost depends on the work involved and can vary from 500 to 3000 per month.

Anonymous said...

Dear prof. Giridhar,
Have you deleted my post on 2nd March regarding the CASTE applicant? Is there any reason?

Anonymous said...

Again wrt to your last line, "it is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that" someone with a good undergrad GPA score is going to be a good PhD level researcher. So why should "bright" undergrad should do a PhD?

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Giridhar,
I am one of the applicants of faculty position in IIT, IISc and IISER. Unfortunately, I belong to CASTE category and have not used any facilities in my education. Sorry, I am not disclosing my name.
I have first div./class throughout my education. I qualified GATE with all India rank within 10. I qualified NET-CSIR twice. I did my PhD from one of the top 50 institutes in the world. Although, my basic background is in Mathematics and Computer Science (from IIT), I did my PhD in wireless communications. I find that I am more interested in this field. I have one year postdoc experience in USA (one of the top 10 University in USA) and one year postdoc in France (one of the top 10 University in France) , all in Electronics Departments. I have 5 international journal and 9 IEEE conference papers. Still when I apply in Mathematics or in Electronics and Communication Engineering Departments, almost I do not get any response from them. One of the Head of department of Electronics and Communication Engineering replied me that I am not eligible in Electronics and Communication Department since my basic background is not same. However, I got an interview letter for the faculty position from one of the department of Electrical and Engineering, IIT. They did not allow me for the interview in absentia. Most of the institutes (IIT, IISc and IISER) don’t provide any acknowledgement of my electronics application. I also don’t get any final decision after the interview, which I feel very disheartening.

My questions are: Am I not qualified for the faculty position in IIT, IISc or IISER? Or they are discriminating me as I belong to CASTE category. I know several assistant professors (some of them are my class mates) in IIT who do not have good academic record and number of publication as I have. From my experience, I should say that most of the selection committees discriminate CASTE applicants. Otherwise, why am I not getting any position in IIT, IISc and IISER?

I know the pain of getting discrimination. Still I don’t speak out because I know no one will listen to me. If so highly qualified and highly posted people (?) believe in CASTE systems, then there is no question to remove the quota system from such high professional institutes (?). I know most of the people will go against me but please respond only those who don’t believe in CASTE system by heart.

Anonymous said...

To: Anon 12:48

If you don't disclose your caste, how can the committee discriminate against you?

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Anon

Your comment of March 2, 2010 9:24 PM
stinks. You accuse me of deleting your comment. However, you posted the comment in the following and it is still there.

http://giridharmadras.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-website-for-prospective-and-new.html

Why do you accuse me of doing things that I did not do?

Giridhar

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Giridhar,
Sorry this was my mistake.

Anonymous said...

To: Anon 2:12

In the faculty application form they have column for caste category and they are asking to disclose it.

Mohit said...

sir i just wanted to know what is your comment regarding this years gate paper of chemical engineering compared to last years (2009) and what might be the marks-percentile range this year. Your last years comparison was a big help in speculating percentile in chemical engineering. Sir your reply in this matter will be a big help.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon March 3, 2010 12:48 AM,

regarding caste you can put your self
in general category if you dont want
to use your caste. please check it..
I think it is valid to not availing your caste benefits and put your
self in general category. Of course,
every one knows doing the vice versa
is crime.

Giri@iisc said...

"Again wrt to your last line, "it is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that" someone with a good undergrad GPA score is going to be a good PhD level researcher."

I did not say that a person with good undergrad GPA is a good researcher. I said that the brightest undergrads do not come for research. Brightest does not mean having the highest CGPA, it means the people who have the highest aptitude for research,

Regarding the comment on caste and its mention in the application, all I can say that the application form for the asst professor position in IISc does not require this information.

Giridhar

Mohit said...

Sir what about my query! Please reply to that also Sir.

Giri@iisc said...

Mohit,

I can not predict the marks and percentile. Last's year post was written AFTER the results are announced. Papers and candidates change every year and I can not do these predictions.

Giridhar

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Giridhar: I was very interested how IISc manages to avoid caste when IITs/IISERs can not. IISc does mention though that "Women candidates and applicants belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are especially encouraged to apply." This line looks good to me.

Kishore said...

Hello Sir, i have completed my BE in electrical and electronics engineering. And MS in embedded systems(Electronics dept). I am working as a Software engineer right now and very much interested in getting a Phd in computer science from iisc. Its been my dream since years. Could you please tell me if i am eligible for pursuing Phd in computer science keeping in mind my electronics background? I also intend to take up GATE in computer science as i do not want to apply without GATE. Also i had gone through the application procedure for GATE for th current year. There were options for selecting BE, Bpharm, Integrated Msc, Integrated Mtech, and so on. However there is no option available for selecting Mtech/MS, can you please throw some light on it. Could you please give your suggestions? Please help

Anonymous said...

With due respect about all the professors of IISc especially the ones of the department of Computer Science, I would like to say that most of the senior professors of IISc could not keep the pace with time as far as their mindset is concerned. They still think that Phd is a degree to get into teaching. Teaching is definitely an option after Phd but not the only option especially nowadays. If you look at US and Europe, more than 50% of the CS Phd from the top schools do not join academia not because they can not make it to academia but because they like research but not regular teaching. There are tons of excellent Phd students who join industry or launch their own start-up in parallel with continuing with their own research. The problem is that the so called senior professors of IISc can not take it well. I know some senior professors simply deny to talk/collaborate with people who work in industry(labs) after their Phd in spite of having excellent record of publication. Honestly speaking, people with this kind of mindset are burden not only to IISc but to entire nation. However in US and Europe, the collaboration between industry and academia is extremely cordial. There people very frequently switch from industry to academia and also the other way round which is quite unimaginable to these "so-called" senior professors of IISc. May GOD get us rid of these short-sighted and narrow-minded people.