The Higher Education bubble is a persistent theme over at Instapundit, and I thought an observation he made about the constant yammering about the need for scientists among politicians is pretty spot on:
I was talking with someone the other day who advanced the proposition that there are probably only 50 really first-rate scientific minds produced in the United States every year. And then came the question: Does the current system of training and funding scientists encourage those 50 to stay in the game, or to find something else to do?
Original post here. At my previous small pharma company that went under a year ago, I was one of the highest paid employees that wasn’t in executive management. The typical person in my field has a bachelors degree, or usually at most a master’s degree. I hold a B.S. in Computer Engineering. Many of the people making less than me held a Ph.D. in Chemistry or Biology. If we were truly short on this skill, the market would pay these people more. As it is, the pharmaceutical industry has a glut of scientists. Many of the people I’ve worked with have not found new permanent employment, and those that have took pay cuts.
The problem is, as Professor Reynolds mentions, that many scientists just have the wrong skills. Just because you have a Ph.D. doesn’t make you any more immune to marketplace changes than anyone else. The fact is that bench chemistry is something easily outsourced to places like China and India, where labs can be run for a fraction of the cost they can be run here. Also, not all bench chemistry requires an advanced degree. The people I know who are still employed, and who improved their lot in terms of career, were experienced medicinal chemists who were very good at analyzing data, and understanding what the data was telling them about where to go in their design process for a potential drug.
The fact is, the market right now is absolutely saying we need fewer, but better scientists. Anything politicians are telling you about a shortage, at least in the fields of Chemistry and Biology, is a load of bunk.