The Ph.D. Glut: Do We Have Too Many Ph.D.s?

“Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.”

-Albert Einstein

While still a lowly graduate student, I recall how my own mentor, who was a seasoned postdoc with several high impact publications, applied for many university faculty positions to no avail. He struggled for two years until an assistant professorship finally came through. I also recall how another postdoc, who was brilliant scientist in the laboratory, meekly accepted the daily abuses piled on by his mentor. When asked why he didn’t just quit and find another job, his response was “Where am I going to go?”

Something is seriously amiss in the postdoctoral world. In a recent Nature (2011) article, Cyranoski and his colleagues report how the number of newly-minted Ph.D.’s increased by 40% between 1998 and 2008 in countries that are part of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). According to the National Science Foundation (NSF 10-308, 2009), United States academic institutions awarded almost 32,827 science and engineering doctorates in 2008, as opposed to 24,608 in 2002. That is an increase of over 33% in just 6 years. Doctorates in the life sciences accounted for the majority of the degrees awarded (16%) and also had the highest rate of increase across these years (8.6%). Continue reading “The Ph.D. Glut: Do We Have Too Many Ph.D.s?”