Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now Where Have I Heard This Before?

Yesterday morning, I heard an NPR report that detailed more strife in a typically white-collar profession. Whose field do you suppose we're discussing?
"...schools routinely said that 90 percent or more of their graduates had jobs nine months after graduation. It turns out they were including barista positions, low-level marketing gigs, or just about anything else you could call a job." [Emphasis mine]
"At some schools, less than a third of their graduating class were obtaining long-term, full-time jobs" 
"A new study reveals that since 2009, the median starting salary...has fallen 35 percent." 
Any more of these posts, and I might
have to rename the blog!
Credit: Arrested Development
Give up? It's not chemists, it's lawyers (This story does seem to spring eternal, given earlier posts by Chemjobber and myself). The comparison's just too apt to pass up: young grads consider financial security, invest their time towards an advanced degree, and later awaken to an economy facing a glut of overeducated professionals.

To their credit, at least the American Bar Association (ABA) seems aware of the risk, and wants to inform newly-admitted legal students of the economic dangers. Their Nero, unlike ours, isn't fiddling while Rome burns. So, what lessons could Ph.D.-granting chemistry departments learn from the legal profession? 

Honesty - Brian Vastag's Washington Post article from two weeks ago really struck a chord, amassing nearly 3700 comments and prompting discussion up and down the blogosphere. Although it's a political talking point (STEM STEM STEM!), chemical graduate departments must take a page from the ABA and inform new recruits that the salad days of secure scientific employment have passed.

Transparency - As Janet Stemwedel recently mused: What does a chemistry Ph.D. get you? Are alternative careers really playing out? How are pharma salaries adjusting to the recession? Are stock options, benefits, or retirement plans really going away? Where will the jobs be in 10 years?

CJ's correct to call for career tracking; after all, we have the technology! Through a combination of email surveys, social network mining, digital IDs, online CVs, and employer reporting, we should be able to paint a more complete picture of the sci-employment landscape. Using data from past students, new grads could adequately prepare themselves, and younger students could better assess their decision to attend grad school.


  1. The House of Lords in the UK said that STEM graduates lack the skills required by UK industry.


  2. "Their Nero, unlike ours, isn't fiddling while Rome burns."