Even the Science PhDs Are in Trouble

Despite frequent assertions from politicians and pundits that the United States desperately needs more students studying science and math, the Washington Post reports that Americans with science degrees aren’t finding jobs.

According to an article by Brian Vastag:

Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

“There have been many predictions of [science] labor shortages and robust job growth,” said Jim Austin, editor of the online magazine ScienceCareers. “And yet, it seems awfully hard for people to find a job. Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed.”

Part of the reason for this would be familiar to regular readers of this blog: because colleges are trying to cut costs, there simply aren’t that many full-time jobs available in academia. But traditionally science PhDs could still obtain relatively lucrative positions in private industry. That’s not true anymore either. According to the article:

The pharmaceutical industry once was a haven for biologists and chemists who did not go into academia. Well-paying, stable research jobs were plentiful in the Northeast, the San Francisco Bay area and other hubs. But a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe; and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry, with research positions taking heavy hits.

The job market isn’t nearly as bad as that for humanities PhDs, but it’s not very good either. It’s perhaps time to reconsider how much we want to push this as a policy initiative. Science is important, but it’s not necessarily lucrative, or even stable.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer