Many PhDs Can't Find Jobs
Former Secretary of Education, William Bennett, has written a book, Is College Worth It?. Evidently even education experts are starting to question the value of obtaining a college education especially if it means taking on a mountain of debt, and there is no guarantee that once graduated there will even be a job there waiting so that payments on that debt can even begin. If not, the college graduate faces delinquency, default and penalties that can add greatly to the original debt making it all but insurmountable and one that will follow the individual for the rest of his or her life.
There seems to be a myth that a college education is part of the American dream and that not having acquired one makes one a loser. However, consider this. Some of the greatest contributors to society and some of the richest people never graduated from college. Billionaires such as Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the late Steve Jobs, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell of Dell Computers and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey are all college drop-outs and high tech guys. So not graduating from college didn't limit their intellectual or technical development or achievements.
Contrary to popular belief most of the great contributors to society have been tinkerers and hobbyists rather than college graduates. Just one example: the personal computer. The first real computer was made by Steve Wozniak who was co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs himself actually knew nothing about computer hardware or software. He couldn't program to save his soul. Steve Wozniak was a hobbyist who actually single-handedly created the first computer, the Apple I. He had the hands on know-how to place electronic components on a circuit board in the most efficient manner. Without him Jobs would have had nothing to sell. By the way Wozniak was also a college dropout.
With the dearth of available jobs for college graduates, more pundits are advising young people to create their own jobs. Today you cannot expect that a job will just be provided to you. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says Need a Job? Invent It. He writes: "[Today] there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation."
Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner says:
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
No less a figure than the President of Princeton University, Shirley Tilghman, one of the nation's leading molecular biologists, has dispelled the myth that, as President Obama said, "we need more scientists; we need more engineers". In fact there is a surplus of scientists and engineers contrary to the conventional wisdom. PhD postdocs are piling up working in universities at low wages because that can't get hired in regular university positions as professors.
Tens of thousands of PhDs are stuck in postdoc purgatory. They work basically as temp labor for professors. They work 60 to 80 hours a week at a salary that averages $8 to $12 an hour. Dr. Tilghman says she can't recommend the scientific life to Princeton undergraduates when their prospect for having a decent middle class life will take till they're in their late 30s at least. Most of the smart ones abandon their science PhDs and go on to medical school or Wall Street.
There's been a huge increase in the number of PhDs being turned out but faculty positions are remaining quite flat says Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University. 25,000 PhDs a year are graduated in science and engineering, and the system can't absorb them. The system is pumping out more and more PhDs who are going into postdoc limbo because the amount of Federal funding has been flat. There are hundreds of applicants for a single position. Too many PhDs are chasing too few jobs says Dan Rather.
Aaron T Dossey, PhD, is working on experiments to help feed malnourished children around the world. He's doing his groundbreaking research from the kitchen of his one bedroom apartment. He's an unemployed entrepreneur hoping that his work will eventually land him a job. After 6 years and 3 postdocs, he not only has not landed a full time job, he is becoming less marketable as time goes on. Notwithstanding the fact that he received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $100,000. he is still running out of money, working part time at Home Depot and living off his savings. He eats his meals off the 99 cent menu at fast food restaurants. When he runs out of money, he'll probably move back in with his family. He's 35 now and he's contemplating the fact that his research career may soon be over.
When asked if there were too many scientists for too few jobs, Princeton President Tilghman said unequivocally, "Yes." Many of these students are very idealistic and gifted. They've bought the proposition hook, line and sinker that, if they only work hard, they will some day be in a position to make a contribution to society and be rewarded for it. The truth is that there is a logjam of PhDs as well as MSs, BSs, and BAs and, rather than hanging around as postdocs into their forties, they are going into real estate, law, medicine or cab driving. It goes without saying that the students of today should size up their eventual prospects before they dedicate ten or twenty years of their life to a pursuit that goes nowhere.
Because of the obvious drawbacks of following a myth that says a college education always pays off, I wrote a blog some years ago giving ten reasons not to go to college. I think it applies more than ever today. The first thing is that it's ridiculous to go deeply into debt without even the guarantee of a job. My strategy would be to learn a trade while in high school with which one could always at least pay the bills, and then pursue other goals whether in terms of education or in terms of entrepreneurship or in terms of enjoyment of life on the side rather than betting the farm on the fact of procuring a good job after so many years in college and a piece of paper that says you've graduated from such and such an institution.
One of the things that could alleviate the PhD logjam would be to create a space for independent scholars such as Aaron Dossey. He had a good approach. Work out of your home if you can't get set up properly in a lab. If only he could have gotten a string of those $100,000. grants, he could have continued to do it.
Aaron Dossey, PhD, is thinking about filing for unemployment.