Too Many Scientists

Here’s another field to add to the growing list of sectors where there aren’t enough jobs for people who are qualified to do them: Scientists. If you want to work in a lab, the job market is pretty tight right now.

Scientific American hinted at this in 2010 around the time when everyone was arguing that the U.S. education system lagged behind a lot of other countries when it came to science and engineering. In 2008, Bill Gates testified in front of Congress that, “We face a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers who can develop new breakthrough technologies.” There might not be a scientist shortfall, but to be fair to Gates, he also argued that there should be an increase in federal funding for scientific research because that money would go to create jobs for a new generation of scientists and researchers who would ensure that the U.S. would remain innovative and globally competitive.

It’s a little sad, because we do want the kids who dream about growing up and curing cancer to go ahead and pursue their ambitions, otherwise they might change their minds and use their brainpower to build us another social app that gives us discounts to something if we check in and pin our locations, and do we really want that?

Thanks Jon C. for the tip! Photo: Shutterstock/Zholobov Vadim

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9 Comments / Post A Comment

Weasley (#1,419)

I just finished a year long internship at one of the observatories on Mauna Kea and budget restraints dictated so much of the everyday conversation. This was an international observatory that had a partner country (not the US) pull out and it’s a huge problem. A lot of people are going to be laid off.

I also went to a yearly “state of the union” where all the directors of the observatories gave the scientific and financial status of their institutions and there were a couple that were like, “We have no money for this coming fiscal year and we’re not sure if we’re going to be around next year”.

It’s not just a problem for current observatories but the next generation of telescope (Think 30-meter primary mirrors) are having difficulty getting funding. The NSF actually has nothing to give them.

It’s good for interns though since we’re such cheap labor. I’m worried about about what will happen after I’m done with grad school (I’m about to enter my last year of undergraduate) because there are more and more people getting Ph.D’s in astrophysics but Universities are not creating more faculty positions to deal with this. So undergraduate classes are not only bigger but many of those students will have great difficulty getting faculty positions. Then people are having a more difficult time being scientifically productive because the observatories have less people and professors have much larger course loads.

I’d be interested to learn more about why the private sector is shedding science jobs. Obviously the federal science budget is important, but somebody needs to put the blue-sky ideas of the laboratory into practice.

Is it entirely because they are moving research offshore, as the article suggests?

@stuffisthings I work in Big Pharma, and all of the US/Europe scientist jobs are being replaced with contract workers in China and India. It’s cheaper on paper, but the “science” coming out of the CROs is abysmal.

Iglooramous (#1,397)

Want in on the next big start-up? PhD-erase. We eliminate all evidence that you completed a doctorate program, so that you can actually land a paying gig!

I see this all the time. Out here in SF there is no dearth of Bachelor-level scientist positions. But, if you’re a PhD, eek, it’s certainly going to take a while to lock anything down. It’s really sad. I know a lot of people who would actually pay to have evidence of their PhD erased, so that they can at least get in a lab.

acid burn (#113)

@Iglooramous Wait, really? In Portland, it’s the opposite. Don’t even bother applying for any position related to science unless you have at least a Masters (five years experience preferred).

Iglooramous (#1,397)

@acid burn Time to move! Certainly bachelor level scientists, even here, are being passed over for overly qualified and more highly educated people desperate for work. But, a lot of companies still just need lab rats and they seem to really like the price point difference. This is all supported by anecdata, to be sure, but for all the scientists I know, things here haven’t felt squeezed lately.

Can I just say that as a scientist with zero interest in working in the foul stew of self-importance and bitterness that is academia, I’m a bit sick of the idea that science = professor in a lab? Maybe fewer scientists are “landing a coveted academic position” because they’re doing something else? Seriously, my company cannot find enough biologists, hydrologists, geologists, and engineers to save our lives, and it sounds like all the other non-laboratory companies are the same this year. My job is pretty cool, I don’t feel like I’m missing out because I don’t have my own laboratory.

Marzipan (#1,194)

@MilesofMountains Seriously, where do you work? That sounds like what I’ve been looking for. biologist/environmental fieldwork/environmental consulting etc.

I agreed with stuffisthings in that I would really like to know more about the job-shedding in the private sector. I’ve heard some people blame it on major income-generating patents expiring in big pharma/generic drug use, but as I understand it those aren’t new policies and practices, so I wonder why they would be having new effects.

Also, I’m a postdoc whose grant is running out. I’m nervous about what’s next: the unknown. I’ve seen too many people as smart or smarter than me not get tenure to think that running my own academic lab would be a good idea.

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