Glut of biologists (was Re: Shortage of biologists)

C.J. O'Kelly COKelly at
Tue May 25 19:43:19 EST 1993

Kudos at least to Bill Pearson and Brian Fristensky for risking net
flames and The Wrath Of The System to portray their view (IMHO, a true
one, however unpalatable) of the plight of the would-be scientist in
this world.

The situation in New Zealand is similar to that in Canada and the US -
except that political and financial restraints on the entry of overseas
(foreign) students are so stringent that we usually have to make do with
domestic applicants.  And these students usually finish their university
education at the same institution at which they started.  So if your
program is on the outer with quality secondary school grads ...

I do not think that scientists, the world over (even the east asians are
feeling it, judging from comments I received during my tour of Japan and
the Republic of Korea last August/September), have accepted the fact
that, in the modern post?industrial world, there are too many simpler,
easier and sexier ways to make a good living than by undertaking a
career in science.  In either industry or academe.  In a world that
values money, and those who can make it out of fast reactions
(basketball players, foreign exchange brokers, computer hackers :-),
Sesame Street), and does not value (relative) poverty and "deep
thought", I cannot see how the situation can be otherwise.

Moreover, I think that academe is digging its own grave on this.  Given
the value system of today's society, science educators -should- be
saying "This field is -only- for those who are -called- to it (cf.
priests, ministers) and who have the mental and physical abilities to
make the grade at the highest level."  As Brian has pointed out, we do
this in football and hardly anybody complains.  Nor does this deny
anybody the right to play football - only the expectation that anybody
who can grasp a pigskin can play for the 49ers.  [My home team would
have to be the Patriots :-(.]  We will not do this for science, hell,
fat chance of any administrator accepting this policy for a university
science department.

Here in New Zealand, universities are hoist on the petard of Equivalent
Full Time Students (EFTSs).  Funding from public sources is entirely
dependent on the numbers of students sitting papers (taking courses).
Keep them dogies movin, yo ho!  The consequences of a science unit
insisting on proper educational standards would be instantaneous
financial and political disaster.  Tenured staff might even get sacked.

The cynical will say that, in North America, the grad student market is
more about getting cheap labor for labs than it is about educating the
next generation of scientists.

Is it any real wonder, then, that we produce lots of people who cannot
do the jobs in science that society requires, and who do not even
perceive that they cannot?  Is it any real wonder that such people pale
by comparison with folk from overseas countries where higher standards
are needed for mere survival, and who are willing to take jobs that
natives consider beneath their dignity (my current salary as a New
Zealand Senior Lecturer  with eight year's experience in the job - about
matches the fourth year of Associate Professor status in the US - is
roughly equivalent to a US or Canadian postdoc - and NZ is thought to be

rich ...)?

IMHO, the ultimate fate of university graduate science departments will
be massive downsizing, as only a few quality units will survive and the
rest will collapse under their own dead weight.  Maybe that will end the
glut we are currently experiencing and make the science career, by sheer
necessity, socially valuable again.  In a generation or so.

Judah didn't listen to Jeremiah either.  Didn't make him any less

Charley O'Kelly
Mad Phycologist

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