PhD, Grants: Reply to Dr.Love

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Nov 23 12:03:02 EST 1995

Comments to Dr. Love from Alex Berezin

On 23 Nov 1995, Dr Love wrote:

> berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:
> >
> >
> >Despite all the efforts of grantsmanship barons
> >to downplay the issue of the exploitation of
> >young scientists, the voices of protest are 
> >growing.
> >
> >Recent column in New Scientist (14 October 1995,
> >p. 14, see also Editorial on p. 3) titled "Stuck on
> >the Road to Nowhere" gives numerous examples of
> >cynicism and cheat young scientists (predominantly, 
> >postdocs) are facing from the members of the 
> >establishment: 
> >
> > "Hire 'em young, stack 'em high, then fire 'em".
> >
> >The short-termism, PhD overproduction, and lack of 
> >true prospect is the inevitable result of the major
> >evil of the present NIH/NSERC/NSF.....
> [snipped]

> Hello Alex (et al,),
> Normally I irrate people in the newsgroup, 
> but this sting caught my eye.
> I totally agree with you that the current situation encourages 
> the overproduction of PhDs.
> I disagree, howver, with the "cures"  you presrcribe. (and 
> which  I snipped). The answer is not to develop a whole new 
> system which will distribute money directly to grad students. 
> This is like taking aspirin for releif of a headache who's 
> underlying cause is a tumor!

Please don't underestimate the power of sarcasm. I fully
AGREE with you on the above: when I was suggesting to
move PhD student funding FROM profs to independent 
scholarships this is simply the first step (likely
inconclusive and even likely not very efficience) to
attack of the present reward system of Academia when
profs producing most PhD are getting the highest credits,
grants, etc. In the PRESENT situation this reward 
system is contrproductive and quicky deteriorates 
into explicitly immoral (see more below).

> We must stop making PhDs! (Until the market improves).   

Reading John Ziman and several other thinkers, we
gradually getting to the realization that the 
improvement of the "PhD market in the near [ or even
'far' future" is highly unlikely to happen. And
the reasons for this are fundamental, not just 
ecomony recession as many think now. This does not 
NECESSARILLY mean the end of intellectuality and
scholarship (although the CHANCE IS that it augures
precisely this), but what it likely foretells is the
impending change of the role model. Classical image 
of university prof, "PhD" was workable for 300 years 
and many factors are now pointing out that it is 
about to get outlive itself.

Master degree is actually getting MORE valued now
than PhD. I've recently heard a small talk to the effect: 

"If you have Master they will probably hire you because 
they think you are smart enough to get Master. If you
have a PhD they will probably NOT hire you because
they think [ correctly, for the most part - AB ] that 
you you have been such a fool to spend several years 
getting it, you probably be fool in the rest".

(the above may not yet come into the full force,
of course, but the symptomes are getting stronger).

> Stipends are bait for the undergrads to take. Wiggle a few 
> thousand dollars in front of a senior who has been living 
> on less and his/her eyes light up and they  say "Hey, that 
> ain't bad. I'll stay in school (or go back) and get a PhD 
> and then I'll be able to get a GOOD job!" 
> (Ha Ha).  Stipends create an artifical market. And (to my 
> knowledge) they only occur in sciences (to any great extent).

Agree with you. Actually, my comment above is to the
same effect. 


> Med students, law students etc. don't get stipends (and 
> there are only a few scholarships) because they don't need 
> that kind of economic encouragement. They go to a bank and 
> when they say they have gotten into a law or medical school, 
> the bank  manager falls all over himself to give him/her
> a loan. But if you told that same bank manager that you 
> have been accepted into a grad program to get a PhD in Bio, 
> Chem, etc, he will  _not_ offer you a loan. Why?  
> Because he knows (and so do the PhDs) that this young guy/gal 
> full of enthusiasm and enervg is a bad loan risk. Even if 
> she/he gets a job, it will be sporadic (yearly contracts) and so 
> competeitive that repayments are questionable. The Lawyers 
> and Doctors, on the other hand, have thier careers "tracked" 
> into big money and security..

Can't blame bank manager on a judgment failure. I would
recommend though that the loans to attend Master program
(not Mickey Mouse) are still not that bad in risk factor,
and certainly much better than PhD. 

> To stop the postdoc glut we should get rid of stipends! 
> That would _force_ the "dreamers" to face the hard cold 
> reality of asking, "gee, what is the job market really  
> like for a PhD if I can't even get a loan (easily) to do 
> it?!". Would you have spent years in pursuit of your PhD 
> if you had to pay for it?! Few would. 
> Stop stipends. They distort the market, encourage the over 
> production of PhDs and hide the truth from the young fools.

Agree. Time is gone for good when it was a matter
of proud for the older prof to display 20-30 PhD
thesis he/she suprvised. At a repalcement level
(again, John Ziman's book) each prof need to produce
(average) only one PhD in a LIFETIME. And certainly
by now any prof who SIMULTANEOUSLY has several
PhD students should get about as much social
appreciation and respect as a man who made pregnant
several women simultaneously. 
> Naturally, this won't happen. (Nor will the other 
> suggestions I've seen here).

I am not that pessimistic on the above. It MAY happen
if instead of completely futile attemps to re-educate
scientific establishement (slaveonewrs) the message
will be directed to those who ACTUALLY control the purse.
Gingrich and Co. seem not to be totally out of hope
to get this message at a receiver end. Perhaps to
begin with, instead of total cancelleation, they
should try suspension of grants and NEW scholarsips
for, say, 3 years and see what will happen with
"Big Science" (nothing will). As somebody recently 
noticed if 90 % of all science to disapper no-one 
will notice.

> Too many PIs need fresh cannon-fodder for thier 
> research and stipends are cost effective to the 
> PI. Established scientists will fight any move to
>  kill stipends because it would kill thier cheap 
> labor (and the postdocs they produce as cheap labor 
> as well).

I am more optimistic on knocking them out.
Let me explain you why.

Firstly, the money is not theirs but yours and mine 

Secondly, to fight for long they need guts which
they don't. Present grantsmanship mafia (secretive 
peer review, you-fund-me-fund-you, etc) are more 
like a pack of cards in Lewis Carroll's Alice. 

Thirdly, they don't have Robert E. Lee to maintain 
their resistance at any length (at least so far I
have never seen anybody of this calibre among their 
ranks). As soon as this bunch of rats start smelling 
that the cake is dissappearing they will just change 
gears on some other form of crookery (unlikely

> And the short-sighted undergrads would also join in 
> complaining (especially when theey have had thier 
> talk with the bank).

Just hope, bank managers will withstand the 

(DR. LOVE): 
> Instead we shall all join hands and chant the mantra 
> of scuence "All we need is more money". and 
> continue business as usual. 

Perhaps, you are right (tactically). The
more screams are heard, the more irritating
they are becoming. Even there is good example 
in place: just recall all the screams "to save"  
Superconducting Supercollider and all the
science careers it will generate. 
Fortunately, screams didn't work and the Congress
October 1993 decisions saved many young people
from locking themselves into potentially devastating 
lifetime careers. Hope many of them are now in 
med.schools or at least in engeeniring (Master) 
programs, or pursuing some other forms of socially 
understandable (and needed) occupations.
> Sincerely,
> Jamie Love, PhD (MBA)

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