Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sun Nov 26 01:06:02 EST 1995

On Sat, 25 Nov 1995, Joe Teodoro wrote:

> Stuff deleted
> : Hello Alex (et al,),
> : Normally I irrate people in the newsgroup, but=20
> this sting caught my eye.
> Y'ou're starting to irrate some here too.
> =20
> : 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) .  =20
> : The answer is not  to develop a whole new system which will distribute
> money   directly to  =20
> : grad students. This is like taking aspirin for releif of a headache
> who's underlying cause is a=20
> : tumor!
> :=20
> : We must stop making PhDs! (Until the market improves).=20

> Perhaps we should stop making BAs and BSc s as well.  After all these
> degrees have not really been effective routes to employment for over 2
> decades now.  In fact why not cut out high school diplomas as well.  All
> your average brutish labourer needs is to read and write.  All this
> education can lead to nowhere but trouble.  Is this the gist of whay
> you're saying? =20

As a university professor (engineering) for the past 15 years,
I can't support the above statement. BAs, BSci, MEng and even=20
some Eng PhD are not doing that bad. It is PhDs (esp. science)
which are the main source of frustration.=20

> In a highly industrialized, modern, society the trend that the population
> becomes gradually more educated is a natural and inevitable one.  The ver=
> idea of reducing the rate or level of education offered seems inherently
> counterproductive and perhaps even evil.

You are talking here about the phenomenon which Solzhenitzyn called=20
"obrazovanshina". Rough English equivalent is "Educatiofare" or
Educationship. We often here the cliche that "the advanced technological=20
society needs more and more educated people". Unfortunately it is
getting more and more clear that this is for the most part a
mythology. In fact, what happens presently is more or less the=20
opposite and the prime mass trend now is towards DE-skilling and
DE-intellectualization. Fast advancing of the knowledge packaging=20
happens in many areas. Be your own doctor, lawyer or whomever getting
more and more familiar. I can't assess it as a uniformly good or
bad. But to perform and sell in many areas you actually now need=20
to know (and comprehend) LESS, not more. This trend may be unpleasant,=20
but socially and economically it is getting more and more pronounced.=20
Soon you will be able to buy "how to do molecular biology" kit in
a catalogue store.=20

>  =20
> : Stipends are bait for the undergrads to take. Wiggle a few thousand
> dollars in front of a senior=20
> : who has been living on less and his/her eyes light up and they  say
> "Hey, that ain't bad. I'll=20
> : stay in school (or go back) and get a PhD and then I'll be able to get =
> GOOD job!"=20
> : (Ha Ha).
> If this laughable motivation is what led a student to grad studies then
> he/she would never have amounted to anything with the PhD anyway.
> : Stipends create an artifical market. And (to my knowledge) they only
> occur in sciences (to any=20
> : great extent). Med students, law students etc. don't get stipends (and
> there are only a few =20
> : scholarships) because they don't need that kind of economic
> encouragement. They go to a bank and=20
> : when they say they have gotten into a law or  medical school, the bank=
> manager falls all over  =20
> : himself to give him/her a loan. But if you told that same bank manager
> that you have been accepted=20
> : into a grad program to get a PhD in Bio, Chem, etc, he will  _not_ offe=
> you a loan. Why? =20
> : Because he knows (and so do the PhDs) that this young guy/gal full of
> enthusiasm and enervg is a=20
> : bad loan risk. Even if she/he gets a job, it will be sporadic (yearly
> contracts) and so=20
> : competeitive that repayments are questionable. The Lawyers and Doctors,
> on the other hand, have=20
> : thier careers "tracked" into big money and security..
> The comparison between students in Ph.D. programs and professional school=
> is hardly a  valid one.  During the course of a law or med student's
> studies he is performing no service to anymone other than him/her self.=
> The grad student is serving as a valuble research assistant to the
> supervising professor and should be given payment in return.
> :=20
> : To stop the postdoc glut we should get rid of stipends! That would
> _force_ the "dreamers" to face=20
> : the hard cold reality of asking , "gee, what is the job market really=
> like for a PhD if I can't=20
> : even get a loan (easily) to do it?!". Would you have spent years in
> pursuit of your PhD if you had=20
> : to pay for it?! Few would.=20
> Again we hear the cry about the "glut" of post-docs.  In the lobby of thi=
> department there are no fewer than 20 announcments for oppenings for new
> post-docs hanging on the wall.  I'm sure this trend is mirrored in many
> other departments.  How can there be a glut in light of such obvious
> demand?  There is no glut of post-doctoral positons but there are very,
> very few academic positions.  An academic position has always been the
> steotypical next step for a post-doc.  Such sterotypes would have to be
> abondonned in the future. =20

> Currently, a person who obtains a PhD but does
> not go on to become a professor is commonly regarded as a failure.  Such
> ideas will have to end. =20

Unfortunately, there is not much you can here unless you=20
fundamentally change the definition. Regardless of the area
PhD means "Doctor of Philosophy" (people often forget this)
and Doctor means Teacher. So the idea that PhDs are intended
to be (mostly university) professors is inherent to it.
Add to this tranditional American demarcation on winners
and loosers and, yes, notion of failure is difficult to
escape unless you make it at least to the Assistant Professor. =20

> The education obtained during a PhD is a very
> flexible one which can be very marketable to prospective=20
> employers. =20

Amaizingly many employers I know of find Masters (esp.
interdisciplinary) preferable to PhD. At least in

> The
> current unemployment rate among PhDs sits at 2-3% (this is essentially as
> low as an unemployment rate can get after accounting people in trasition
> from one job to another).=20

Such low rate is because many of them are trapped on dead-end
Postdoc positions.

> These are not the signs that a PhD is the kiss
> of death which several doomsayers on this group proclaim. =20

No, kiss of death is too strong. But fresh PhDs regret the=20
choice they made and trying various escape routes.

> Employers in the future will demand increaingly higher=20
> standards of education from thier applicants.  A PhD will=20
> always be a plus on any resume.=20

The above is simply a statement of faith. The reality
may turn differently and I said above some trends point
otherwise. How many PhDs Bill emplyes at Microsoft ?
(in comparison with lower degrees).=20

> The reason why there are stipends is because professors are willing to pa=
> them.  Grad students are indeed a source of cheap labour in a very cash
> strapped and competitive research enviroment.  Who would take the place o=
> students and post-docs if stipends were eliminated?  There is a huge
> demand for skilled laboratory workers which only these people can fill.=
> This is also the reason why science is one of the few disiplins where
> stipends are actually paid.  The people are providing a service.

"Who would take the place of student and post-docs if
stipends were eliminated ?..."
Suppose no-one. And suppose that we will find (surprise,
surprise) that we are surving without. Estimates of course
vary but redundancy factor in science close to 90 % is
quoted typical. =20

> :=20
> : Stop stipends. They distort the market, encourage the over production o=
> PhDs and hide the truth=20
> : from the young fools.
> Stipends ARE the market rate for grad students.   To ban them somehow (it
> is never really described how this should occur) would be an artificial
> distortion of the market.  There is no truth being hidden from these
> "young fools" and perhaps they even have a better grasp of reality than
> the poster.  To the graduating senior, grad school (and a stipend) is a
> very attractive alternative to facing the job hunt with an undergraduate
> degree or going back to live with your parents.  Not so foolish an
> alternative I think.
> :=20
> : Naturally, this won't happen. (Nor will the other suggestions I've seen=
> For that I am thankful.
> : Too many PIs need fresh cannon-fodder for thier research and stipends
> are cost effective to the=20
> : PI. Established scientists will fight any move to kill stipends because
> it would kill thier cheap=20
> : labor (and the postdocs they produce as cheap labor as well). And the
> short-sighted undergrads=20
> : would also join in complaining (especially when theey have had thier
> talk with the bank).
> :=20
> : Instead we shall all join hands and chant the mantra of scuence "All we
> need is more money". and=20
> : continue business as usual.=20
> As long as the system keeps on doing good science despite budget cuts it
> must be working.
> :=20
> : Sincerely,
> :=20
> : Jamie Love, PhD (MBA)

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