Grantsmanship

Dr Love jl at srv0.med.ac.ed.uk
Tue Nov 28 11:28:03 EST 1995


teodoro at medcor.mcgill.ca (Joe Teodoro) wrote:
>Stuff deleted
>
>: Hello Alex (et al,),
>: Normally I irrate people in the sci.research.careers newsgroup, but 
>this sting caught my eye.
>[snipped]
>: 
>: We must stop making PhDs! (Until the market improves). 
>
>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. 
[snip]

I don't know the job market for Bachlor degrees. If it is as bad as that for postdocs then,
yes (!) turn undergrads into something more productive. However, I suspect that the undergradss
have better opportunities as they are not as specialised. They are younger (obviously) and 
get into the job market earlier. So they have a better chance of being seen as (simply) a 
"College Graduate" as opposed to a "Scientist".(of which the world  has too many)

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

To avoid such evil, I suggest that we all learn Latin! Then we could claim to be 
better educated (than we would be without it) and  thus contributing to a better society.
Or maybe Latin is useless to most people. Just as a PhD is useless to most people. Or a 
degree in science is useless to most people. (Noticed I said "most").
It is foolish to suggest that the more scientists we have the better off will be society.
It is the number of _productively employed_ scientists that make the  world a  better place.
The "less than productively employed" are a waste (to one extent or another) . 
 
>: 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).
>
>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.
>

I know three PhDs who have confided in me that they sent out CVs to  lots of jobs and a   
few schools and ended up taking the only thing on offer. Stipends are better than nothing!

>: Stipends create an artifical market. And (to my knowledge) they only
>occur in sciences (to any 
>: great extent). 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..
>
>The comparison between students in Ph.D. programs and professional schools
>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..

The grad student is a acting as a valuable slave. Screw up and you won't get your PhD.
The service provided by the grad student is that s/he contributes to keeping the cost
of research a bit lower by accepting low pay for hard work.  The grad student  mistakes 
the degree promised at the end of  all the hard work, for money ! S/He thinks the degree
makes up for the (poor) pay (stipends). It behoves Grad schools (and thier faculty) to 
allow that mistake to go unchallanged.

: 
>: 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. 
>
>Again we hear the cry about the "glut" of post-docs.  In the lobby of this
>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. 

Yeah? And those same 20 announcements _are_ "mirrored"  in other departments. 
That's the problem. Twenty jobs for how many  applicants?   That's what I want to know   .
(And that is the important question). 
Besides, postdocs are simple a rotation. Offering 20 temporary jobs as proof that 
there isn't a postdoc glut is like saying we need to bring back slavery if we expect to 
get "all this cotton picked".

>How can there be a glut in light of such obvious
>demand?  
[snipped]
> The education obtained during a PhD is a very
>flexible one which can be very marketable to prospective employers.  

Bovine-feaces! Grad students are taught a limited number of techniques (as they grind away with 
thier mentors at the data generation), in a world expecting diversity. Oh, yes they can be 
taught to do anything! So what! Any one can read that instrument manuel , or  mix those 
chemicals. And then there's the dissertation. The best one can get out of that book is to 
claim you have experience at "desk top publishing". 
Employeers want _experience_ in the real world not in  your lab!  
More importantly, one must take into account the _effective_ use of your time.
Does it really take years to learn the things that are needed in the real world?
There is a big "opportunity cost" to those who have decided to _NOT_ enter the employment 
world. They substitute a real salary with a  stipend and think it will get them ahead..

>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). 

Yes, I've seen this stat as well. How it is calculated  is not explained. But here is a
test we should all perform. Look up in the relevant  computerised  "author index" 
(say medline or current contents) the names of PhD students who got their degree five or 
more years ago. Where have all the PhDs gone ? (sung to the tune "where have all the flowers 
gone"). Many have disappeared from the literature. 
You might agrue that they have found jobs in industry , but industry publishes its 
research too. You might argue that they have left research for something  else such as 
teaching, business, etc. If that's the case then how has their graduate work , doing research,
helped them. It would appear they could have gotten into those jobs without  sweating it out  
in thier mentor's lab.

>These are not the signs that a PhD is the kiss
>of death which several doomsayers on this group proclaim.  Employers in
>the future will demand increaingly higher standards of education from
>thier applicants.  

Yes, in business, design, or law. But those industries which hire scientist to do 
research are sending many (established) scientists packing. Downsizing, etc.
And those who survive the shakeout are often  employed as something less  than what they had  
expected or were trained as.
Example: a friend of mine, PhD in Microecology was hired by a big oil company to  find  
helpful microbes for oil degredation. But the company "downsized" and offered him the 
"opportunity" to move to "On site work" (or leave voluntarily). So this  PhD, who has 
worked for the EPA and Texaco, is now  overseeing the removal of oil tanks ! As he explained it to 
me, he has nothing to do with research anymore , and  could just as well be doing this 
job with just his Bachlor's (The company found it cheaper to keep him as a work supervisor).
I wonder if he is considred an employed scientist? Probably. Even thou he is just telling people,
"dig a bit deeper and haul that thing out cleanly!" White-collar work  is hardly scientific .

So, yes PhDs can get work. Not because they have  a PhD or research experience but because they 
have the drive to work hard and accept the crap that goes with most jobs. That is just about the
only thing the grad school can prepare you for (and there are easier ways to get that 
expereience).


>A PhD will always be a plus on any resume.
So are typing skills!

>The reason why there are stipends is because professors are willing to pay
>them.  Grad students are indeed a source of cheap labour in a very cash
>strapped and competitive research enviroment.  Who would take the place of
>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.

Again, the students should be told HONESTLY that they are just cheap labor and
asked to make that altruistic decision based upon that fact instead of the 
false hopes and implied future which they are fed.
So, tell your students they are doing you and science a favor, not that they are
doing their future any good!
 
>: Stop stipends. They distort the market, encourage the over production of
>PhDs and hide the truth 
>: from the young fools.
>
>Stipends ARE the market rate for grad students.  
{snipped}
>: Instead we shall all join hands and chant the mantra of scuence "All we
>need is more money". and 
>: continue business as usual. 
>
>As long as the system keeps on doing good science despite budget cuts it
>must be working.

And I'm sure Nero played a lovely tune as Rome burned ..

Tell your students the truth. They are there for your benifit not thiers.
I had hoped to build a career with my PhD, not be a martyr. 
Some of your students may be equally  "confused".


Sincerely,
Jamie Love




More information about the Bioforum mailing list