Is a science graduate degree worthless?

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Sat Mar 6 17:35:53 EST 1999

On Sat, 6 Mar 1999, Rich Lemert wrote:

> Arthur Sowers wrote:
> > 
> > The other issue is unemployment among PhDs. And, underemployment. Some of
> > these guys get jobs unrelated to their PhDs that pay more than for a job
> > related to their PhDs and what that does is make the picture falsely
> > better.
> > 
>   Why? If the statistic is reported as "income for people holding
> a PhD", then why do you want to neglect part of the population
> you're claiming to measure?

I suspect that the statistics are leaving out the PhDs who are poorly
paid, have poor job security and are including those who are doing well or
even better than well and that is because the former are hard to find and
the latter are easy to find.

Also, it is misleading to report statistics for "income for people holding
a PhD" because it implies falsely that if one gets a PhD then they are
likely to get an income reported by those statistics. It also does not
account for periods of unemployment, underemployment, or delay (because
of the 5-10 years in unpaid or underpaid grad school or postdocs) in
getting started with those "average salaries." 

> Now if the statistic being reported
> was "median salary of PhD's working as a scientist", you would have
> a legitimate complaint.
>   Also, you are making an implied assumption that everyone that has
> a job "unrelated" to their PhD has taken that job only because they
> were unable to get a job "in their field".

And you are glossing over the fact that a lot of people really have taken
unrelated work _because_ they could not get a job in their field. Articles
in, for example, _The Scientist_ in the period from about 1991 to 1998
(until they changed their editorial staff) were almost constantly
reporting a PhD-glut and a lack of relevant jobs. And it was not ME that
wrote all those articles. What do you think all of that means? 

> There are many reasons
> why one might change careers.

I've heard from as many people who couldn't find a job relevant to their
training and goals as from people who, after completing their training,
decided that they didn't _like_ what they trained for. I don't like the
phrase "many reasons why one might change careers" because it does not
take into account the "why" one might want to change careers. And, even
many who _want_ to change careers are doing it because what they learn
about their original goals is that there are so many negative components
that they didn't know about before they started (eg. the tenure rat race,
the grant rat race, the politics rat race). Last time I visited, there was a link to an internal page that talked about
"involuntary out-of-field" rates. These rates have been going up in the
last few years. 

Some people are, or prefer to be, in a state of "denial" over reality. I
think there needs to be much more emphasis on acheivable goals,
assessments and evaluation of _how_ acheivable goals are, and more
disclosure by the "sellers" of advanced degrees about what good these
degrees are likely to be for those who get them. Right now, we all get
better disclosure statements on tobbacco products, canned food in the
grocery store, pharmaceuticals and a whole range of durable goods that we
can buy and come with warranties and guarantees, and many other options in
life that come with automatic "rights" (I'm thinking of such things as
medicare/medicaid, social security, even rights to police, fire, and a
whole range of other services, or accessible resources, that are built
into our society's infrastructure). 

> And someone with a PhD has demonstrated
> a reasonable amount of intelligence. Should it be surprising that
> they would be able to use that intelligence in another field?

Intelligence and knowledge (and experience and wisdom) are different
qualities. If you have intelligence, it allows you to obtain more
knowledge, gain experience (and aquire wisdom [maybe]), but you don't just
"have" intelligence and "use" it in another field like turning on a
switch for a light bulb.  I'd just like you to know that a few years ago I
read an introductory manual, written by an administrator of a
medical school and handed out to new medical students, which said that
what they are about to embark on is "not rocket science" but will be
demanding in terms of pure work. Your play on the word "intelligence"
falls far short of what is needed to understand career change. And, what
is even more important, is understanding the need to know what one gets
into BEFORE spending time on "pursuits" of careers that involve 5-10 years
of one's life.

Art Sowers 

> Rich Lemert

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