It used to be that a university degree was not only a rarity but a ticket to job security. Not anymore.
In a world in which more and more of what we use is a product of science, should we be training more scientists? I don’t think so.
Richard Harris from NPR reports on scientists who left their field when finding research money became too difficult. It’s a poignant story, one all-too familiar to me. I saw Ph.D. graduates working as research assistants in laboratories; I also saw someone with a Ph.D. and a postdoctoral fellowship under his belt apply and be interviewed for a position which required him to do cell culture and place orders for the lab.
The NPR story is interesting, but the comments are even more arresting. Here are a few excerpts:
“Me? I’m on SNAP and on Medicaid, without a dime to my name. And I am hardly the only biomedical Ph.D. in that boat.
“When someone tells me we need more STEM people, I either just laugh in their face, or I tell ’em “How about we employ the ones we already bloody have, first?””
“30k a year and I’m barely floating… sharing a rent with 2 others.”
“With my MS in biological oceanography, published research and a decade of adjunct teaching experience, I wasn’t able to get hired as a middle or high school teacher. I had to go back to school (and no, I counted find grants for scientists to go to school for teaching credentials), get another masters degree and enter the job market as a “new teacher” with zero years of “relevant teaching” experience.”
“I left science for sales, because i just couldn’t live like a welfare case anymore and travel 40 miles to work every day so I could afford the rent. It was highly educated poverty.”
Highly educated poverty.
Within the last 25 years, we decided that, not only were universities accessible to anyone, but that everyone should go to university. I remember watching a Canadian home improvement program seven or eight years ago in which the host decried the lack of qualified labour in the trades. These jobs pay extremely well, are in high demand, and would make a lot of people happy. Yet many families still aim for “university or nothing”. But there’s nothing embarrassing about being a welder.
For what it’s worth, I believe universities should start accepting significantly fewer students in science programs, while elementary and high schools should start teaching more critical thinking material. Every citizen with an average or above-average intelligence should have an understanding of basic science, logic, and critical thinking, but not every citizen should be making this their career. Let’s teach our kids to be more rational in all aspects of their lives and encourage them to go into the trades. Let the smartest of the smartest and the most passionate would-be scientists make it to university. Maybe having fewer scientists competing for the money will help them design experiments with more than five samples and reduce the number of times they feel compelled to write “more research is needed to see if this holds up”.