Note if there is almost one postdoc per permanent researcher (or professor), it means that one 3-5 year cohort of PhDs could replace the entire pool of career researchers. If a career lasts 30 years it means there is a six or ten to one ratio between postdocs that leave the field and those who survive with permanent positions. Even if the postdoc to professor ratio is lower (as in physical science and math -- this number is smaller largely because they don't have much funding for postdocs in math), there may still be a big ratio between PhDs produced and number of professors. Unless the average professor produces no more than one PhD per 30 years, there will continue to be a big oversupply and a tough labor market for scientists.
See related posts here and here.
Thanks for the Great Postdoc Bargain
30 August 2002
Postdocs are at the heart of the United States?s extraordinarily successful biological and life scientific research program over the past two-plus decades. In this period, postdocs have produced most of the results in academic laboratories and have come to play an increasing role in industrial and government labs as well. Academic institutions, which engage some 80% of postdocs, aren?t sure whether postdocs are employees, students, or some form of apprentice. With responsibility for hiring and career development resting firmly with the principle investigators who employ the postdocs on their research grants, many universities don?t even know how many postdocs they have or what they are paid, much less how they are progressing toward ? whatever the future holds for them.
Whatever they are, however, postdocs are one of the greatest bargains in the U.S. economy. Where else can one hire Ph.D.s, whose training and smarts put them among the best and brightest in the world, to work 60 hours a week for $30,000 to 40,000 a year, with limited benefits and little power to influence their working conditions and pay? Given the long hours that postdocs work, their hourly pay is on the order of $10 to $13 per hour--on par with the wages paid to custodial and other low-paid workers that have spurred living wage campaigns around the country.
Two to three decades ago, the U.S. rewarded postdocs with a reasonably good chance of being hired as a principal investigator. Sorry, but we can no longer carry out that part of the bargain. As Table 1 shows, there are just too many postdocs for us to absorb them as tenured faculty. In 1987, the ratio of postdocs to tenured faculty was already too high at 0.54 for most to obtain faculty jobs at the rate of growth of academic employment. By 1997, the ratio had risen by 43% to 0.77. It has presumably risen further since then. As a result--and as many postdocs have learned to their chagrin--the U.S. does not have a place for them on standard academic tracks.
But don?t get discouraged, postdocs. We need you for our research. How about another postdoctorate--a few more years of long hours at low wages?
Table 1: Ratio of the Number of Postdoctorates in Higher Educational Institutions to the Number of Tenured Faculty, 1987 and 1997
Physical Sciences and Mathematics
Source: The National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers, (NAS, 2000), table B-1 and table B-14.
The forces of supply and demand are unlikely to improve the economic situation of postdocs in any plausible time period. One reason is that the supply of postdocs consists not only of U.S. citizens and permanent residents gaining Ph.D.s but also of U.S.- and foreign-trained Ph.D.s from other countries. Indeed, U.S. scientific research could not proceed at anything like its current pace was it not for the influx of foreign postdocs. Roughly half of postdocs currently come from overseas, many from countries with low personal income rates such as China. Remove foreign postdocs from the nation?s labs and postdoc pay would zoom ... at the cost of short-term chaos and a long-term slower rate of scientific progress. Nevertheless, we should not forget to thank our foreign postdocs for their long hours and hard work on behalf of the rest of our society...
Posted by scienceguy11 to Information Processing at 12/05/2005 11:37:13 AM