Thursday, February 7, 2013

Where'd we come from? Part 2

The mystery remains...

Last time I mused about the pool of potential biomedical PhDs vs those that actually try to get them.  It dawned on me later that "potential pool" = "biology majors" and I wondered how the numbers of biology majors had changed over time.  If the NIH doubling coincided with a rise in biology majors, then conditions would have been extra-ripe (overripe?) for the resulting explosion in biomedical PhDs.  Growth in bio majors could have come from people were getting more interested in biology.  Or maybe more women were being encouraged to explore science and therefore switched from non-STEM majors they might have wound up in earlier.


Source is this concise NYTimes article from 2011*.

So the proportion of bio majors have stayed flat (around 5%, with some wiggle) since the '70s, while this was happening to the number of biomedical PhDs:

Source is this pdf, which seems to be one of the only solid chunks of data floating around out there on PhD outcomes.

The rise in biomedical PhD seekers must have cannibalized the numbers pursuing other career options.  Next question then is what the non-post-graduate-degree seekers with Biology majors do with their lives and how that's changed over time.  Back to the googling...


*check out this passage from the NYTimes article:

Spending six or more years to earn a doctorate doesn’t pay off, either. There is such a glut of biology Ph.D.’s that only 14 percent find tenure-track academic jobs within six years.
Younger Ph.D.’s face the biggest problems. Many entered graduate school when federal financing for health research surged a decade ago. But most of the money to fight cancer and search for other breakthroughs went to established researchers. At the same time, in the face of financial realities, universities are clamping down on tenure-track spots in all fields. As a result, many new Ph.D.’s are stuck in one postdoctoral research job after another, helping run laboratories set up by senior scientists, waiting to see if they can win permanent academic appointment.
Starting pay is low, $37,000 to $40,000, and more than a third of biologists are still working in these and other non-tenure track jobs six years after receiving their Ph.D.’s. Others teach at community colleges or high schools, jobs that would not have required as much training, or work for industry or the government.

Nail on the head!

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