Sunday, July 8, 2012

     Today, the Washington Post printed an article on the scientific job market, echoing sentiments  and trends revealed in the National Academies Press 2000 book on improving postdoc outcomes.  The article mentioned a few scientists in industry who had recently lost their high-salary jobs.  The gist of the article was that the job market is really bad, except maybe for physicians and physicists.  I was surprised by the statistic in the article that only 38% of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011.  This article confirms my suspicion that my classmates were having more difficulty than in previous years at finding employment.
     From talking to my graduating classmates, it seems to be that industry pays up to* $100,000 to $120,000 for new PhD graduates, but is strongly cyclic in regards to employment demand.  On the other hand, the academia game requires a few years of indentured servitude at $35,000 (postdocs in chemistry at UC Berkeley, for instance) to $70,000 (i.e. national labs), with the lottery ticket win of stable employment at around $80,000, give or take depending on liberal arts college vs. research university.  Of course, this lottery game can be played multiple times, as your options dwindle, and the number of postdoctoral appointments that you take increases.
     Culturally, it seems as if other options are frowned upon.  I recently had dinner with a classmate, and she was shocked that another classmate decided to have a baby, while still in graduate school.  She was confused and alienated by the mere fact that someone would decide to have a child instead of dedicating herself completely to science.
     I don't understand- what is everyone thinking, and where is the exit door that goes to greener grass?

*of course, you can compare my observations with survey information from ACS at

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