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Oversupply of Ph.D.s in Canada?

Arthur Sowers arthures at magpage.com
Wed Jan 12 19:40:07 EST 2000

On 12 Jan 2000, Placid Ol' Dingo wrote:

> Arthur Sowers <arthures at magpage.com> wrote:
> > On 12 Jan 2000, Placid Ol' Dingo wrote:
> > 
> > > Doing science is a vocation, doing a Ph.D. is a career choice. A bad
> > > career choice in some cases, no doubt, but a career choice nonetheless.
> > 
> > Incorrect AND badly stated...
> > Doing science, for 99.999% of all science PhD requires a _position_ (i.e.
> > a job) which is accompanied by _space & facilities_ AND some kind of
> > salary, stipend, or compensation. Doing science usually means publication
> > and/or aquiring or analysis of data, etc. 
> You seem to start off by assuming that 'PhD' and 'scientist' are
> virtually the same thing anyway. Science is about wanting to find out
> things about how the natural world works. That, in itself, is not a way
> of earning a living and is therefore a vocation. If you want to earn a
> living from your vocation, you must find a way of turning the knowledge
> you acquire to other people's advantage. Earning a PhD is merely one way
> of convincing other people who don't yet know you that you can do this
> for them. The decision to do a PhD is therefore a career choice. 

When I was younger, I thought almost the same way you do. Now that I am
older, and not sure if I am wiser but certainly more experienced, I'd have
to say that paying taxes, rent, food, etc., is more important. This means
one needs cash flow. From all I've decided to change my mind about in the
last decade, society just does not appreciate (or understand) science or
> > Its a bad career choice if age discrimination, politics of the culture,
> > changes and evolution of what is important lead to layoffs or turnover.
> Same as any other career choice. We all have to take our chances.

Nahnahnah. Spend a decade in med school and residency and you've got it
made. Spend a decade in grad school and postdocs and you're still pining
for a career and not too many people know or care what you do. Even fellow
PhDs often don't give a crap about their brethern.  

> > It has been my interest over the years to try to make people aware of some
> > of these factors (on my websites) and ask if they really want to "pursue"
> > (for as long as it lasts) a career in science. My "career half-life"
> > essays are based on both my own studies and references to other sources.
> I am aware of this. Your efforts are a valuable public service in the
> sense that they should help to reduce the number of people who enter
> science naively.

You put this very very well. Thank you. Actually a few people over the
years I've been around have sent me private email with similar sentiments.
At least I'm not totally wasting my time.

 Even then, though, those who feel that science is their
> vocation will find it easy (necessary even) to believe that they can be
> the exception that proves the rule.

Well, if I understand you, and if that is the way they feel (I actually
felt about the same way back in the mid 1970s when I got my degree),
then... fine ... at least they were/are better informed about their

The worst thing, however, is that institutions have caught on to the idea
of not having tenure track appointments any more. This means you spend ten
years in preparation for a career, then after you are in a career for ten
years something beyond your control (for example a new department chair
comes in and decides he doesn't like X % of the present faculty and thus
decides to do a flush and now you are, say, 40 years old and he wants to
hire some new, young, fresh PhDs just coming off postdocs who also are 
more willing to kiss his feet and suck up to the guy [I've seen some of
this] and of course they are eternally grateful to him for hiring them. 

I hope you "understood" all that.  

> > I also think scientists need a "union-like" organization, similar to the
> > AMA for MDs
> If the AMA is analogous to the BMA here, then it not only fights for
> improved working conditions but also decides who can practice medicine,
> just as the law society here decides who can practice law. Do you
> propose that your 'ASA' have the power to decide who can and who cannot
> practice science? 

I've thought off and on about this. The AMA is not as much in favor with
MDs these days (long story, I don't know all of it) but as of last fall 
sometime, about 6% of all MDs in the USA are now unionized (you can find
this yourself faster on a search engine if you are interested). Basically,
some kind of union-like agency that really looks out for the PhDs the
same, functional, way that the AMA used to look out for MDs, and the ABA
looks out for the lawyers. Yes, the politics can get messy and there are
times when I don't like unions because they get out of line sometimes and
just because they have the power to do this. Buuuuuut, corporation and
administrative scumbags are out there to screw employees almost whenever
they can. When institutions (I've talked a lot about this over the years)
can tell you that its OK with them for you to spend ten years after the BS
degree to get credentialed and experienced and then its also OK with them
to give you a crappy adjunct (non-tenure track, low pay, often or usually
no benefits, and often part time) appointment from semester to semester,
then its a bad deal for you. There are few winners and a lot of guys are
just "hanging in there" waiting for some "reorganization" and then if they
get dumped, then age discrimination automatically keeps them out.

Art Sowers


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