06 January 2011

Has American industry given up an American scientists?

Some time ago, an influential report called Rising Above the gathering Storm was published. In September, an update was published, which has only just been covered here by Beryl Benderly. This summary makes for depressing reading. In particular, I was stopped cold by this:

If labor costs that are higher than corporations wish to pay indicate a labor shortage, then “de facto there can no longer be domestic shortages of scientists and engineers,” the report says, because those corporations will export the work.

In other words, industry positions for people with doctorates are vanishing because American corporations are outsourcing research. That pretty much leaves becoming a professor or leaving science as the only long-term career choices for a person with a freshly minted Ph.D. in the United States.

That’s terrifying.

Weirdly, the report recommends doubling federal research funding. As Benderly points out, that didn’t work for NIH in the late 1990s. There is a very deep structural problem here, and there’s few good ideas about how to twiddle the knobs to make the it go away.

Another take is by Canadian Girl Postdoc.


Steven Pelech said...

Nearly 60% of biomedical research in the U.S. is funded by industry, so the threat of contracting a major portion of this to organizations in other countries is a legitimate concern for American jobs. However, this international competition does allow for a much greater return on private investment in research and could significantly improve the prospects for commercial success from new products and services from American companies. The average American as well as citizens of other countries ultimately benefit when much better pharmaceutical and diagnostic products result.

At present, there is clearly a surplus of Ph.D. trainees and recent graduates for the biomedical research market in the U.S. and abroad. Government funding of even more academic research in university and government laboratories is not really going to solve this problem. It will exacerbate it further, as it will lead to the production of even more junior scientists with limited long term prospects.

One potential solution to this dilemma would be to markedly increase the number of fellowships awards available from government and charitable agencies for post-doctoral fellows to work in U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. This would help to reduce labour costs for domestic research in American corporations and provide practical training for Ph.D. graduates in commercial environments that are actually dedicated to production of innovative services and products. The most talented of these new scientists will have much better prospects of being retained for future employment or starting their own enterprising companies.

Girlpostdoc said...

I don't think that this is true across the board for industry science. It might be true for transportable knowledge like computational science. But I doubt we'll see the outsourcing of laboratory based science.