One argument that I am starting to see goes like this: “Yes, it’s true that most of the people who have STEM degrees don’t land STEM jobs, but that just shows how valuable all that STEM training is! STEM training must be in demand in all those other fields! STEM graduates are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and they contribute to the economy regardless of whether they’re in a STEM job or not.”
this interview (my emphasis):
I notice my trainees… and there is never enough jobs for all the trainees, we are training 'too many'…but, for example, management consultants love people like this because they are so well able to deal with certain things. And then of course they can get trained on-the-job in their specialties. So that's one way I'm thinking about how we would deal with this disconnect with… we keep training more people, and you say, well, partly we are training more people because they are the producers of science a lot, and so why don’t we acknowledge that that’s what we are doing during the PhD and post-doc. And there will be, we hope, people who will go on, but not to say the only reason for the training is to get a career.
In the US, 13% of PhDs go on to the kind of traditional academic science sorts of jobs that you might say they were trained for. So to put that another way, you could say it’s an 80% failure rate…87%, excuse my mathematics. So if you put it that way, it’s terrible…but the other fact is if you look at all the people who have…you know, what about these 87%? They are employed in all sorts of jobs, they are not unemployed, and they’re doing all sorts of things. And so the question is, well, did they feel, that 87%, that somehow they were cheated and it was disappointing because their expectations were, well, you are supposed to be trained for such and such.
Blackburn has done well for herself, and obviously knows what it takes to succeed in science. In fairness, she’s making a more nuanced argument than the one I want to link to but can’t find.
It smacks of desperation to say that the lack of people in a career is evidence of how good the training is.
For one, what are the vaunted STEM skills that employers find so valuable? Can you only get those from STEM training? I doubt that. What I hear consistently from employers about what they want from people they want to hire – communication skills, problem solving, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork – are all talents you can get in a lot of different ways. I think my colleagues in philosophy, languages, and so on are often as committed to giving their students those skills as my colleagues in science.
Here, I’m reminded of a comment Ivan Oransky made when he visited our campus. He said he did not learn critical thinking during his STEM training to become a physician. He learned critical thinking when he got training as a journalist.
Plus, even if those STEM skills are things employers outside STEM want, how much training do you need to get those skills? Do you need to do two post-docs to be desired by employers? The six years of experience that a lot of American doctorate holders have? Why not just a master’s degree? Why not a bachelor’s? Because much of the emphasis from,say, funding agencies, is on creating people with “terminal degrees” (doctorates, usually). The master’s is disdained as a “consolation prize” for people who can’t hack a Ph.D., and the bachelor’s is just a stepping stone. But that terminal degree may be overkill for employers outside STEM. Indeed, that terminal degree might make someone “overqualified” and harder to hire.
The huge number of highly trained people with graduate STEM degrees not working in STEM is not an advertisement for the success of the training. It’s an indictment.
PACE 2013 Bioethics conference, day 3
Excessive supply, uncertain demand
The Aussie scientist who challenged George W Bush
Remember the “alternatives”
Cellist photo by Jonathan Dy on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.