Is the journal SCIENCE correct on the employment of scientists?
Within the story, author Jeffrey Mervis mentions the NSF's "survey of doctorate recipients." Although Mervis refers to this as a survey of "all" Ph.D. recipients in the United States, the NSF notes: The survey follows a sample of individuals with SEH doctorates throughout their careers from the year of their degree award until age 76. The NSF also notes: Approximate population size: 840,000; Approximate sample size: 47,000. [link: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvydoctoratework/#sd ]
In a fixed-sample panel design, data are collected from the same set of individuals in each analysis year, with the sampled individuals here comprising about 5.6% of all Ph.D. recipients.
Mervis reported a sampling of 120,000.
Mervis points to a distinction between the federal government definition of unemployed (no job and looking) vs. the NSF/SED (merely no job). HOWEVER, Mervis does not point out that ANY paying job makes one "not unemployed" by federal standards.
This would include the spectrum from mowing grass through post-doc positions (the latter unmentioned in the Mervis article).
Of the postdoc matter, from galacticinteractions:
In my very early years of graduate school (1990-1992 or thereabouts), there was a statistical continuum of letters to the editor to Physics Today talking about the sea of physics post-docs out there: PhDs who could get a temporary post-doc position, or two, or three, but who couldn't find permanent positions. The astronomy journal club (I believe it was) at Caltech dedicated one of their meetings to talking about this issue. And, the professors there all gave lip service to "training students so that they can go into other careers." But I could practically hear each and every professor there thinking "but not my students— they will be the ones who get the coveted academic positions." (Some may even have been generous enough to think "Caltech" students.)
From an IPBiz post -- Unemployment and technology --:
There's another reason why the official [unemployment] rate is misleading. Say you're an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 -- maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn -- you're not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
Yet another figure of importance that doesn't get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find -- in other words, you are severely underemployed -- the government doesn't count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
A post at OECD highlights a different problem:
But these overall figures do not show where particular types of scientist are working. In fact, the NSF found that some 4.2% of science and engineering PhDs were working outside their field of training, chiefly for financial reasons, a change in professional interests or lack of opportunities in their field.
In other words, while few scientists are out of work, a significant proportion of them are not finding jobs in occupations that are closely related to their studies. This would weaken the claim of a widespread shortage of science and engineering graduates, but may signal another problem: “mismatches” between what the market (industry or academia) needs and is willing to pay in terms of research, and the skill sets, interests and salary aspirations that graduates have.
And Mervis did not mention the words of Alan Hale:
the words of Alan Hale (of Hale-Bopp) from the year 1997:
I am Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp which, as I'm sure you're aware, is getting a tremendous amount of media attention at this time. Like I'm sure is true for many of you, I was inspired by the scientific discoveries and events taking place during my childhood to pursue a career in science only to find, after completing the rigors of undergraduate and graduate school, that the opportunities for us to have a career in science are limited at best and are which I usually describe as "abysmal." Based upon my own experiences, and those of you with whom I have discussed this issue, my personal feeling is that, unless there are some pretty drastic changes in the way that our society approaches science and treats those of us who have devoted our lives to making some of our own contributions, there is no way that I can, with a clear conscience, encourage present-day students to pursue a career in science. It really pains me a great deal to say something like that, but I feel so strongly about this that I have publicly made this statement at almost every opportunity I have been given.
I am trying to use the media attention that is currently being focused upon me to raise awareness of this state of affairs, and perhaps start to effect those changes that will allow me to convey a more positive message to the next generation. So far, I'm sensing a certain reluctance among the media to discuss this issue, as they seem far more interested in items which I consider to be irrelevant and unimportant. But I intend to keep hammering away at this, and I'd like to believe that eventually some are going to sit up and take notice. I am also attempting to schedule meetings with some of our government leaders, to see if I can at least get some acknowledgement from Washington that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
See previous IPBiz post: http://ipbiz.blogspot.com/2011/01/sputnik-moment-again-and-again.html
And recall the recent issue with reduced labor force participation
which is relevant to an earlier IPBiz post: