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WaPo: US Pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren’t there

Kudos to Brian Verstag for getting the truth out about the reality of the STEM professional.  There just aren’t any jobs out there.  Read the story here.  Here’s the money quote:

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it’s questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

“There have been many predictions of [science] labor shortages and . . . robust job growth,” said Jim Austin, editor of the online magazine ScienceCareers. “And yet, it seems awfully hard for people to find a job. Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed.”

Disclaimer: I talked to Brian for this article and though he got a few of my details not *quite* right, overall the article is spot on about what we are going through.

There are more than 3700 comments so, clearly, he has struck a nerve.  Thank you, Brian.

One other thing:  Just because we are losing a lot of jobs in the life sciences doesn’t mean that there is a shortage of work to be done.  That is perhaps the most painful reality when it comes to the crisis in the STEM professions.  The truth is that biology is undergoing a radical transformation at the present time.  We *should* be throwing as much brain power as possible at every problem just to stay on top of it.  There are more than enough problems to be solved to keep every scientist on the planet fully occupied for the rest of their natural lives.

The problem is that no one wants to pay for it.  And there are no shortcuts in science. It is a lengthy process where we sometimes end up with more questions than we started with.  That kind of endeavor isn’t very profitable anymore, or not to Wall Street’s standards anyway.  To solve some of biology’s biggest problems, we will need much more government intervention.  Fortunately, infusions of cash into the research area would amount to a tiny fraction of what we have already thrown at the banks.


40 Responses

  1. The mindless cheer leading from empty head Democrats. Everybody!!! Lets be Rocket Scientists & make a bundle!!!

    • In a way, big pharma hastened its demise when it moved so many labs from the midwest to the coasts in the 80s-90s. The cost of living is much greater here. We could all be gainfully employed if we moved back to Michigan and Cinncinnatti and living on a lower salary with the same quality of life.
      NJ is just ridiculous. Property taxes alone will kill you. Even on my old salary, I wasn’t living a luxurious existence. I live in a townhouse and drive a second hand car.
      These same companies have doubled down on the stupid by moving to Massachusetts where they are concentrating labs in a confined space like Cambridge. Now, you have scientists who have to commute into the city because they can’t afford to live there even on the salaries they are getting.

      • The commute to Cambridge from any of the western suburbs is pretty easy, and there are still a few pockets of affordable housing less than a half hour away. You should apply if that’s where the jobs are.

        • Applying for those jobs only guarantees a permanent hamster-wheel existence for the STEM workers.

          • I agree. It’s not a good thing for research or researchers to have so little stability. Besides, I do the kind of work where I don’t have to be in Massachusetts. I can work anywhere there’s wifi. And in that case, I’d rather live somewhere more affordable, particularly a place that is closer to my family.

        • So you really don’t want a job. You just want to whine about not being able to find one. Got it.

          • Go back to Kos, please.

          • I’m sorry, what part of “I can work from home” did you not understand?
            If I move to Massachusetts, I’d be no better off than I am now, trying to buy housing in a high cost of living state and worrying how long the job will last. I still have a kid to put thru college and I have no family in Massachusetts. We’re looking for stability, and it is not to be found in Cambridge.
            Whatever i end up doing doesn’t change the fact that I am still a scientist and will always be one. My interest in it may just need to shift to hobby status.

          • Mr. Mike–right idea, wrong blog. You mean, “Go back to The Crabs In A Bucket, er, The Crawdad Hole, please.”

            I may have to start calling it that. I like that better than my first disparaging nickname I coined for it, “The Agnew Hole”. 😈

            It’s sad how many people had the brains to reject the Blue Obummer Kool-Aid, only to start chug-a-lugging the Red Wingnut Kool-Aid.

            I stand with Mercutio: “A plague on both your houses!”, to the Reptilian Montagues and the Dinocratic Capulets alike.

      • There are names-now-extinct which lots of people here in Michigan still remember . . . Upjohn, Warner-Lambert, etc. Pfizer cannabalized
        Warner-Lambert here in Ann Arbor, and then catabolized itself and left
        a smoking hole here with some nice buildings still scattered around on it. The U of M bought the facility and is still thinking about “research and micro-company incubators” or some such.

        I just pursue my bi-weekly wage work survival here in the hospital. IF! one can get into one of the few co-ops in Ann Arbor, one escapes the near-SanFrancisco cost of dwelling-space here. Many people of course live out-county or two counties over and drive in to work. I have no idea what the jobs picture might be here for people from the pharmasciences.

  2. The comments section of that article is killing me. I can’t believe the number of people who think that a person who gets a PhD in chemistry or biology and then has to do 5-7 years as a post doc should be happy if their real paying job only nets them a little more than minimum wage doing technician level work. Amazing.
    I’d like to see accountants and police officers get those kinds of career opportunities and be happy with it.

    • It’s not an original insight after Wisconsin, but our elites have cunningly managed things so that the rest of us don’t hate them but instead carp enviously at each other if any of us have it slightly better than some absolute minimum level.

    • Agreed. I think one has to have been committed to the pursuit of a career in science to fully understand the situation at hand.

      What is killing me is the huge legislative push to accommodate more foreign STEM students and graduates in the workforce, especially in this time of high unemployment. I’ve only been looking at this for a week or so, but it seems Partnership for a New American Economy (e.g., Bloomberg, Murdoch, etc.; i.e., $$$) is a major component of the push. There are no fewer than 5 bills right now.

      Am I protectionist? It seems immigration lawyers and their supporting professional organizations would think so. If these lawyers spent 5 years in law school, another 2-3 years in “post-juris-doc” (~clerkship?), and then had to settle for low-wage administrative position outside of immigration law, I think they might feel differently. But that’s just a hunch.

  3. RD,

    Although it is not common (yet ?), I do know of senior scientists
    who became post docs again. In one case, the university was making life hard on her so she left and in the second case, the government closed his lab. Both were in their 50’s when this happened and couldn’t get any other work.

    • I would love to work in a lab again. But I think I’d better go back for some bio courses. My ideal job would be to do what I did the last year of work when I learned protein production and crystallography. That was do much fun and it gemmed well with my drug design work.
      Anyway, money is not that important to me. I loved my company for paying me as well as they did but money is nothing if you don’t have the job you love. To work for less will mean I have to relocate and I’m happy with that.

  4. From yesterday’s Facebook post:

    STEMs face few jobs, low wages while Democrats after listening to the US media and corporate CEO’s shill for higher HB-1, L1, ect, quotas and decry Americans for not getting a science education

    “…the jobs aren’t there…reality runs counter to messages sent by President Obama…to churn out more scientists…a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe..“It’s been a bloodbath, it’s been awful,” said Kim Haas. Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists & engineers work outside their chosen field. Salaries…start at about $39,000..they require a science PhD — which can leave the recipient buried in debt. Benefits are usually minimal and, until a decade ago, even health insurance was rare.”


    • The thing that’s out of whack is requiring phd’s of everyone who wants to work in science. I’ve known really superb scientists that didn’t have PhDs and in a couple of cases, no degree at all. They just got sucked into it when they were doing summer interns and never finished. Back in the 80s and 90s, a phd seemed like overkill.
      I’ve worked with some really stellar PhDs and some so-so ones. A lot depends on how well they adapt to industry. They could be really excellent chemists but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be brilliant project team leaders. Plus, it takes many years to develop the expertise that will make them confident drug hunters. It took me a loooooong time to wrapt head around it. I credit my last two supervisors for making it all come together for me.

    • But, I think the biggest problem with getting PhDs is that it takes a long time getting some semblance of expertise and then the culture says you should be happy making $39k/year. Some PhDs study longer than MDs. Would we expect doctors to live on that kind of money well into their thirties? By the time a chemistry PhD gets a real job, an MBA on wall street has had more than a decade to amass a small fortune and a substantial 401k.
      If you want good scientists to work for $39k/year, don’t make them get a phd. It’s not necessary. And don’t make them live in Massachusetts, new jersey and California. You can’t have a decent life on that salary in any if those places.

    • Watch Partnership for a New American Economy (e.g., Bloomberg, Murdoch, etc.). In my opinion, the legislation being pushed will function as a means for keeping wages low in STEM-based professions. There are no wage protections that I’ve seen in the legislation. Might be the big reason for the push over expanding H1-B caps. Again, in my opinion, the moneyed elite do not see the virtues of investing in the STEM workforce; they only see it in terms of labor costs, which they want to minimize. It’s a disingenuous campaign.

  5. The real money quote of that WaPo article was the one where the unemployed pharma chemist said she told her kid to stay the hell out of science. If a lot more unemployed, and employed, scientists started publicly saying that, it could be the start of something.

    • Yeah, who the hell would tell her kid that??? Incredible.

      • It’s the audacity of saying it in public, to the MSM, for the record, that’s novel. STEM workers used to be so…meek and mild. Something’s starting to radicalize them.

  6. In any sane political and economic system, the leaders would take a hard look at the relative positions of a grossly overvalued financial system sucking into it all The Bright Young Things who want $, and a STEM sector apparently starved of significant resources for progress. They would take advantage of the current election season to start talking about how badly misbalanced all this is and how we should tax the shit out of the former to finance the latter. Undoubtedly, we could debate about where and how to strike the balance and how to shrink FIRREA to some manageable level, without killing it. It really does surprise me that more aspiring political actors don’t talk about it because it’s not that hard to understand and not very hard to communicate to the public. And there really does seem to be a hunger out there to hear about making an economy that’s based on producing something useful and tangible instead of handing money to rent-seekers who banrupt the rest of us. In market terms, since we are all by law required to believe in The Almighty Market, isn’t this a lucrative political market niche that someone could fill?

    • Some of us have been writing about this for four years and trying desperately to get the mainstream audience’s attention. To me, the death of science professions in this country is like the canary in the coal mine. It’s a bit like Saudi Arabia where there is an elite culture and then everyone else. There’s a starved middle stratum of technological and scientific expertise. Think about the potentially brilliant scientists wasting away in Riyadh. That’s inexcusable. Imagine what is going to happen if it doesn’t get it’s shit together before the oil runs out.
      I have hope though. Good science can be found everywhere if given the right kind of encouragement.
      But not here in this lifetime. We have done a number on research in this country and it will take a long time to bring it back up to world standards. Even my old colleagues who are still prospering say they wish they had gone into another field.

      • Their rulers and allied lackeys probably already plan to live on their investments and live in other countries if necessary . . . and let the majority Saudi Suckers die in the desert.

  7. (still grappling with the LIBOR index)

    It’s one of the indexes used to set ARM (adjustable rate mortgages) right? So during the time (decades/now/still?) it was artificially inflated homeowners were forced into artificially high adjustments?

    Is this true?

    • Ding! Ding! Ding!
      ARMs, car loans, small business loans, student loans, CDs, the derivatives market. The bankers manipulated LIBOR hundreds of times during the last 7 years and by some accounts, it goes back farther than that. That was all fun and games. It was when the market collapsed in 2008 that was the most serious manipulation happened because they artificially lowered an already alarmingly high rate in order to keep the world from panicking. Ok, fine, I I understand why they did it at that time. But it should have been revealed shortly afterwards. We didn’t reveal it because the bankers were afraid that we would see just how insolvent they really were. Geithner had to have known and if Geithner knew, Obama knew.

      • It’s amazing how outside temperatures affect the human brain. I just couldn’t get this all last week. Today (high of 91) it’s a breeze!

        Or at least the start of a breeze.

      • posted matt maibbi’s latest article on your last thread.

  8. OT http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/07/09/513181/white-trash-reception/
    health care lobbyists at Strategic Health Care profit from pharmaceutical companies

  9. I went back to school in my 20’s to pick up a BS engineering degree from a top 10 School. I had to do a little time in the US Army to make it affordable. I still came out of university in debt and at a lower pay grade than I got working construction. My primary goal of job stability was not met. Whenever I am asked to speak to somebody’s child about a career in engineering or science I discourage them doing so noting the low pay and lack of job stability. This usually shocks the parent, they usually tell me about something they read or saw on TV that told them there was an astronomical demand for STEM workers, I just point out declining pay and lower social status. Very different in Europe BTW, with the exception of Britain, an engineer is a respected profession.

    • Wall Street and London, epicenter of the melt down. No wonder STEM’s get no respect in the UK.

      Separated by a common language, united by greed.

  10. This is interesting, Euroscience, a grassroots organization that seeks to
    influence science policy in Europe. I don’t think there is a US equivalent.


    • LOL! He’s got the problem right but the cause and effect all wrong. The reason why advances are going to stop is because the drug companies stopped doing research. They stopped doing research because it was costing too much money and they did a cost-benefit calculation. The cost to the bottom line was affecting the benefits to the shareholders. So they either shuttered everything and moved to China or concocted some harebrained 1st year out of Wharton scheme to reduce the cost of research by shifting that burden to academia where they could get cheap grad students to do the work.
      Besides, from what I could tell, the pharmas were on board with the ACA, for some unknown reason. I guess they thought it was better than having the torches and pitchforks demanding price negotiations.
      But if they had been smart (and there’s little evidence of that) they would have elected a more experienced public servant who would have worked with them to untangle WHY research was costing so much without any payoff, like an anachronistic FDA, out of control extortionist class action lawsuits, patent problems, too many M&As, etc. They didn’t. So, now they’re stuck, rapidly descending the patent cliff, screaming their heads off and suddenly realizing that the world still expects innovation from them even as they have abandoned that as being not their problem.
      But the public should take solace in the fact that as most blockbusters go off patent, they will start to become less expensive of their own accord. Then we’ll have a bunch of clueless lefties screaming that the drugs aren’t any good any more, have too many side effects and why won’t drug companies make more perfect drugs that cost no more than generics. Because, you know, that’s just so easy to do in our garage labs these days. {{rolling eyes}}
      To fix the drug crisis is going to take cooperation from everyone. It’s going to take sacrifices from the shareholders. It’s going to take an epiphany from the bonus class that maybe you *can’t* run a drug research division like a car company. It’s going to take government to understand that they need a vibrant research infrastructure and a state of the art FDA regulatory entity. And it’s going to take maturity of the consumer to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect drug and that suing for every side effect tends to inhibit the drug discovery process.
      But whatever. Forbes will write its own set of facts and investors will believe it. So, I guess it will also take investors to figure out that it’s not all about them. Good luck with that.

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