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More on PhD glut

Some religion professor has noticed a population that is growing faster than the resources needed to support its preferred lifestyle.

Yes, more PhD's are produced each year than academic jobs. Few science PhD's are unemployed for long, but going to grad school might sometimes decrease, rather than increase, your lifetime income. I've commented on that before and advised people not to go to grad school unless they think they will find grad school itself worthwhile. But I thought one of the comments (from Igor Litvinyuk) was quite insightful:

Fierce competition for academic positions is the only way to maintain excellence in academia. That's why academia needs more qualified Ph.D.-holding candidates than there are vacancies.... society gains from having an excellent merit-based academic research system. Some measure of frustration and disappointment among the less successful contestants who chose to participate in this competitive system is unavoidable and is not unreasonable price to pay. Is it really all that different from other walks of life where competition is the norm, i.e. sports, literature or show business?

I agree that the optimum ratio of PhD's to jobs (or the optimum funding percentage for grant proposals) should be determined by long-term benefits to societies, not just the short-term interests of PhD's or grant applicants. But I wonder whether, beyond some point, increasing competition may be counter-productive, and not just for the competitors.

Comments

About your comment "Few science PhD's are unemployed for long", I would say maybe "Few US science PhDs", as the situation might be very different in other countries.

On the general issue of competition, I agree with you that "beyond some point increasing competition may be counter-productive". One of those points might be when the best people decide not to pursue an academic career because: 1. it's not rewarding from an economic point of view 2. the abundance of competitors makes it too risky

All the best
Carmelo

Carmelo,

Good points. And what happens when success rates for research grants fall below 5%? We may soon find out.

I may start focusing on applied work with immediate commercial applications, at the expense of basic research that could support a wider range of applications.

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