Another Scientific Casualty

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I am an organic chemistry graduate student that is facing the
realities of being in American science. Chemistry used to be one of
the few fields where people got jobs right after getting their PhD.
But in the past three years, we joined the ranks of the rest of the
PhDs. We now have a long Post-Doc trap, outright unemployment and
massive outsourcing. There is little chance of making it to retirement
anymore. And it's not getting better anytime soon.

I'm already more than half way through my PhD and will not have a job
for 4-5 years if I'm lucky. I love science, but the profession has
become ridiculous now. This is a tough question, but what the hell
should I do? Go into medicine? Teach high school? Expunge my PhD and
start all over?

I admire your escape from the wage slavery that I will have to endure,
possibly as a PhD at McDonalds. Just looking for some creative
answers, besides my boss telling me to learn Chinese.

-- Jonny Good, April 22, 2010


Hmmm... your boss, despite being too dumb to go to med school, might be on the right track with the Chinese suggestion. The U.S. economy and therefore job market is becoming ever more dominated by government-sponsored enterprises (e.g., banking, health care) and/or government itself. It is hard to see why a Ph.D. in Chemistry would be useful. By contrast, a huge number of rapidly growing enterprises in China are heavily dependent on technical and scientific innovation of all kinds. Look at for just one example. If you want to stick with Chemistry, figure out if you'd like to live in China. If the answer is "no", probably it is time to prepare yourself to work in a government-sponsored enterprise (e.g., medicine, as you say) or for the government (teaching high school 5 hours/day for $10,000/month (in Massachusetts you only have to work 4.5 days/month; you get every Wednesday afternoon off in most districts)).

-- Philip Greenspun, April 25, 2010

Thanks Philip. The government does seem to be becoming a bigger employer these days. I've been a part of it since I was five years old in the education machine of government :D. However it does come with what I call "skill rot" and "skill obsolescence". Government jobs tend to be so narrow the rest of my skills would just rot. Teaching is just as bad, ten years would be enough to turn me into a Walmart greeter in the private sector. Nevertheless, they are good ideas at this time. If American science ever recovers, I fear it may be long after I could have benefited.

-- Jonny Good, April 27, 2010

you are definitely smart enough to invent something new, find venture capital, create the next Microsoft and employ us all. So get off your sorry ass and do it. I, who do not have my PhD, need the job!

-- Jan Hansen, September 7, 2010