Friday, September 7, 2012

Planning Career Paths for Ph.D.s

 In this week's Editorial in SCIENCE James Austin and Bruce Alberts commented on the value of individual development plans (IDPs) for postdoctoral career development.  The dearth of meaningful opportunities for Ph.D. career development has been a concern of mine for a long time. Thus I was prompted to post the following comment on their editorial. These sentiments hark back to an essay I wrote about two years ago that was my first post on this blog.

Dear Drs. Austin and Alberts,

IDPs are a nice tool for career development. However, the key obstacle for most young Ph.D.s is the lack of meaningful jobs.  Ph.D. and postdoctoral training emphasize the development of sophisticated research skills. Yet as you point out “today, most graduates end up working outside academia, not only in industry but also in careers such as science policy, communications, knowledge brokering, and patent law“. Thus even if there are jobs to be had (a big if in today’s economy) they are in fields that may require some knowledge of science, but do not require the focus on research that is the key element of Ph.D. training.  The accompanying article in this week’s issue of SCIENCE on East Asia's "Reverse Brain Drain" further emphasizes the desperation of many young scientists in the US and Europe who may have to pull up roots to look for jobs in Asia. The ultimate solution is not IDPs, but rather scientific birth control to reduce the number while increasing the quality of science Ph.D.s and postdoctorals. For a fuller discussion see- “Why are there still too many graduate students?” at

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