Friday, February 19, 2016

The Way to Cure Cancer- Not!

This week’s Nature had an article critical of the new $1 billion cancer cure project from the Obama administration. I agree with the journal. While one sympathizes completely with VP Biden’s recent tragic loss of his son to cancer, this is not the way to move forward. As in the past, throwing big bucks at cancer will probably involve large scale, multi-investigator ‘translational’ research projects that are often inefficient and unproductive.  What will ultimately benefit cancer patients is continuing research on basic molecular mechanisms of cancer and how to alter those mechanisms. For example, the recent evolution of the CRISPR gene editing technology, a basic research discovery, is likely to have a greater positive impact on cancer therapy than many of the more applied projects sponsored by the NCI. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

More Bad News for Biomedical PhDs

A recent article in SCIENCE provided a thorough study of several thousand early career PhD graduates from several large public universities. I guess the good news is that most of them were not employed at McDonalds or Walmart. However, the bad news is the paltry salaries that many young PhDs are receiving, particularly those in the biomedical sciences.

Most newly minted biomedical PhDs go on to do academic postdoctoral stints, so it is not surprising that this group has low wages. However, according to the study about 25% of graduates go into industry where one would expect higher wages. To be sure industrial salaries are higher than academic postdocs, but they still run in the $50-75,000 range. Considering that a PhD is a 4-7 year investment, it is interesting to compare industry salaries for early stage PhDs with those of a postman ($51,790). 

The low salaries no doubt reflect the laws of supply and demand. With universities continuing to churn out PhDs the value of the degree is diluted. Overproduction of PhDs in the biomedical sciences, as well as industry driven importation of low wage foreign workers especially in computer science, both drive down salaries.

This is an old story that has been commented on several times in this blog—but nothing seems to change.