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Is academia a scam?

by gravenewworld
Tags: academia, scam
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gravenewworld
#1
Feb10-12, 05:29 PM
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If professor x graduates 5 students and those 5 students graduate 5 more, and so on and so forth won't we reach a point where there will be complete oversaturation? Professors don't retire fast enough to compete with exponential growth. Should faculty start telling more of their students to turn away from academia instead of pursuing post docs until they are 40?
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daveyinaz
#2
Feb10-12, 05:35 PM
P: 225
Yes to answer the post's title...but in my mind for entirely different reasons.
DivisionByZro
#3
Feb10-12, 06:07 PM
P: 252
So...every student that graduates from professor X tries to get back into academia? I think not. In my experience, a lot of undergraduates steer away from grad school as their bachelor's was hard enough.

Choppy
#4
Feb10-12, 06:11 PM
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Is academia a scam?

I think we reached that point somewhere around 1972.

I don't think it's a scam though. It is what it is. The shortfall lies in the assumption that the only thing a student with a PhD should be doing is trying to work as a purely academic professor. The world is better off with more educated people in it, in my opinion.

The solution perhaps, lies in exploring ways in which schools can assist students (and students can assist themselves) into the transition out of academia.
gravenewworld
#5
Feb10-12, 06:20 PM
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Quote Quote by DivisionByZro View Post
So...every student that graduates from professor X tries to get back into academia? I think not. In my experience, a lot of undergraduates steer away from grad school as their bachelor's was hard enough.
Of course not, but many professor xs graduate more than 5 students too. Why are there so many post docs these days that are in their late 30s?
daveyrocket
#6
Feb10-12, 07:30 PM
P: 185
Quote Quote by gravenewworld View Post
If professor x graduates 5 students and those 5 students graduate 5 more, and so on and so forth won't we reach a point where there will be complete oversaturation? Professors don't retire fast enough to compete with exponential growth. Should faculty start telling more of their students to turn away from academia instead of pursuing post docs until they are 40?
Yeah it's a scam. Not just because of the rate at which students get trained, but because professors know that if they were honest about job prospects, then they wouldn't have any postdocs to do their work.
Pengwuino
#7
Feb10-12, 09:18 PM
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How is it a scam? At what point during a BS or PhD are students told they have to go into academia and become professors? A scam, by definition, must tell its targets of an attainable position/result when in fact, that position/result is impossible or nearly impossible to reach.

Thus, it is not a scam, despite some people deciding on their own that the only job they should be going for is a professorship.
JakeBrodskyPE
#8
Feb10-12, 09:58 PM
P: 488
It is no more a scam than anything else that reaches an economic peak.

The real question is whether the education one receives in schools these days can truly make one a better, more productive person. And there is no easy answer to that question because it is too open ended. Certainly some educations are better at this than others.

And though I'll admit a very strong bias on this issue, I tend to think that educations in Science and Engineering tend to do just that. Some educations such as those that include philosophy, and classic literature can also go a long way toward that goal. Beyond that, I think that schools should ask themselves why the feel that such degrees are relevant...
Vanadium 50
#9
Feb10-12, 10:09 PM
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Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
but because professors know that if they were honest about job prospects, then they wouldn't have any postdocs to do their work.
I tell every postdoc applicant who the previous postdocs were, and where they are now. Furthermore, I don't understand how anyone can get a PhD and not be able to do gravenewworld's calculation.
Mépris
#10
Feb10-12, 10:25 PM
P: 830
@Jake
If you say philosophy and classic literature (you mean a broad literature course or one focused on Ancient Greece and Rome?) degrees are worthwhile, then I'd take that a mile further and say that most academic disciplines in the arts have some kind of "academic value". Even Women's Studies...although I definitely wouldn't be paying any of my $$$ to major in that!

People just shouldn't expect that their university degree is a trade school diploma (as Vanadium 50 would say). There's a few degrees like physiotherapy (an undergraduate course in many countries), accounting, actuarial science or social work, that I just cannot understand the existence of. Those should be in trade schools. Heck, one doesn't even need an accounting/actuarial science degree to get that kind of job. Not sure about the US, but elsewhere, one needs to do take a set of exams by an external body, say the ACCA. The thing I'm not certain of is whether someone with a major in accounting can get an accounting gig without being certified by something like the ACCA. Likewise for an actuary.
Pengwuino
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Feb10-12, 10:34 PM
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Quote Quote by Mépris View Post
People just shouldn't expect that their university degree is a trade school diploma (as Vanadium 50 would say). There's a few degrees like physiotherapy (an undergraduate course in many countries), accounting, actuarial science or social work, that I just cannot understand the existence of. Those should be in trade schools. Heck, one doesn't even need an accounting/actuarial science degree to get that kind of job. Not sure about the US, but elsewhere, one needs to do take a set of exams by an external body, say the ACCA. The thing I'm not certain of is whether someone with a major in accounting can get an accounting gig without being certified by something like the ACCA. Likewise for an actuary.
Next thing you know, getting Microsoft's A+ certification will require a 2 year AS
JakeBrodskyPE
#12
Feb10-12, 11:01 PM
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Quote Quote by Mépris View Post
@Jake
If you say philosophy and classic literature (you mean a broad literature course or one focused on Ancient Greece and Rome?) degrees are worthwhile, then I'd take that a mile further and say that most academic disciplines in the arts have some kind of "academic value". Even Women's Studies...although I definitely wouldn't be paying any of my $$$ to major in that!
Yes, I'm speaking of a classical education in the arts. However, many courses in the arts take a post-modern approach without demonstrating why such an approach is required. The rigor of a classic education is important even if that rigor is not used for following studies. One should at least understand what assumptions their post-modern thinking comes from. Sadly, very few schools seem to be teaching that.

Quote Quote by Mépris View Post
People just shouldn't expect that their university degree is a trade school diploma (as Vanadium 50 would say). There's a few degrees like physiotherapy (an undergraduate course in many countries), accounting, actuarial science or social work, that I just cannot understand the existence of. Those should be in trade schools. Heck, one doesn't even need an accounting/actuarial science degree to get that kind of job. Not sure about the US, but elsewhere, one needs to do take a set of exams by an external body, say the ACCA. The thing I'm not certain of is whether someone with a major in accounting can get an accounting gig without being certified by something like the ACCA. Likewise for an actuary.
I entirely agree. However, there is a stratification that I'm starting to see among many professional societies where they demand their specific club card of education. Heaven forbid that you should start with a degree in, say, Library Science, and move on to manage a zoo, or run a multi-billion dollar company.

That said, there are also many fools who believe that they're good at anything. These are the morons who think that a good manager can manage anything. If that's true then why do we not see more coaches of figure skating managing basketball teams? If a good manager can manage anything than I guess a good coach can coach anyone on anything, right?

We should seek a good education so that we can learn how to pursue the things we love to do. That is the point. If one can get there by attending classes in Women's Studies, so much the better. I tend to think, however, that more technical classes and more rigor in study are good things. We can always loosen up later; but if we don't start from the classics, very little that comes afterward will have a context against which one can understand it.
ParticleGrl
#13
Feb11-12, 12:33 AM
P: 681
Furthermore, I don't understand how anyone can get a PhD and not be able to do gravenewworld's calculation.
Honestly, I was told over and over again up until maybe two years into my phd how good the career prospects were in science. I trusted the people advising me to know more than I did. The big surprise for me wasn't the poor prospects in academia- it was the poor prospects outside of academia. I got a phd in physics because I wanted a job that used some physics, and just sort of assumed that was normal for phds in physics.

I later found out that my undergraduate research advisor purposely kept his postdocs from interacting with his undergrads because he thought it was scaring undergrads away from the field. Both my undergraduate and grad institutions provided very misleading numbers in their information packet for potential physics majors,etc.

Do I think academia is a scam? Not fully, but I do think that there is a concerted effort to "sell" the major and the phd program, regardless of whether or not its a good idea for an individual. There is a huge moral hazard- every person in a position to offer advice to a student has an incentive to bring them into the program.

People just shouldn't expect that their university degree is a trade school diploma
BUT a phd is NOT a broad education. Its EXTREMELY narrow training in a specific discipline. In terms of the focus, its more like a trade school than a bachelors degree.
mal4mac
#14
Feb11-12, 06:51 AM
P: 1,054
Quote Quote by gravenewworld View Post
If professor x graduates 5 students and those 5 students graduate 5 more, and so on and so forth won't we reach a point where there will be complete oversaturation? Professors don't retire fast enough to compete with exponential growth. Should faculty start telling more of their students to turn away from academia instead of pursuing post docs until they are 40?
Any 12 year old who hangs around physics forums for five minutes soon knows the score! If someone want to pursue post docs until they are 40 then then that's their choice. I've met some like that, they are happy with their lot..., or at least reconciled..., or at least no more angst ridden than they would be in any other walk of life...
ZapperZ
#15
Feb11-12, 07:07 AM
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Quote Quote by gravenewworld View Post
If professor x graduates 5 students and those 5 students graduate 5 more, and so on and so forth won't we reach a point where there will be complete oversaturation? Professors don't retire fast enough to compete with exponential growth. Should faculty start telling more of their students to turn away from academia instead of pursuing post docs until they are 40?
There's a serious flaw with this assumption. It assumes that EVERY single person who goes through this process WANTS to go into academia. This is FALSE.

Only about 10% of the students that go through the program that I'm apart of go into academia. The rest go into private sectors or national labs. This alone should sufficiently destroy that assumption.

Zz.
cdotter
#16
Feb11-12, 08:25 AM
P: 306
Quote Quote by ZapperZ View Post
There's a serious flaw with this assumption. It assumes that EVERY single person who goes through this process WANTS to go into academia. This is FALSE.

Only about 10% of the students that go through the program that I'm apart of go into academia. The rest go into private sectors or national labs. This alone should sufficiently destroy that assumption.

Zz.

How competitive is permanent employment at a national lab?
gravenewworld
#17
Feb11-12, 09:59 AM
P: 1,404
An interesting article to ponder:

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/1104...l/472280a.html

"Most of them are not going to make it." That was the thought that ran through Animesh Ray's mind 15 years ago, as he watched excellent PhD students — including some at his own institution, the University of Rochester in New York — struggle to find faculty positions in academia, the only jobs they had ever been trained for. Some were destined for perpetual postdoctoral fellowships; others would leave science altogether.

Within a few years, the associate professor was in a position to do something about it. A stint in a start-up company in California had convinced him that many PhD graduates were poor at working in teams and managing shifting goals, the type of skills that industrial employers demand. So he started to develop a programme that would give students at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) in Claremont, California, these skills. "I was determined not to have to keep watching scientists struggle to find the jobs they were trained to do."

“I was determined not to have to keep watching scientists struggle.”
Ray is one of a number of researchers and administrators who are attempting to reshape graduate training. They want to save young scientists from falling into the postdoc holding pattern or taking jobs below their station. Here, Nature presents five approaches to shaking up the hallowed foundations of academia. They range from throwing scientists deep into independent study, to going interdisciplinary, to forgoing the PhD altogether.

Maybe institutions should start enforcing mandatory retirement after the age of 60 to give other people the opportunity to find work.
Vanadium 50
#18
Feb11-12, 11:59 AM
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Quote Quote by cdotter View Post
How competitive is permanent employment at a national lab?
Many labs have two tracks, with various names: staff/senior staff, physicist/applications physicist, etc. The fundamental difference is that the former usually gets to direct his or her own research, and the latter does not (although there are obviously shades of gray here). For the former, it's at least as competitive as a faculty position at a major research university, and possibly even more so. These are coveted positions: 100% of your time for research, and the full resources of a national lab behind you.

For the latter, it's "easier" in the sense that the skill set is broader. For example, people who are highly skilled in particular technologies can get lab positions, but are likely to be seen as too narrow or too specialized for a university position. But they are still very competitive. If you are the best guy in the world at making niobium RF cavities, you can write your own ticket. If you are the third best guy in the world, you can get a job. If you are the 10th best guy in the world, you will have a hard time.


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