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Is academia a scam?

by gravenewworld
Tags: academia, scam
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Mute
#55
Feb25-12, 10:14 AM
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Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
By that logic, a university science department should also hire its top tier faculty on a short-term, contract basis, rather than offering lifetime tenure, yet they don't. It's not for teaching purposes either, because most of the classes are taught by grad student TA's and part-time adjuncts.
What university do you go do/department are you in? That's certainly not the case at either my undergrad or graduate university. Nearly all courses are taught by the main professorial faculty. Adjuncts might teach a course here or there, and they usually end up teaching the summer courses, but otherwise it's the main faculty. Graduate students do of course teach discussion/tutorial sections and often grades quizzes, homework and exams, but they rarely teach the main course, at least in physics. I'm really not sure how your claim is justified.
nickyrtr
#56
Feb25-12, 12:53 PM
P: 89
Quote Quote by Mute View Post
What university do you go do/department are you in? That's certainly not the case at either my undergrad or graduate university. Nearly all courses are taught by the main professorial faculty. Adjuncts might teach a course here or there, and they usually end up teaching the summer courses, but otherwise it's the main faculty. Graduate students do of course teach discussion/tutorial sections and often grades quizzes, homework and exams, but they rarely teach the main course, at least in physics. I'm really not sure how your claim is justified.
Most undergrad courses do have a professor who lectures, but the bulk of the interactive teaching work is done by TA's in lab/quiz sections. Some universities rely more on their tenured faculty for teaching than others, but it does not change that fact that teaching is secondary in hiring and promoting professors. Those are primarily based on research accomplishments, at least at a research university.

Back to the original point -- research is a project-based enterprise, but that does not preclude longer-term employment for researchers, as demonstrated by the existence of research faculty appointments with lifetime tenure. Offering postdocs longer-term, more geographically stable employment is possible, if academic institutions so choose, or are induced to choose by legislation, collective bargaining, etc.
ParticleGrl
#57
Feb25-12, 01:06 PM
P: 683
Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
Offering postdocs longer-term, more geographically stable employment is possible, if academic institutions so choose, or are induced to choose by legislation, collective bargaining, etc.
But it defeats the whole reason postdocs are desirable. A university needs professors to set the research agenda, and to apply for grants. Those professors need skilled people to actually do the work. As soon as postdocs aren't simple low-wage migrant labor, their usefulness is reduced.

The phd system isn't designed to give scientists stable careers, its designed to push wages down to get as much science done as cheaply as possible. You're essentially saying "if postdocs weren't designed as low-wage contingent labor jobs, they'd be better." This is true, but not particularly profound.
LogicX
#58
Feb25-12, 03:27 PM
P: 181
I did not go into science to become a banker after wasting 10 years of my life. Reading this thread is really making me consider going to med school instead. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and if what I want to do is really a toss up between medicine and research, medicine just seems like a much better field. Or maybe an MD/PhD program.
Choppy
#59
Feb25-12, 03:29 PM
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Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
By that logic, a university science department should also hire its top tier faculty on a short-term, contract basis, rather than offering lifetime tenure, yet they don't. It's not for teaching purposes either, because most of the classes are taught by grad student TA's and part-time adjuncts.

Other organizations, outside academia, also serve diverse, time-limited projects but still manage to keep a permanent staff. The military never knows what war it will have to fight with what operational conditions, yet it has career officers and enlisted. A law firm never knows what cases will arise, but still manages to keep a permanent staff of lawyers and clerks. It can be done.



Why would you expect a new graduate to be better trained than a postdoc that has recently completed a research project in the field? The only advantage that I can imagine for the new graduate is that s/he is younger and more energetic, with fewer family commitments. That is the reason the private sector often prefers to hire younger job applicants; such age preference is of course illegal in many countries, but it still happens and is difficult to prove.
Sorry - I had an intricate response for you, but then my service provider hiccuped.

Anyway, the point is that I don't disagree with your idea. I just don't see how it's practical. And it will be a lot of work to convince the people who hold the purse strings to provide stable jobs when (a) the precendent is that they don't have to, (b) there is no practical evidence to suggest that doing so will have any major benefit, and (c) even the theory that it would be helpful is debatable.
deRham
#60
Feb25-12, 03:50 PM
P: 410
Those professors need skilled people to actually do the work. As soon as postdocs aren't simple low-wage migrant labor, their usefulness is reduced.
While this makes sense in some areas of research, my impression is there are areas of research where there is very little work that can be relegated to the postdocs. I've found in mathematics for instance, it isn't at all uncommon to see a postdoc doing something nobody else in the department is doing.

I imagine there are at least some areas of theoretical physics where the same sort of remark holds.

Yet, why is the system roughly the same in that case? I don't see the benefit of having so many more postdocs than tenure-track (that is, people with a reasonable chance of remaining at the university given that their research is strong).

Why would you expect a new graduate to be better trained than a postdoc that has recently completed a research project in the field?
Exactly, I agree with this. I'm not sure if I'm missing something, but I see almost no reason not to believe this.

there is no practical evidence to suggest that doing so will have any major benefit, and (c) even the theory that it would be helpful is debatable.
If expendable labor that full-time faculty can relegate to those of lower rank is the goal, then this is true.

But in the cases where little such relegation of labor is practical, I'd presume the obvious goal to strive for is to get the most and best research output possible for the amount you pay your researchers. Perhaps it is true that those who obtain tenure at, say, MIT are so absurdly above the leagues of most researchers that there's no reason to contemplate hiring too many others.

I have heard of systems where tenure-track positions are effectively not tenure-track, since nearly nobody gets tenure, but I only hear of these much at universities like Princeton. I wonder if a better model than lots of expendable postdocs and a reasonable number of tenured faculty is to have more in the middle, and fewer at top. I think it would encourage more of the bright postdocs with good ideas to stick it out and produce lots of things. Maybe they won't get tenure, but if they aren't sent away in favor of a newbie every few years, maybe they'll stick it out longer and produce things they really couldn't have as newbies (or, for that matter, disgruntled people who walked away from academia to a different career).

After all, universities pour a lot of money into graduate students (paying tuition + for TA duties), and they offer tenured faculty significant benefits, so I can't help but wonder why there's less in between, since I've heard time and again that the in between phase produces a lot of the best research (in between when you're too old and too young to do anything impressive).
nickyrtr
#61
Feb25-12, 04:05 PM
P: 89
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
[...] The phd system isn't designed to give scientists stable careers, its designed to push wages down to get as much science done as cheaply as possible. [...]
Many other industries, if you could call science an industry, are or were similarly designed. Historically, when an economic relationship is unbalanced to the severe detriment of one group of people, that group eventually changes the relationship, one way or another.

What's probably going to happen in science is that the science PhD glut will become better and better publicized, and fewer students will pursue science PhDs in years to come. Fewer PhD graduates means a smaller supply of postdocs and therefore less science getting done, if postdoc labor really is essential to research. Ironically, it may also mean better wages and working conditions for the postdocs that remain, due to the laws of supply and demand.
ParticleGrl
#62
Feb25-12, 04:21 PM
P: 683
Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
What's probably going to happen in science is that the science PhD glut will become better and better publicized, and fewer students will pursue science PhDs in years to come.
This already happened decades ago- the number of US citizens getting phds in the sciences started dropping off as the job opportunities shrank. So what happens? We dramatically expanded foreign enrollment in phd programs. It will be a long time before we run out of people willing to pursue a phd entirely for the chance to immigrate. I doubt the situation in science will change in my lifetime. Which leads to the question- why do we encourage careers in science as if they are good jobs?
czelaya
#63
Feb25-12, 05:13 PM
P: 72
I wonder whether there has been a push to make PhD's in science a professional degree program with a license. I would assume, if done right, whatever institutions grant the license could artificially decrease the poll of graduating students and cause an increase in salary. Much like the AMA limits the poll of doctors.
czelaya
#64
Feb25-12, 05:46 PM
P: 72
Quote Quote by LogicX View Post
So, this thread is making me very worried. How hard are chemistry jobs to come by compared to physics? I feel like chemistry has a lot of industrial application, or are all those jobs populated by chemical engineers?
It's just as bad from my point of view and according to what the ACS is stating in the latest journals-job prospects are not well. I should be graduating with my PhD soon in chemical physics and already have masters in theoretical chemistry, and I'm worried. I choose to pursue the PhD, primarily, because I couldn't find a job. Choosing to continue my education was a no brainier. My stipend with a local grant was paying 30K-plus the free tuition.

As far as job prospects... well, lets say I'm glad that part of my research included some exposure to both analytical and organic chemistry. I picked up skills in HPLC analysis, gas chromatography, exposure to synthesis chemistry(which I hated with a passion), and some exposure to chemical engineering that are more marketable in the local job market. From my short exposure to job hunting-these seem to be the only jobs that are available locally. What's even worse is a good portion of these jobs could be picked up by engineers, Ms. Science majors (including biologist), and anyone with exposure to these fields. I'm pretty limited to moving because I have young daughter, and don't wish to leave her anytime soon, so I'm really stuck in a rut.

What's interesting is when I look at my research committee. It consist of a PhD in chemical engineering who is doing organic and analytical chemistry research for the FDA. He basically tells me it's no what he wants to do but, hey, it's what pays the bills. However he gets to control his research to a large degree. Two of the professors in my committee graduated in theoretical physics and have slowly migrated to biophysics and computational chemistry. I also have a computational physicist in the committee that only recently got into academics (he was doing work in financial econometrics before his tenure into our department). Only my major professor began and still is in solid state physics research.
Pyrrhus
#65
Feb25-12, 06:36 PM
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Quote Quote by czelaya View Post
What's interesting is when I look at my research committee. It consist of a PhD in chemical engineering who is doing organic and analytical chemistry research for the FDA. He basically tells me it's no what he wants to do but, hey, it's what pays the bills. However he gets to control his research to a large degree. Two of the professors in my committee graduated in theoretical physics and have slowly migrated to biophysics and computational chemistry. I also have a computational physicist in the committee that only recently got into academics (he was doing work in financial econometrics before his tenure into our department). Only my major professor began and still is in solid state physics research.
This is true. I know some professors that have Ph.D. in Physics but are faculty in Econ programs. I guess they decided to migrate.

Also for some perspective, a good portion of my classmates while I was taking courses at the PhD level in Econ had a Bachelor in Physics/Math/Engineering (I have a Bachelor in Engineering). Some even had a Master's in some cases (I have a Master's in Engineering).
ParticleGrl
#66
Feb25-12, 07:12 PM
P: 683
This is true. I know some professors that have Ph.D. in Physics but are faculty in Econ programs. I guess they decided to migrate.
"Decided" is probably not strong enough. The better phrase is "lack of opportunity forced them to"
chill_factor
#67
Feb26-12, 02:05 AM
P: 887
Quote Quote by czelaya View Post
It's just as bad from my point of view and according to what the ACS is stating in the latest journals-job prospects are not well. I should be graduating with my PhD soon in chemical physics and already have masters in theoretical chemistry, and I'm worried. I choose to pursue the PhD, primarily, because I couldn't find a job. Choosing to continue my education was a no brainier. My stipend with a local grant was paying 30K-plus the free tuition.

As far as job prospects... well, lets say I'm glad that part of my research included some exposure to both analytical and organic chemistry. I picked up skills in HPLC analysis, gas chromatography, exposure to synthesis chemistry(which I hated with a passion), and some exposure to chemical engineering that are more marketable in the local job market. From my short exposure to job hunting-these seem to be the only jobs that are available locally. What's even worse is a good portion of these jobs could be picked up by engineers, Ms. Science majors (including biologist), and anyone with exposure to these fields. I'm pretty limited to moving because I have young daughter, and don't wish to leave her anytime soon, so I'm really stuck in a rut.

What's interesting is when I look at my research committee. It consist of a PhD in chemical engineering who is doing organic and analytical chemistry research for the FDA. He basically tells me it's no what he wants to do but, hey, it's what pays the bills. However he gets to control his research to a large degree. Two of the professors in my committee graduated in theoretical physics and have slowly migrated to biophysics and computational chemistry. I also have a computational physicist in the committee that only recently got into academics (he was doing work in financial econometrics before his tenure into our department). Only my major professor began and still is in solid state physics research.
you sound like you have experience in the physical biosciences. how is the employment in experimental physical biosciences? you seem like have the same background as i so i am very interested. i am in the process of selecting a research project and the decision between inorganic crystalline materials (superconductors) and bio is very hard since they're in different schools and i will not be able to change until graduation.
czelaya
#68
Feb26-12, 10:31 AM
P: 72
Quote Quote by chill_factor View Post
you sound like you have experience in the physical biosciences. how is the employment in experimental physical biosciences? you seem like have the same background as i so i am very interested. i am in the process of selecting a research project and the decision between inorganic crystalline materials (superconductors) and bio is very hard since they're in different schools and i will not be able to change until graduation.
My graduate program is a concerted effort between the physics and chemistry department. I have a molecular biology/biochemistry BS(this is where I got my exposure to organic, biochemistry, and laboratory training) and a physics BS. So that's the extent of my course work/laboratory exposure to biology.

As far as physical biochemistry, it overlaps heavily with biophysics, physical chemistry, chemical physics, and theoretical modeling. The majority of all students in these concentrations take overlapping course work (thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, quantum chemistry, atomic physics, mathematical methods, and so forth). My only exposure to these fields were course work, and working on small projects consisting of molecular dynamics of water in protein cavities and statistical mechanical applications to large proteins (the protein folding problem).

My only insight to these fields is that out of academia, physical bio-sciences are becoming less frequent in industry. We already had two guest speakers from large pharmaceutical companies and other related industries, and they all basically said the same thing. Companies are downsizing, and jobs are being shipped outside the US. So job prospects, overall, are not well in these fields.

As far as inorganic chemistry, solid state physics, and materials sciences, the job market is flourishing (meaning you should get a job in about a year). There are a lot of grants being given, and money is being pumped into these field at both the public and private sector.

The only piece of advice I would give myself, when I started my program, extrapolate how marketable your degree specialty is. However that piece of advice, at times, is worth a grain of salt. Why? Because changes are always coming, and you don't know where industries are steering next. When I got into graduate school fields like x-ray crystallography, molecular physics, chemical physics, quantum chemistry, and so forth were hot (well that's what I was told and most students graduating in these fields were finding employment in academics, industry, USDA, and the FDA) but then the downturn in the economy changed everything. My second piece of advice is learn as much as you can. Try to pick up skills that may work to your benefit across the board like programming language, laboratory instrumentation, and anything that has applications to industry. I'm glad I learned industrial chemical analysis. I'm not very good at chemistry but I've done enough to get some job interviews. I'm sure there are far more knowledgeable and well seasoned people on this web site that would give you better advice. Good luck.
twofish-quant
#69
Feb26-12, 09:51 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
Here is an economics project then- why is the labor market for economists so much better than the labor market for scientists?
Part of it is the "second Einstein effect". Once you have one Einstein that works out general relativity, then there isn't a job left for a second Einstein. One other thing is that in physics, once you figure out some fundamental law, you are done. Once you've worked out string theory or quantum gravity, you let everyone know, and you are finished.

In economics, the rules change so often, that knowing how derivative markets worked in 1980 is only of marginal benefit to knowing the rules in 2012. So you have to rederive all your models every few months.

Does this say anything about where our economy is headed?
Has headed. The bus left decades ago.

The US became a post-industrial service economy decades ago. Citigroup has roughly the same head count as GM, and Morgan-Stanley has roughly the same head count as Chrysler. One thing that changes public perceptions of finance is the fact that finance is not unionized. When you talk about an auto company, the fact that you have a union makes people aware that not every in an auto company is a auto executive.

Because financial companies are tight lipped and non-unionized, the only people that people on the outside see are the top executives, which makes people assume that everyone that works in a bank is a managing director.
twofish-quant
#70
Feb26-12, 09:59 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
Back to the original point -- research is a project-based enterprise, but that does not preclude longer-term employment for researchers, as demonstrated by the existence of research faculty appointments with lifetime tenure. Offering postdocs longer-term, more geographically stable employment is possible, if academic institutions so choose, or are induced to choose by legislation, collective bargaining, etc.
The problem here is that if you do that, then you've just destroyed the tenure system. Once you have postdocs having long term contracts, and getting into positions of authority, then pretty soon, that's going to be the standard practice. One thing about legislation is that when it comes to politicians, both post-docs and tenured faculty are on the same side. No one wants politicians to start mandating terms of employment.

I'm reminded of the conversation between Bryant and Deckard in Bladerunner in which it's mentioned that androids why have a programmed four year life span.

One other thing to note is that tenure was not unusual in most unionized industries in the 1950's. It's only because of changes in the labor market that made professors have different hiring practices.
twofish-quant
#71
Feb26-12, 10:08 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by czelaya View Post
Companies are downsizing, and jobs are being shipped outside the US. So job prospects, overall, are not well in these fields.
One thing that's good about a Ph.D. is that it will get you at the head of a queue if you want to switch countries. This works if you want to get into the US, but it also works if you want to get out.

Something else that is happening is the decline of relative US power. If you have a committee full of Americans, you can appeal to patriotism to keep jobs in the US. If it turns out that the people who are running the company aren't American, then appeals to American patriotism aren't going to work, and increasingly the people that make decisions about where the jobs are, aren't American.

I've seen this dynamic in multi-national companies. If you want to make a decision as to whether to move a plant from the US to India, then it's going to *have* to be based on economic decisions rather than on nationalism, because appeals to "keep jobs in America" won't appeal to the Indians involved in making the decision.
twofish-quant
#72
Feb26-12, 10:15 PM
P: 6,863
Quote Quote by nickyrtr View Post
What's probably going to happen in science is that the science PhD glut will become better and better publicized, and fewer students will pursue science PhDs in years to come.
At which point you may have a boom-bust cycle which just wrecks the system.

Or you end up with an economic death spiral. Fewer Ph.D.'s -> less economic growth -> fewer Ph.D.'s -> less economic growth

Ironically, it may also mean better wages and working conditions for the postdocs that remain, due to the laws of supply and demand.
Supply and demand aren't "iron laws" rather like everything else in economics, they can be modeled. The rules of supply and demand that work in perfect markets don't work with science hiring, but it's not hard to come up with other models.


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