Apr 21 2012

“Overproduction of PhDs” Is Demonstrably False

There is a big fucken snivel-fest going on over at DrugMonkey about how terrible it is for universities to increase the number of PhDs they award in the natural sciences and how morally correct it is for institutions to decrease their admission of PhD students, because there are not enough jobbes as faculty or other researcher positions for the number of PhDs produced. This is a total load of arrant bullshitte.

“Overproduction of PhDs” is a demonstrably false claim:


The unemployment rate for PhDs in 2011 was 2.5%, and the median weekly earnings were $1551 (> $80,000 per year). This is much greater than any other level of educational attainment other than professional degrees (law, medicine, etc). There is only “overproduction of PhDs” if you assume that PhDs are only being produced to become faculty members who go on to train additional PhDs.

If there was “overproduction of PhDs”, then PhDs wouldn’t be making so much more money than almost anyone else. And considering that in the natural sciences, you get your PhD for free–and even get paid while doing so–it is an excellent deal.

My institution is intentionally and explicitly following a policy of increasing the number of PhD students in the biomedical sciences, in part by actually devoting hard institutional dollars to the support of PhD students, and rightfully so.

The fact that many institutions are cutting back their production of PhDs for fiscal reasons is far from salutary, and in the long run is going to severely harm the competitiveness of the US economy as compared to other advanced and developing economies whose politics aren’t grossly distorted by deranged racist misogynist white jeezus-freak lunatics.


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  1. 1
    David Marjanović

    Preach it, Proffe!

  2. 2

    Yay, that means I am not stuck in a meaningless, jobless future when someday I get my PhD.

  3. 3

    You’re right that we probably shouldn’t be slowing production of science-related PhDs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an overproduction of humanities PhDs. Median means that half the PhD holders are earning less than $80K a year, not necessarily a great outcome for 9-10 years of higher education.

  4. 4

    “The fact that many institutions are cutting back their production of PhDs for fiscal reasons is far from salutary”

    What confuses me the most about this statement is I know for a fact that grad students bring in cash for most institutions. My PI gets charged on the order of $50k/yr by my institution in order to keep me around, and I don’t even take classes. And that’s in addition to my salary stipend. To my knowledge, that’s pretty par for the course at most institutions.

  5. 5

    Comrade Physioprof,

    So how many of your students are employed in industry or academy? By employed, I mean fulltime. If they are in academics, how many are in tenure track positions?

  6. 6

    “Note: Data are for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers.”

  1. 7
    Casey A. Ydenberg - Portfolio

    […] who argue that most PhDs who never become faculty will nevertheless find good jobs doing something else, argue that the cost of investing time in graduate school belongs to the trainee. If s/he wants to […]

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