Monday, April 26, 2010

Need more scientists? I call bullshit

The CEO of Xerox says the state of math and science education in the US is "very, very, very poor." And she says that we need to graduate more scientists.


First, the US has the best science and math education system in the world at the graduate level, as judged by *science productivity. Efficient? Maybe not. Ideally suited for training scientists for what they'll actually do for the rest of their lives? Maybe not. But producing scientific publications? Hell yes.

And does the US need more scientists? Maybe my perspective is skewed, being a biophysics Ph.D. student with a physicist for a husband, and currently living in Silicon Valley. But I know too many excellent scientists without jobs to lend any credence whatsoever to the statement that we need more scientists. My husband's company puts out job ads looking for an extremely specific type of physicist, and gets 500+ applications. Who wants more scientists? CEO's of large tech-based companies want more scientist so more people compete for their job openings, so the companies can hire better scientists for worse working conditions. Personally, that's not what I want.

Xerox's CEO says we graduate lots of lawyers in the US, but not enough scientists. Well, maybe we could try paying scientist better. We're in school for several years longer than lawyers, and we pull similarly long hours, but our salaries tend to be **<2/3of lawyers salaries. And I know our graduate education is paid for and lawyers' educations are not, but the fact that they graduate and start making 6 figures at age 25 and we graduate at age 28+ more than makes up for their education costs.

More scientists? No thank you. Better valued and better treated scientists? Yes, please.

*ISI Web of Knowledge search of the Science Citation Index Expanded,
Articles only, Year to date 2010 publications
1. USA - 83,356
2. Peoples R China - 39,613
3. Germany - 23,403

**Total compensation in US, base salary + bonuses + benefits (from
Attorney I - $138k
Attorney II - 173k
Attorney III - 218k

Scientist I Biotech - $120k
Scientist II Biotech - 143k
Scientist III Biotech - 163k

Postdoctoral Scientist - $63k
Assistant Professor - Chemistry - 74k
Associate Professor - Chemistry - 88k

Average attorney salary = $176k
Average scientist salary = $108.5k


  1. More science programs is I think what we'd need. More outlets than universities for scientists. More scientific and innovative companies and more laboratories. The Xerox CEO and her wealthy business colleagues have a lot more control over that than how many scientists we graduate. If they create a demand for the job, people will be there. And there's nothing to stop a scientist from going back for his law degree, so obviously the fact that it's lucrative on paper is not everything, or all the scientists would quit to become lawyers. And how many lawyers are out of work now anyways? I know plenty who graduated in the last two years who still can't get jobs.

  2. I agree with you here. I'm a few months away from graduating, and there are very few jobs in industry that I would be suited for (which I have gone after), and I never heard back from. I'm so tired of people saying that there are plenty of science-related jobs out there. Where is there?

    And on top of that (at least from my own experience), advisers/committee members cannot even imagine the "other jobs" that are not even academia. Their career advice is, "Yes, you too can be a professor!"