There is no shortage of STEM students or graduates

July 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm Leave a comment

Beki Grinter sent me a link to this fascinating article which argues that there is no shortage of quality STEM students or even STEM graduates.  The problem is that our system of graduate students and post-docs has turned the adolescent stage of becoming a permanent researcher in the US into a long, torturous, low-paying ordeal.  I laughed out loud (from the perspective of “So sad and true that it has to be funny or you’d cry”) at the quote: “The main difference between postdocs and migrant agricultural laborers, he jokes, is that the Ph.D.s don’t pick fruit.”  As one of the interviewees says of the declining numbers of US students becoming STEM faculty: “It’s not an education story, it’s a labor market story.”

“There is no scientist shortage,” declares Harvard economics professor Richard Freeman, a pre-eminent authority on the scientific work force. Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a leading demographer who is also a national authority on science training, cites the “profound irony” of crying shortage — as have many business leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates — while scores of thousands of young Ph.D.s labor in the nation’s university labs as low-paid, temporary workers, ostensibly training for permanent faculty positions that will never exist.

via The Real Science Gap | Miller-McCune Online.

The analysis of why there is no problem with our current output of K-12 STEM students was particularly interesting.  They claim that our top students are among the very best in the world, and that that’s where we draw our STEM workers from.  The problem is one of equity, not numbers.

White Americans on average substantially outscored Europeans in math and science and came in second to the Japanese, but American black and Hispanic students on average significantly trailed all other groups. Raising America’s average scores therefore doesn’t require repairing an educational system that performs poorly overall, but boosting the performance of the students at the bottom, overwhelmingly from low-income and minority families.

This piece is relevant for this blog, not just because we’ve talked often here about the state of STEM hiring, and about the mixed messages that we get about whether or not there is a shortage of CS/IT jobs or not.  Read the comments after the article.  A great many of them are from CS graduate students or PhD’s.  While the article focuses predominantly on the life sciences (which sound even worse off than in computing), it’s pretty clear that a lot of people from our side of the STEM town see themselves in this article.

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