The New York Timesu je izšel daljši članek “So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors” v katerem so predstavili strukturni problem, s katerim se sooča znanost v ZDA, pa tudi drugje po svetu. Univerze izšolajo vedno več sposobnih znanstvenikov in znanstvenic, ki želijo delovati v akademskem svetu, število profesorskih mest in količina denarja za raziskovalne projekte pa se praviloma ne povečuje. Kaj storiti?

The United States is producing more research scientists than academia can handle. We have been told time and again that the United States needs more scientists, but when it comes to some of the most desirable science jobs — tenure-track professorships at universities, where much of the exciting work is done — there is such a surplus of Ph.D.s that in the most popular fields, like biomedicine, fewer than one in six has a chance of joining the club in the foreseeable future.

While they try to get a foot in the door, many spend years after getting their Ph.D. as poorly paid foot soldiers in a system that can afford to exploit them. Even someone as brilliant as Emmanuelle Charpentier, who in 2015 became head of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology after a momentous discovery in gene editing, spent the previous 25 years moving through nine institutions in five countries.

The lure of a tenured job in academia is great — it means a secure, prestigious position directing a lab that does cutting-edge experiments, often carried out by underlings. Yet although many yearn for such jobs, fewer than half of those who earn science or engineering doctorates end up in the sort of academic positions that directly use what they were trained for.

Others, ending up in industry, business or other professions, do interesting work and earn lucrative salaries and can contribute enormously to society. But by the time many give up on academia — four to six years or more for a Ph.D., a decade or more as a postdoc, they are edging toward middle age, having spent their youth in temporary low-paying positions getting highly specialized training they do not need.

Now, as a new crop of graduate students receives Ph.D.s in science, researchers worry over the future of some of these dedicated people; they’re trained to be academics and are often led to believe that anything else is an admission of failure. …

The engineering school at M.I.T., for example, often gets 400 applicants for every open assistant professor job, says Richard Larson, an operations research professor there. Many, he adds, are “superstellar.”

One way to see what is happening is to look at a measure, called R0, used in demography to show how a population is growing. If every baby girl in a population grows up to have one baby girl on average, R0 is one, and the population size will remain constant. If R0 is significantly greater than one, the population can explode.

Dr. Larson and his colleagues calculated R0s for various science fields in academia. There, R0 is the average number of Ph.D.s that a tenure-track professor will graduate over the course of his or her career, with an R0 of one meaning each professor is replaced by one new Ph.D. The highest R0 is in environmental engineering, at 19.0. It is lower — 6.3 — in biological and medical sciences combined, but that still means that for every new Ph.D. who gets a tenure-track academic job, 5.3 will be shut out. In other words, Dr. Larson said, 84 percent of new Ph.D.s in biomedicine “should be pursuing other opportunities” — jobs in industry or elsewhere, for example, that are not meant to lead to a professorship.

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