Back in 2005 an illustrious group was organized to produce a report addressing the state of science and technology in the United States, resulting in what became known as the “Gathering Storm” report since it was entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm. This report recommended that various steps should be taken to increase the number of science Ph.D.s produced in the US and going into the US labor market (while noting that there was no evidence of a shortage of such Ph.D.s).
Last month the group was back, now claiming that the gathering storm has become a hurricane of nearly category 5 intensity, with a new report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5. Yesterday they appeared before the House Science and Technology Committee. In an analysis of what happened to their recommendations, they noted that the call for more Ph.D.s had been effective, with the NSF spending $475 million on graduate student funding during FY 2009-2010. As for the effect of this on their goal of more well-paid jobs for Americans, here’s what they had to say:
A paradox exists in the debate over whether there is a shortage of scientists and engineers or whether there are too many scientists and engineers for the jobs that are available. Most business leaders maintain the former; however, with regard to the more “conventional” functions of these fields it may well be that de facto there can no longer be domestic shortages of scientists and engineers. Firms facing this proposition are simply moving work elsewhere. Similarly, the observation that many scientists and engineers elect to pursue careers in other fields is in many instances simply reflective of the value placed on education in these disciplines by business, law, and medical schools and related employers and should not necessarily be decried. However, if the sole purpose of a PhD in science is considered to be to prepare future educators in science, then a surplus of scientists (often evidenced as a surplus of Post-Doctorate researchers) seems inevitable. The Gathering Storm recommendations are based upon the premise that federal investment in research must be doubled (the report’s second highest priority recommendation)—in which case there will be commensurate increases in demand for researchers . . . and not solely for the purpose of providing educators.
It seems that the idea is that while there’s no Ph.D. shortage at the moment, the Congress will double funding for scientific research over the next few years, so just maybe there could be a shortage in the future and this must be addressed right now.
As for the “paradox” that business leaders see a shortage of the kind of trained scientists and engineers they would like to hire at the wages they would like to pay, it appears to be the same paradoxical shortage I regularly encounter of first-class plane tickets to Paris available at the price I would like to pay for them.
In the real world, the latest Notices of the AMS has data showing the number of mathematics graduate students increasing from 10,883 in fall 2008 to 11,268 last fall. The situation graduating students face is described as:
The job market for doctoral mathematicians took a decided turn for the worse during the 2008-2009 hiring season. For all mathematics departments combined, the number of full-time positions under recruitment during 2008-2009 for employment beginning in fall 2009 decreased 27%, dropping to 1,464 from 2,012 reported last year. This is smallest number of such positions reported since 1997 when it was 1,246. The number of tenured/tenure-track positions under recruitment during this period was 930, down 23% from the previous year’s figure of 1,213. The number of full-time positions filled was 1,274, with 710 of these tenured/tenure-track positions. These figures are down 30% and 27%, respectively, from the figures reported for the 2007-2008 hiring season.
For all mathematics departments combined, the number of new doctoral recipients hired for positions beginning in fall 2009 was down 13% from the previous year’s number, to 656. Likewise, there was a decrease in the number of new doctoral recipients obtaining tenure-track positions for fall 2009 with 301 such hirings reported compared to 378 reported for fall 2008.