More depressing news

From the latest issue of Nature:

NSF data show that the number of students in US graduate programmes in the biological sciences has increased steadily since 1966. In 2005, around 7,000 graduates earned a doctorate. But the number of biomedical PhDs with academic tenure has remained steady since 1981, at just over 20,000. During that period the percentage of US biomedical PhDs with tenure or tenure-track jobs dropped from nearly 45% to just below 30%.

That means 7,000 new graduates are fighting each year for one of the 20,000 total professorial positions available in academia. When you consider that a tenured prof may stick around until they're 65 or longer, the situation looks grim.

Another scary stat_

And the average age of scientists earning their first R01 grant -- the NIH's bread-and-butter grant to an independent researcher -- has risen from 34 in 1970 to 42 now.

This means that new researchers are being given fewer opportunities to get established. Without an NIH grant to your name, it's damn near impossible to get tenure at a A-level research institution.

If there's any good news to come out of this report, it's this line_

The percentage of biomedical PhDs going into industry has tripled, from 10% to 30%, since the 1970s, the NSF reports.

So there seem to be opportunities elsewhere, as the biological revolution takes off and more industries begin doing their own research. As someone tentatively chasing the dream of a tenure-track position, though, it's a little scary. Languishing in post-doc after post-doc doesn't sound like much fun. I figure I have two things going for me, though. I don't mind teaching, and bioinformatics is often fairly low-budget research. That opens up opportunities at smaller, liberal-arts type schools that many researchers won't consider.

Hat tip_ PZ Meyers (who seems to have hit all the same points I did). The comment thread over there is also worth reading.


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