Beryl Benderly’s recent piece about the alleged overproduction is getting some attention. She’s blogged about this before, and Nature also ran something a couple years ago. The back-and-forth with my PhD friends highlights a few salient points. First, PhDs themselves cannot agree if there are too many of us. Those of us who left academia tend to side with Benderly–the U.S. does produce too many PhDs. Those still in academia usually disagree, and sometimes very strongly. A faculty member I know insists that the U.S. can never produce enough Ph.D’s. It’s just a question finding all of them productive outside of academia.
It appears that people can disagree on facts–whether the U.S. produces too many scientists–while agreeing on a broader policy of improving graduate education. So clearly agreeing on science is not a prerequisite for agreeing on policy. Science is clearly not the foundation of policy. But I digress. And besides, I’ve already beaten that meme to death.
Going back to the PhD question, I’m struck by how old this debate is. All the way back in 1995, the National Academies wrote a report on the necessity of expanding career paths for graduate students. Nothing changed in graduate education then, and I suspect nothing will happen now.