says The Chronicle of Higher Education :
"It is the best of times and worst of times to start a science career in the United States.
Researchers today have access to powerful new tools and techniques — such as rapid gene sequencers and giant telescopes — that have accelerated the pace of discovery beyond the imagination of previous generations.
But for many of today's graduate students, the future could not look much bleaker.
They see long periods of training, a shortage of academic jobs, and intense competition for research grants looming ahead of them. "They get a sense that this is a really frustrating career path," says Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
So although the operating assumption among many academic leaders is that the nation needs more scientists, some of brightest students in the country are demoralized and bypassing scientific careers.
The problem stems from the way the United States nurtures its developing brainpower — the way it trains, employs, and provides grants for young scientists. For decades, blue-ribbon panels have called for universities to revise graduate doctoral programs, which produced a record-high 27,974 Ph.D.'s in science and engineering in 2005. No less a body than the National Academy of Sciences has, in several reports, urged doctoral programs to train science students more broadly for jobs inside and outside academe, to shorten Ph.D. programs, and even to limit the number of degrees they grant in some fields.
Despite such repeated calls for reform, resistance to change has been strong. Major problems persist, and some are worsening. Recent data, for example, reveal that:
Averaged across the sciences, it takes graduate students a half-year longer now to complete their doctorates than it did in 1987.
In physics nearly 70 percent of newly minted Ph.D.'s go into temporary postdoctoral positions, whereas only 43 percent did so in 2000.
The number of tenured and tenure-track scientists in biomedicine has not increased in the past two decades even as the number of doctorates granted has nearly doubled.
Despite a doubling in the budg-et of the National Institutes of Health since 1998, the chances that a young scientist might win a major research grant actually dropped over the same period.
The job market in science is now shifting faster than graduate programs can keep up, leading often unhappy Ph.D.'s to hunt for careers far from the academic homes where they hoped their degrees would lead."
Steve Hsu responds:
"The article covers a lot of ground, but one thing that I think could have been emphasized more is that, no matter how dismal the career path becomes for US scientists, there there will still be foreigners from India, China and eastern Europe willing to try their luck, as well as a sprinkling of American-born obsessives (like me) who should know better. However, a significant number of talented Americans will simply choose to do something else."
Some of the responses to Hsu's post are also interesting.