Wednesday, March 7, 2012

STEM jobs

Derek Lowe:
But there's an even bigger problem with pushing STEM education: the jobs, in many cases, are not there. Now, this is a point of great argument, because the jobs may well be there in some fields. But not over the whole area. A lot of people with physics and chemistry degrees are having trouble finding work, and in my own degree field (synthetic organic chemistry), it's been a real feat not having your job evaporate out from under you. In many cases, these jobs are going off to lower-labor-cost areas like China or India, but some of them are just disappearing outright. In either case, cranking up the number of eager graduates will not help the situation.
I would go further and ask who benefits from a surplus of science PhDs?  After all, getting a PhD is a long investment in time (10-12 years after high school) and money (good luck doing it without $50K in student debts plus many years of living on $10-20K as an income).  But with schools increaisng raising tuition, all of the risk is borne by the student.

Potential employers, on the other hand, can drop wages arbitrarily low if there is a serious surplus of qualified people relative to positions.  After all, switching fields after spending a decade getting a PhD in physics is a huge loss of investment.  So long as there is some chance of this investment paying off, won't most people keep trying? 

So the issue I have is why is pushing STEM a priority?  If there is a richly rewarded set of jobh opportunities out there then market forces will fix this problem.  But if there are a shortage of positions then why would we encourage people to be trained just to reduce employer expenses? 

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