A must read for anyone considering STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) training. Stephan systematically deconstructs the S&E enterprise in the United States, with occasional comparisons to foreign systems for context. Long story short, it's a pyramid scheme. Indentured servitude for growing legions of graduate students, post-docs and non-tenure track scientist, slaving for a shrinking elite of tenured/tenure-track faculty, who in turn slave for funding and recognition. Those unfortunate many on the bottom of the pyramid are rewarded with an abysmal shot at becoming a tenured elite, poor pay, a soft job market outside of academia where they are unprepared to compete and a high likelihood of underemployment if they decide to leave the game.
Chapters 7 (The Market for Scientist and Engineers) and
Chapter 8 (The Foreign Born) are particularly sobering. If a prospective
graduate student or postdoc does nothing else, they MUST read these two
chapters. On graduation day, your average newly minted US-born life
sciences doctorate can look forward to a poorly paid no benefits postdoc
followed, having their dream of a tenure track position crushed, and
having lifetime expected earnings no more than an equivalent with a
bachelors degree. Sobering indeed. Given the lack of information
available from graduate programs on student outcomes and the sinister
complicity of universities, growing discontent among the lower-levels of
the pyramid are not a surprise. Academia is powered by the crushed
hopes, dreams and souls of grad students and postdocs.
there is little hope in reform. Universities are complicit in the system
because their whole funding model relies on cheap, increasingly foreign
labor. In a cruel twist of fate, the in-sourcing of foreign scientific
labor is the driving force behind one of America's few remaining
bastions of comparative advantage, the production of knowledge.
long before an American-born scientist is akin to an American-born
textile worker? How long before foreign competition slowly creep up the
value chain, eventually displacing the US in dominance, a la electronics
and semi-conductors industry?
How can universities, which
benefit so handsomely from substituting non-tenure positions for tenured
faculty and an underclass of temporary 'trainees' for permanent
scientist positions be tasked with remedying the situation? The truth
is, they can't and they won't; not without external incentives for which
the political will does not exist to create or maintain. Indeed, the
current state of affairs is only a problem for those ground down to
lubricate the cogs of the machine, not for the taskmasters running the
racket. In the refrain of the author, "Where one stands depends on where
Science, in it's truest sense, is a quest for understanding, for making
sense of an apparently senseless and chaotic world. It is the noble
pursuit for truth. However, humans, the systems and institutions we
invent, are anything but noble or truthful. Science is a business.
Scientist are somewhat rational actors that respond to incentives.
Before continuing your quest, read this book. You'll never look at science the same way again.