Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?

Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?

Careers Channel


Is higher education producing more doctoral scientists than the market can absorb? With the attendance rates at graduate schools increasing, has the private sector’s growth been able to keep up and will there be enough options for tomorrow’s PhDs?   Join our two experts Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan as they share their viewpoints on the state of higher education, the economy and how industry and academia can better prepare current and future graduates.


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What You Will Learn

  • The market for PhD chemists differs from the market for those trained in the biomedical sciences
  • The market for PhD chemists is highly responsive to overall economic conditions
  • Virtually no departments provide potential students with information before they get to graduate school concerning what the employment picture for recent graduates has been.  Any department that receives external funding should be required to post outcome results on the web.
  • Universities should provide alternative perspectives regarding employment and degree options early in the graduate school experience.


Webinar Details

Date: Thursday November 8, 2012

Time: 2:00-3:00 pm ET

Fee: Free


Additional Resources



Meet the Experts


Richard B. Freeman holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University. He is currently serving as Faculty co-Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School. He directs the National Bureau of Economic Research / Sloan Science Engineering Workforce Projects, and is Senior Research Fellow in Labour Markets at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance.



Paula Stephan’s research interests focus on the careers of scientists and engineers and the process by which knowledge moves across institutional boundaries in the economy. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, has served on numerous National Research Council committees and was on the General Medical Advisory Council, National Institutes of Health, 2005-2009.  Her book How Economics Shapes Science was published this year by Harvard University Press.




Patricia Blum Simpson is Director of Academic Advising and Career Services for students in Chemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s School of Chemical Sciences. Patricia obtained her BA from Concordia College-Moorhead and her MEd in College Student Affairs from Azusa Pacific University.  She has worked 14 years in the career services field.





The Fine Print

ACS Webinars™ does not endorse any products or services. The views expressed in this presentation are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the American Chemical Society.


13 Responses to “Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?”

  1. Russell says:

    I think it is sad that this a topic of discussion. What it suggests to me is that if there is a “Doctoral Glut” the underlying cause is that business has become too myopic and risk adverse to hire Ph.D.’s in the development of new technologies.

  2. Frank Gibbard says:

    Undoubtedly the experts who will talk on this subject have strong opinions based on much study. Nevertheless, I want to suggest a simple metric that should illuminate this topic. I’ve been reading Chemical and Engineering News for the 50 years I’ve been a member of ACS, and I’ve always turned first to the employment section to get a finger on the pulse of the status of employment of chemists and chemical engineers. Here is my suggestion for a metric: first count the number of employment ads for the period of time that is of interest. Then sort them into three categories: academic positions, pharmaceutical company positions, and then “everything else”. The total number of ads will measure the strength of the employment market, and the distribution will give a fairly clear picture of trends within that market. I won’t burden you with my observations over the years; you will quickly catch my point if you carry out this study, or rather, have a graduate or undergraduate student or a librarian do it for you. I am quite serious about this, and I hope you will give it some consideration.

  3. Denise Grimsley says:

    All I have heard from hiring managers in the last 3 years is how hard it is to find PhD chemists to fill the open positions. They tell me that American students are not getting graduate degrees in chemistry anymore. Where is the glut??

  4. Raj says:

    The present system does not protect chemists unlike medical doctors who are protected by not flooding doctors to come from abroad. There should be some protection. I know a lot of brilliant phd chemist who are jobless some working @ Vegas casino for $10/hour job. It is shame really shame.

  5. Joseph says:

    I wrote my junior English Technical writing thesis on this exact topic in 1984 and then saw the same issues repeat themselves in the late 80s when the recession hit in 88 and NIH funding was cut. Just as now, there were US PHDs flipping burgers and taking entry level jobs in retail. Meanwhile, industry was stating the opposite in order to increase the J1 visa quota so they could hire more foreign PHDs at below market rates. Students need to understand that PHD students are free labor to university graduate departments and there is absolutely no incentive for any university to clamp down on PHD program numbers because of a weak job market. I myself left my PHD program behind during the late 80s exactly for that reason, and eventually went on to become a patent attorney. (Note the same issue is now rampant in the legal field as well for exactly the same reason). Students need to do their career homework starting as undergrads and really understand what kind of market there is for the degree(s) they wish to attain and plan accordingly.

  6. John Cross says:

    Years ago I read an article on how the legal profession increased its presteige and payscale in the 1950s-1960s era. The situation then for young lawyers was much like that for newly-minted PhD’s now. The pay was low (really, I’m not making this up!) and the hours long. So what did they do?

    The movers and shakers got together and decided to turn down the spigot. They got law schools to raise entrance requirements and lower their graduation rates, and they got state bars to raise Bar Exam difficulty. The result is the situation we find now: newly-minted lawyers get multiples of the income of Ph.D.s.

    Industry and academic institutions might not like it if they had to pay Ph.D.s at a rate more in tune with their traing and capabilties, but so be it. They will pay what they have to.

    How about it? Maybe we need a national Ph.D. exam certification, without which no Federal agency could provide grant or contract funds for salary.

  7. Hugh R. Hays, PhD says:

    A solution to the negative attitudes of many Americans toward chemistry and chemicals is to devise an educational system that incorporates PhD research and PhD industrial chemists into the earliest education of children. People that thoroughly enjoy chemical discovery convey both that joy and meaning to chemistry and its relation to our lives. As it stands now PhDs are directed into industrial or higher ed. and the attitudes of many teachers with negative science attitudes are passed to their elementary and high school students. These students
    become Americans that do not realize or appreciate the value and importance of chemistry to all of us. There are some elementary teachers that are successful in doing this
    and when they do they are obvious and their students stand out.

  8. Phil Waitkus says:

    Raj, I think has hit on one of the often ignored problems. Yes, we produce many Ph.D., but these days of globalization there is a strong Darwinian effect at work as well. One must ask the question, how good are the Ph.D.’ s we are producing. Can they really compete with some of the excellent Doctors of Chemistry coming from abroad, or are some American schools just grinding them out for good looking statistics. In the fifty years or so since I left graduate school for industry, I have seen precious few ACS presidents from industry and even fewer willing to address the topic of what Industry needs from there newly minted Ph.D.’s., and none that came up with a plan that the ACS adopted to address Raj’s proposal.

  9. Felipe says:

    My PhD Medical Pharmacology and Toxicology adviser and I came to the same wisdom in 2006-7 that Joe and the expert panel voice. Were I now in the position of sending in graduate school applications as some are today, I would heed the knowledge and advice of this panel with much interest.

    # Virtually no departments provide potential students with information before they get to graduate school concerning what the employment picture for recent graduates has been.

    I concur. What special interest groups are going to enforce a high standard of conflicting ethics?

    Any department that receives external funding should be required to post outcome results on the web.

    I concur. What special interest groups are going to enforce a high standard of conflicting ethics and administrators’ interests?

  10. Thomas McLinn says:

    We have members of Congress who keep saying that we have a shortage of scientists and engineers in the US, then use that as an excuse to raise the visa limits again. That has led to depressed pay and increased unemployment for US chemists. The current rate is 4%, double the historic average.

  11. Henry Kalir says:

    “Doctoral Glut”? I had just recently read at CEN that, due to a SHORTAGE of scientists, we should ease the VISA requirements to enable more foreign PhDs into the USA. What gives? Who is right?
    I think it’s high time we got our act together and got back to BASICS – we need to invest in our country’s future! Simply translated that means – our KIDS! They need intact families and social settings to help them stay off drugs, crime and temptation in general. They also need AFFORDABLE education and a leadership which transmits HOPE. Nothing will happen without LOTS of careful planning and HARD work. The time to act is NOW.

  12. Jav San says:

    I was laid-off after 10 years as a federal contractor at NASA Glenn Research Center because of lack of federal funding. That was my Christmas gift. Very frustrating.

    There is a doctoral glut but also a shortage of real Ph.D. chemistry jobs. Most companies and government agencies use Ph.D. chemists as technicians. That’s why most of the time they hire B.S. and M.S. instead of Ph.D.’s.

    Here is an idea, the academia should hire more Ph.D.’s with real world experience because these are the ones that know what are the skills needed in the real world.

    It is simply no true that there is a shortage of scientists. I know Ph.D. chemists that are working as technicians, Home Depot, and tutoring and others changing career because they cannot find a job after more than 2 year of lay-off.

  13. Jill Lyu says:

    There is not simply a PhD glut that takes place.
    The issue is political, convoluted and got out of control across the fields. It needs to be investigated at the national level and meaningful regulations put in place. Yes, it requires careful planning and hard work. Why taxpayers money is spent to ‘mentor/train’ so many PhD students that enter graduate programs with no idea why and often no abilities instead of investing in the future of our country and creating real PhD and other jobs? The anti-American moods are all over our universities.

    The trend in America had been to place a lot of effort to weed out talented and hardworking individuals from = shortage and requests for more visas. Our country will not be able to absorb this absurd and discussions of dilemmas as in this webinar for much longer. The way things done now is not sustainable and anti-American. I think recall of tenure system at universities will fix a lot of things.

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