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Broader Ph.D. Training Can Benefit Science and Society

The problem and the solution seem obvious: Scientists are training many more graduate students than are needed for available academic positions, and science illiteracy in the United States is rampant. Newly trained scientists working outside academia might ease the glut, plus perhaps pass their enthusiasm and knowledge to the public. Statistics tell the story. According to the National Research Council (NRC), in 1985, 3,791 Ph.D.s were granted in life sciences, and the job market held 20,377 t

Ricki Lewis

The problem and the solution seem obvious: Scientists are training many more graduate students than are needed for available academic positions, and science illiteracy in the United States is rampant. Newly trained scientists working outside academia might ease the glut, plus perhaps pass their enthusiasm and knowledge to the public.

Statistics tell the story. According to the National Research Council (NRC), in 1985, 3,791 Ph.D.s were granted in life sciences, and the job market held 20,377 tenure-track academic positions. In 1995, new Ph.D.s swelled to 5,878, yet the number of academic slots fell to 16,306.1 The pipeline appears to be near bursting.

But for a grad student, finding a position outside academia is easier said than done. Part of the problem is image. "Calling this an 'alternative career' is a subtle put-down. We need a better term," says Jonathan Karp, a professor of biology at Rider University in...

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