Biologists in Demand

Demand for biologists in disciplines represented by member societies of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), especially at the postdoctoral training/research associate level, shows strong indications of exceeding the supply significantly. A combination of increasing numbers of positions and decreasing output from universities appears to be at work here; growth in size and number of biotechnology companies and decline in numbers of appropriate age groups which

Thomas L. Trudeau
May 1, 1988

Demand for biologists in disciplines represented by member societies of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), especially at the postdoctoral training/research associate level, shows strong indications of exceeding the supply significantly. A combination of increasing numbers of positions and decreasing output from universities appears to be at work here; growth in size and number of biotechnology companies and decline in numbers of appropriate age groups which actually started three decades ago—when baby boom births peaked—are reported everywhere.

The basis for these statements is experience at the FASEB placement service, which operates year-round and is particularly prominent at annual meetings such as this week’s in Las Vegas. The purpose of the service is to match candidates seeking post-doctoral training or permanent positions with recruiting employers from academe, government, and industry. Most candidates possess a doctoral degree or expect to receive one soon; however, individuals with master’s or baccalaureate degrees are not excluded, and usually comprise about 4 percent of the job seekers. FASEB membership is not a prerequisite for participation in the placement service, either as a candidate or an employer.

A Large Operation

Traditionally, and quite consistently, universities and colleges, government (especially the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Agriculture), and other nonprofit organizations have made up 81% of registered employer organizations using the service. The remaining 19 percent have represented industry (particularly pharmaceutical manufac turers, and biotechnology companies large and not so large).

The operation is large in size and scope. On average, we schedule more than 4900 interviews at each annual meeting. In addition, during each calendar year we forward nearly 4,000 applications from candidates to specifically interested employers, usually not otherwise registered with the placement service, who either request a search of our candidate files to identify those possessing interest and experience matching the employers’ needs or ask us to identify and further describe candidates based on positions wanted advertisements in the Employment Opportunities section of The FASEB Journal.

Of the 277 candidates who registered from November 1, 1987 to March 21, 1988, 115 (42%) expect to graduate in 1988 or 1989. Other general characteristics of the group include:

"66 (24%) indicate that they want postdoctoral training without specifying whether in academe, government or industry.

"68 (25%) want postdoctoral training but exclude one or two of those areas.

" 9 (3%) possess a master’s or baccalaureate degree, and are not currently pursuing doctorates.

" 134 (48%) want appointments beyond the postdoctoral training level.

Subjective judgment of candidates whom we have seen since 1986 suggests a shift towards industry, whose extent is not clear, by individuals seeking postdoctoral training or initial permanent positions. This judgment will come as no surprise to frustrated academic or government researchers/teachers who frequently lament about the length of time—sometimes a year or more—it takes to find and bring on board a postdoctoral fellow or research associate. We will monitor this worrisome apparent trend carefully in coming months, to learn more about its size and its causes.

Demand Up, Supply Down The indication that demand for biologists is likely to exceed supply significantly stems principally from the recent histories of four factors:

" The number of candidates who register on an annual basis.

" The number of employer organizations that register annually.

" The number of interviewers representing employer organizations in placement service activities at annual meetings.

" The number of interviews scheduled at annual meetings.

The difference between the 1987 numbers and the remarkably consistent numbers for the previous three years, shown in the accompanying table, requires little further comment: numbers of candidates are down; numbers of employers and associated activities are up. These trends are not isolated. In three other placement service operations managed by FASEB in 1987, similar divergences occurred between numbers of candidates (down) and employers (up), with startling similarities in terms of percentages. That one of those operations has nothing, and the other only a little, to do directly with biological sciences seems to substantiate the notion that it is shorter supply, not greater demand, that is occurring.

Finally, based on advance registrations of candidates and employers for this week’s FASEB meeting, it is reasonable to conclude that the trend which began last year will continue: fewer candidates, more employers.

Thomas L Trudeau is Manager of the Placement Service at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814.