It’s no surprise that with the recent economic recession, scientific funding is going through a rough patch. A report by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) shows that the NIH budget for 2012 was the lowest it’s been since 2001, and the number of grants funded by the NIH has declined every year since 2004. That means that a lot of important research goes unfunded, and the number of jobs needed to support that research dwindles.
As graduate students see their bosses struggle to get their research funded, some may decide to pursue other types of careers. In a recent study, 31.0% of graduate students in the biomedical sciences said that they had changed their minds regarding their career path during graduate school. Of those who decided to forgo the academic track, 24% were worried about getting funding for their research.
In a recent interview with Under the Microscope, Dr. Moriah Beck expressed concern about the current state of funding in science:
“So many people are competing for too few jobs, and there are too few funding dollars out there.”
Likewise, part of the reason Dr. Erin Heenan left academia to become a patent lawyer was because of the lack of available grants and the difficulty finding jobs as a professor.
It’s clear that with the current funding situation in academic science, there simply are not enough jobs for everyone with a PhD to become a professor. The number of full-time, tenured and tenure-track teaching positions at US universities has dropped over the last 30 years while the number of graduate students has remained relatively constant. Some have even questioned whether too many people are getting PhDs. But is that such a bad thing?
One thing we hope to show at Under the Microscope is that there many different career paths in science, technology, engineering, and math that encompass academia, industry, and beyond.
We are in a unique time in science’s timeline where scientists are starting to pair their love of science with other passions. We have science educators, science writers, patent attorneys, and university deans who are able to understand the complex scientific topics they encounter in their careers. Somewhere along the line, all of these people “left science” for whatever reason. Women in particular leave academic science in disproportionate numbers compared to men, and they often end up using their science backgrounds in their career. These women, like Erin Heenan, are bringing science out of the lab and into their professional lives, and in doing so are showing future generations of women what a career in science can lead to. Getting a PhD is no longer a one-track path to becoming a professor, and maybe that’s a good thing.