Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Training to Practice: Joining the Faculty

Welcome to Part 4 of the Human Capital and the Knowledge-based Economy series. Last time we examined the investment needed to train a single independent researcher - Dr.Cy Ence. Today, lets look at what it will take for Dr. Ence to become an independent researcher at Amazing American University.

But before that a quick re-cap: Dr. Ence is now in his late 30s. He has finished 7 years of graduate school and 9 years of post-doctoral training. He has published great articles, attended conferences and given talks. He's putting together his curriculum vitae (CV), so he can start applying for jobs as an assistant professor. What are his chances?

According to a forum convened by the National Academies, the chances of a life scientist under the age of 35 getting a tenure-track position fell from 10% in 1993 to 7% in 2003; as the number of life sciences PhD graduates went from 11,000 to 16,000 and tenure-track positions held steady at about 1,200 positions. That means that Dr. Ence has to be one of the top 7 out of every 100 life science PhDs applying for a job as an independent researcher to get the position.
“These trends have made job competition among young scientists very Darwinian.”
~Norka Ruiz Bravo, former deputy director for intramural research at NIH

In medical schools the numbers are worse. In the graph below, the blue bars represent the total number of medical school faculty members with a PhD and the red bars are the number of new faculty hires with a PhD in a given year. The green trend line represents the percentage of new hires when compared to the total number of faculty with a PhD.

Graph 6 - Trends in Medical School Faculty Positions
So, for example in 1970, the total number of PhD faculty in med schools* was about 8,800 and med schools hired about 1,100 new faculty with a PhD, which is about 13% of the total. By 2006, the number of faculty with PhDs in med schools had increased to about 38,000. But, only about 1,100 new faculty were hired meaning a increase of about 3%.

These are dismal numbers. Cy and others like him have an incredible battle before them. Why is it so difficult to get a faculty position? How did the competition get so steep? What happens after getting a faculty position? Is everything roses then?

We'll explore these questions and more next week, as we continue our series on Human Capital and Knowledge-based Economy.

*Medical schools certainly hire MDs, MD/PhDs and other graduate degree holders, but this just looks at PhD hires because it is the most reliable and readily available data.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH)/Office of Extramural Research (OER), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)

This is Part 4 of 6 in our Human Capital and Knowledge-based Economy series.
Part 1 - A Knowledge-based Economy
Part 2 - U.S Competitiveness and Innovation

Part 3 - The Making of a Scientist
Part 4 - From Training to Practice: Joining the Faculty
Part 5 - A Race to Save the Lab Rats
Part 6 - Advocating for Human Capital

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