By way of DrugMonkey, we come across this post by NIH’s Sally Rocker who actually writes, “I was quite surprised by the idea that the majority of our [PhD] trainees do not end up in academia. Did this surprise you?”
I’ll wait until you stop laughing.
Actually, this doesn’t surprise me. First, an anecdote. A colleague in her mid-30s, with whom I had lunch, was telling me that an MIT PhD classmate of hers works at NIH as a program officer. He has told my friend that the program officers, most of whom are well into the fifties (or older) really don’t realize that the biomedical academic market has imploded. They don’t have any comprehension that the growth trajectory in the biomedical sciences is unsustainable without a massive infusion of support (either governmental or private). They don’t realize how different the jobs landscape is for those under 45 (give or take). They also didn’t know that most PhDs didn’t get tenure-track jobs (including those from MIT…).
So Rocker’s statement, while frustrating, wasn’t surprising. The question is why are program officers so ignorant of the realities of the under-45 set? First, there is simply an age issue: if you’re fifty to your early sixties, by and large, you experienced an era of massive job expansion in the biomedical sciences (there were some down cycles, but there were also some boom cycles too). Second, program officers have a massive bias: they don’t talk to many people outside of academia because they don’t fund many people outside of academia. The R01 system in particular is essentially an academic system, so they don’t come in contact with PhDs who left.
Something else to rattle around in your noggin: there are often arguments about a surplus of PhDs is a good thing even if they don’t go into basic research. Rocker’s statement would suggest that a surplus pool of biomedical PhDs is not NIH’s intent. Just saying.