We need to turn off the tap. Stop training so many PhDs.
This is going to hurt the many, many of us (and therefore the NIH) who depend on the undervalued labor of graduate students. This chart…from the NIH RePORTER site shows the relatively slow increase in NIH funded fellowships and traineeships compared with the more rapid increase in research assistantships (light blue). Read: graduate students paid directly from research grants. The more graduate students we “train” in this way, the more we need to secure more R01s and other R-mech grants to support them.
Spare me your anecdotes about how graduate students cost as much as postdocs or technicians (to your NIH R-mechanism or equivalent research grants). If they weren’t good value, you’d switch over. The system, as a whole, is most certainly finding value in exploiting the labor of graduate students on the promise of a career that is now uncertain to be realized. This is because the charging of tuition and fees is still incomplete. Because students have the possibility at some point during the tenure in our laboratories of landing supporting fellowships of various kinds. Because some departments still receive substantial Teaching Assistant funds to support graduate students (and simultaneously ease the work of allegedly professing Professors). And above all else, because we are able to pull off an exploitative culture in which graduate students are induced to work crazy hard in a Hunger Games style bloodthirsty competition for the prize….and Assistant Professor appointment.
The other missing part of this is political mobilization: scientists, compared to other government contractors, are dirt cheap. Many professors’ salaries are partially or wholly subsidized, and graduate students and post-docs are cheap compared to other skilled (and often unionized) labor for private contractors. Until pressure is brought to bear on NIH, which has no incentives to change the current system (if they actually gave a damn, they would have done something already), they will go with the cheap, if unsustainable, labor model.