A National Academy of Sciences report, "Reshaping the Graduate
Education of Scientists and Engineers," was the focus of a July 13
hearing by the House Subcommittee on Basic Research. Although not
intended as a pretext to new legislation, it provided an
opportunity for the subcommittee to examine this issue.
The first witness was the chairman of the committee producing the
report, Phillip A. Griffiths of Princeton University. He
characterized as a myth the contention that "most PhDs go on to
careers in academe." Griffiths also described as a myth "that
there is high unemployment among PhDs." The 1993 unemployment rate
for all scientists and engineers was 1.6%; for new PhDs,
approximately 2%. He continued, "recent PhDs are finding jobs --
but they are finding non-academic jobs more easily than they are
finding academic research positions. They are feeling the pain of
Among the committee's recommendations were: (1) "graduate programs
be more flexible and provide more options for students," (2)
"students should receive better career information and guidance,"
(3) "time to degree should be tightened," (4) "a new class of
grants called education/training grants."
Committee member response to Griffiths was positive. Rep. Roscoe
Bartlett (R-MD), and later Rep. George Brown (D-CA), wondered if
the longer time to attain a degree was because of the desire of
research universities to maintain a supply of inexpensive labor.
Griffiths replied that there were many factors responsible for this
phenomenon. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), citing the 1.6%
unemployment figure said, "hell, that's not unemployment; that's
full employment." Regarding the lack of preferred employment
opportunities, he said, "join the rest of us." Subcommittee
chairman Steven Schiff (R-NM) agreed that unemployment is low, but
wondered aloud about underemployment, to which Griffiths
acknowledged that it is "a major problem and getting worse." He
said the committee did not examine salary levels.
Next to testify were NSF Director Neal Lane and NIH Director Harold
Varmus. In Lane's prepared testimony, he said of unemployment and
underemployment, "it is easy to imagine the situation getting worse
before it gets any better." He continued, "The issue at stake is
not simply whether there will be enough faculty openings for
tomorrow's Ph.D.s, but rather why has a society so broadly based in
science and technology managed to define so narrowly the role and
responsibilities of scientists and engineers within its midst."
During later questioning, Lane said, "if you don't have a job, the
unemployment rate is 100%." Chairman Schiff asked Lane and Varmus
to prepare a letter within 90 days detailing how they will respond
to the report's recommendations.
The final panel of witnesses was drawn from private industry and
academe. Kevin Aylesworth, founder of the Young Scientists
Network, recommended, as did other witnesses and subcommittee
members, that government-mandated caps on graduate students should
not be imposed. He continued, "The pool of graduate students
should be allowed to shrink or grow in response to changes in
demand in the end-user market." In his testimony, George Walker,
Chair of the Council of Graduate Schools, cited data that will
appear in a soon-to-be-released report by the American Institute of
Physics Education and Employment Statistics Division. These
statistics show that there has been approximately a 20% decline in
first year physics graduate students in PhD granting departments
from 1992 to 1995.
An executive summary of the National Academy of Sciences report,
"Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers" is
available on the NAS home page at:
http://www.nas.edu/nap/online/grad/summary.html The full report
can be purchased in hard copy by calling 800-624-6242.
The American Institute of Physics report will soon be available,
and can be obtained by calling 301-209-3067.