Chemistry Department Best Practices

Graduate school in chemistry is challenging under the best of circumstances- even with a great advisor and a research project that yields positive results. Incoming students frequently haven’t had enough safety training to operate in lab in a safe manner, they’ve never had a relationship like the PI/graduate student relationship, and they’re making decisions that impact longterm employment prospects under informed at best and in total ignorance at worst. Continue reading “Chemistry Department Best Practices”

STEM Worker Shortage?

Conventional wisdom is that there is a shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) workers in the economy. Recently a counter narrative has emerged that the US has plenty of STEM workers. Here are some pertinent facts:

  1. In 2011, the unemployment rate of college-educated STEM workers was still 3.4 percent—more than double the 1.4 percent rate it stood at immediately preceding the recession that began in late 2007.
  2. In 2008, only 59% of PhDs in biological sciences were employed in fields related to their research, down from 71% in 1997.
  3. In 2011 nearly 28% of STEM (Life, Physical, Social Sciences and Engineering) PhD graduates were unemployed at graduation.
  4. Over the last 20 years the number of PhDs with jobs at graduation has declined while the number with a post doc or nothing has climbed
  5. There are ~300,00 STEM job vacancies per year while 11.4 million STEM degree holders work outside of STEM fields

There seems to be clear indicators that many fields within STEM are suffering from an excess of workers rather than a shortage. With that in mind the calls for more STEM education to create more STEM workers seems ill-informed. What can or should be done to reduce the excess of STEM workers in some fields?
Continue reading “STEM Worker Shortage?”

314 PAC

There’s a new political action committee in town, 314 PAC, that aims to “recruit a new generation of leaders with scientific and technical education and experience to candidacy for elected office.”  In the current congress there are two physicists, six engineers, and one microbiologist. It’s fair to ask if we really need scientists and engineers in congress. After all congress can call on an array of experts to testify about any issue imaginable. This discounts the value of having advocates on capitol hill that not only value science, but have actually applied it.

The difficulty can be seen in recent campaign by Chairman  Lamar Smith of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to prove that portions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget are being wasted on frivolous projects. He wants the NSF to judge research based on its ability to further the national interest. It’s important that scientists have a voice on capitol hill and that that voice be more persistent and widely heard than even a panel of experts witnesses would ever be. A stout defense of peer review is needing and that is why it is vital to increase the number of scientists in congress.

As much as I laud the goal of 314 PAC though, I take issue with their recruitment plans. The committee’s goal is to find Democratic candidates. There’s a popular idea that the Republican Party is the “anti-science” party, and while some Republican officials actions (anti-evolution or anti-climate change statements, investigations in to the National Science Foundation) give credence to this it’s important to not dismiss any party as anti-science.

Science shouldn’t be partisan. And a political action committee that aims to bring more science and technical professionals into politics shouldn’t dismiss one of the parties out of hand because that  politicizes science as surely as any anti-science public official does. It will only encourage and inflame people like Chairman Lamar Smith to investigate more. Instead, science and technology professionals of all political persuasions must be encouraged to run. Otherwise the Republican party is being abandoned to individuals that should be troubling to all.