A couple of weeks ago, Mike the Mad Biologist got people talking with his post about needing better opportunities for scientists to avoid the problem of having "an over-qualified, underpaid workforce." (Our Careers blog covered it here.) Razib at Gene Expression recently brought the issue back to the forefront, and his post garnered a slew of interesting comments. Miko, for one, comments: "We do not need more scientists, but academic science as practiced depends on a large surplus of expendable trainees (grad students and postdocs) who have to believe that a career in research is an attainable goal. This creates an overtrained, underemployed workforce, but the alternative is to make 'trainee' type research positions professional positions, which would be expensive."
Mike the Mad Biologist has a new post following up on that comment, which he says "hits the nail on the head." One option to address the problem, he suggests, is to shift more funding to large program grants instead of R01s because "one advantage of large project-oriented or center-oriented grants is that they are educational 'sinks'--they soak up surplus PhDs," he writes.