After six to seven years of toiling on a PhD and an additional four or so low-paying years as a postdoc, scientists can no longer expect to be able to secure a slot at a university, the Boston Globe reports.
"It's sunk in that it's by no means guaranteed — for anyone, really — that an academic position is possible," Gary McDowell, who is on his second postdoc, tells the Globe. "There's this huge labor force here to do the bench work, the grunt work of science. But then there's nowhere for them to go; this massive pool of postdocs that accumulates and keeps growing."
In 1979, there were about 30,000 graduate students in the biomedical sciences, and some 56,800 in 1999, flooding and elongating the training system, the Globe notes. But now as budgets are contracting, more postdocs are competing for even more limited spots.
"Possible solutions span a wide gamut, from halving the number of postdocs over time, to creating a new tier of staff scientists that would be better paid," the Globe says. "One thing people seem to agree on: Simply adding more money to the pot will not by itself solve the oversupply."