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OK Job, If You Can Get It

More researchers are being churned out of universities than there are tenure-track spots, the New York Times reports.

While this has long been true, the Times notes that the discrepancy has grown. Richard Larson, an operations research professor at MIT, calculated the reproduction rate, R0, for academia, or about how many PhDs are produced by a given lab over its lifetime. In the biomedical sciences, he calculated an R0 of 6.3, and as only one person can replace the professor in a tenure-track job, some 84 percent of new biomedical PhDs are typically out of luck and have to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Still, the Times writes that many PhDs spend years as low-paid postdocs in the hopes of being that one who makes it. It notes that Emmanuelle Charpentier, of CRISPR/Cas9 fame, only recently settled down as head of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology — in the past 25 years, she'd been at nine institutions in five countries.

"It used to be that the majority who got a PhD in the biological sciences would go into an academic career,” Michael Lauer, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, tells the Times. “Now, that is very much the minority.”

And that, Kay Lund from NIH says, needs to be better communicated to people before they embark on a doctorate.