So lately there has been much talk about the fact that we are training too damn many PhD's for not enough jobs and what to do about it. I'm pretty sure this isn't the first time that this topic has surfaced, I imagine that it is even pretty cyclical in nature. The chilling fact and the tough pill to swallow as a trainee is there are too many of us. I mean it. Look around the lab and see how many of us there are, we outnumber our PI's by at least 2-3 to 1. And think of how many trainees pass through the lab over our PI's career. That's a lot. It doesn't take Big Blue to compute that the odds of one of us getting a PI's job is pretty slim.
So what are our options, to keep on keeping on or train less of us. Okay but if there are less of us, who is going to do the work? My boss isn't rolling up his sleeves and going back into the lab. Maybe hire some of us reformed trainees as technicians, but that costs too damn much. That option pretty much was the first to get jettisoned overboard, not unless the NIH chips in with some type of mechanism to help fund career bench-level scientists.
Maybe our bosses should train us for alternative careers. Yeah right, what the hell does my boss know about being a patent agent or a policy specialist (I mean he can barely stand committee work).
Some people espouse that maybe a sustainable model of consistent funding for labs would help to keep the machine running but start to cull the herd of our glutton of trainees. This is utter bullshit. We are but mere humans and fall prey to one of our basest desires: laziness. If I know I'm going to have a lifetime R01 funding for my lab, why would I work that hard, its not like I can secure more funding. Competition may knock some good people out of the game, but it also rewards the innovative and productive. Sometimes. But critics say this sustained model of funding works for Janelia Farm. That's great but you are taking one small scenario and trying to apply it to everyone. You know what we call that, trying to catch lightning in a damn bottle. Its not really going to work either.
Others suggest that we need to increase funding. You do understand that increasing research funding, in my opinion, will not make the situation better but rather exacerbate the problem. More money means more work for labs and that means more trainees, not less. So we are right back in the same situation. Cranking up the funding is acting like a ratchet that gets locked into only-forward progression each time the funding crank has tugged on.
Do I have any suggestions? Um no, I'm a dumbass grad student. Do I think we need to reform the PhD? Hell if I know. I have no real astute observations or insight that could be of benefit to anyone. I'm but a mere pawn in the game. Maybe I will find some measure of success or maybe I will be crushed under the same terrible wheel that has ground to dust those that have come before me and surely those that will come after unless this situation resolved.
The scary question that I ask myself is that if we triaged half of all trainees, "Would I make the cut?"
I gotta go get a drink