To The Editor, APS News
Barrett Ripin's editorial ("Why Belong?", APS News, November 1995) made some very relevant points. However, I was disappointed that on the most important question of the PhD glut, he chose to concentrate entirely on the demand side (to which the efforts of APS and its members represent a small perturbation at best) and to ignore the supply side, where they could (given the will to do so) solve the problem in a short time. Suppose, for example, that granting agencies required applicants to list, along with papers and previous grants, names and addresses of all previous PhD and MS advisees, and solicited from each of these a confidential letter assessing the value of their graduate training to their present employment. This would have more effect than all the "alternative careers workshops" that have ever been held.
Pieter B Visscher
University of Alabama
Eliminate Postdoctoral Positions
Given the employment situation in science, I strongly feel that it would be in the best interests of our field, of young, and of mature scientists, if the position of post doc were eliminated from American science. This could be done by universities, national labs, funding agencies, and accreditation agencies working cooperatively or independently.
From what I have read and observed, when a student finished his Ph.D degree, the next step is a never ending merry go round of post docs, each of which lasts one or two years. This is especially true in the university and national lab sectors, important employers of Ph.D scientists. These post doc position are often in very different parts of the country. The negative impact on a person's family life is almost incalculable. Usually it is not possible for a post doc to do his best work, since much of his attention is necessarily focused on his next position. I believe these positions exploit young scientists; they are not optimum for employers either. Also in a field with the economic prospects of ours, to somehow suggest that a new Ph.D needs additional education before he is really qualified to work, is laughable. Naturally, a scientist's education never ends, and there are many ways a scientist could profitably spend time in a university or national laboratory. However such visits are best arranged as exchanges between employed persons.
These days, the fact that many people work on soft money is one of the vicissitudes of our field; it will probably get worse before it get better. Never the less there are still better ways to employ young scientists given this constraint. Many universities have research staff positions, and may national labs contract out work. Universities may be able to use independent contractors also. I strongly believe these should be the vehicle through which young scientists are hired, not post docs. This way the recent Ph.D is hired into what at least may be a permanent position. If he does not work out, he can be terminated just like any other employee. On the other hand, as grant support shifts, the company or research staff may or may not want to retain the person.
It is probably true that the available support can employ more post docs than permanent employees. However this is more of a reason to eliminate the post doc position, in my opinion. If the field cannot support a scientist, better he should know after he completes his Ph.D than after bouncing around the country for ten years, completing five post docs.
I strongly believe the post doc position is simple exploitation. It should be eliminated.
Wallace M. Manheimer
Naval Research Laboratory
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