I think that at this point everyone in academia (except funding agencies?) is aware that there is a glut of Ph.Ds and postdoctoral researchers, and, at the same time, budgets are being cut back and departments are hunkering down. Nature published an editorial in 2011 pointing out the issue, with some contentious points made in the comments. I’ve seen posts across the science blog-o-sphere about the issue, Mike the Mad Biologist posted recently, there was post-doc-alypse-gate (I got in on the initial twitter hash job (still ongoing), Ethan Perlstein wrote a post and then Prof-like Substance weighed in), but as of yet I haven’t seen a post discussing how individuals can help counter this problem, it’s all institutional.
Clearly there can be a role for individuals in putting together their grant proposals, but it’s not clear to me what people can be doing individually. After all, we make many arguments for both individual and administrative change to plan and adapt to climate change, but in the case of the Ph.D glut it seems like we’re leaving the solution to the funding agencies and leaving our role out of it.
I’m writing up my first NSF grant proposal, so I’ve become keenly aware how difficult budgeting can be, and Ph.D students are a cheap labor force. The question I have is, at an individual level, how can we confront this problem using our grant proposals as a tool?
Do we apportion money for work to the tenure-track professors at the expense of grad students? If we do that do we then fail in our mandate to train?
Do we artificially inflate the Ph.D salaries? The only thing that does is raise Ph.D salaries.
One clear solution is incorporating breadth into the role of a Ph.D or post-doctoral researcher. Ensure that there are training opportunities within the grant proposal. We’re working with breadth in our proposal, a large, trans-disciplinary team that is focused on skills development within the discipline. There is considerable focus on assessing core concepts and developing teaching materials, while at the same time tackling challenging problems in paleoecology. It’s not ideal, but by reaching out to other disciplines, and by focusing on developing teaching materials to a broad audience we can provide our grad students with a broader set of skills.
Of course, the government may have solved the problem for us. . .
So here’s my solicitation for your help. How do we use the grant proposal to help combat the Ph.D glut?