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Science PhD: New Track to Unemployment

Conventional wisdom says that education, particularly in science and math, is the key to America’s economic future—as well as the key to finding a good job after graduation. According to Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic , the conventional wisdom is dead wrong.

In his ad hoc category of “Americans+” (U.S. born grads, along with green card holders and those who did not list citizenship status), Weissmann estimates that a quarter of engineering PhDs and two-thirds of physical sciences PhDs didn’t have a job, postdoc study, or some other arrangement lined up at graduation. In fact, humanities PhDs actually fare better in the job hunt than their peers in the physical sciences, with a post-graduation unemployment rate of 40 percent.

But the really perplexing thing is that Silicon Vally heavyweights are so hungry for qualified job applicants that they are sponsoring a campaign to lower barriers for high-skilled immigrants. As the Partnership for a New American economy notes, “Even if every American advanced degree STEM graduate gets a job, the US will face 200,000 unfilled advanced-degree STEM jobs by 2018.”

This is a baffling problem, and there are several competing explanations for it: the steady decline of academic positions; an influx of foreign PhDs whom companies can employ at a much cheaper cost; increased outsourcing by pharma companies, once a major employer of American chemists. Perhaps the grads aren’t applying for the open jobs. Perhaps their education didn’t prepare them for such work.

Whatever the explanation (or likely some mix of them all), something isn’t working in the American graduate system. The Silicon Valley heavyweights may want to devote some of their resources to figuring out why.

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