Courting controversy & academic ponzi schemes [Things you should read]

Anyone who has been around the halls of academia for a while has heard some well meaning soul talk about how we produce too many PhD students for the number of faculty positions, that this is unfair, and that therefore we should take fewer students. The most recent version of this idea on the web goes so far as calling the academic enterprise a Ponzi scheme. I’ve never personally found this argument very convincing. No other area of employment has a degree the guarantees its recipients their preferred job and I think that thinning the pool of potential talent from the scientific fields before it’s really possible to tell who the important thinkers of the next generation might be is bad for science (and all of the things that benefit from it). I’ve never taken the time to really expand on these thoughts, but thankfully James Keirstead over at Academic Productivity has an interesting post up responding to the ideas in the first link. Go check it out.

2 Comments on “Courting controversy & academic ponzi schemes [Things you should read]

  1. In the UK, I would like to see less acceptance to degree courses. Educational standards are falling here, no matter what the statistics are saying and we are churning out too many graduates with degrees that are worth nothing on the job market. Students are basically leaving with huge debts that they have little hope of repaying with current wage packets.
    We need more post school options – other than higher education – less PhD’s would naturally follow.

    What did I reply when asked why I wanted to do a PhD?
    I think I garbled something along the lines of… ‘would I be strange if I just said, I actually enjoy reading research papers and synthesis and trying to find patterns’…

    I don’t think too much about the job market, I just couldn’t envisage doing anything else right now. so maybe I’m an optimist after all 😉

  2. I couldn’t agree more. In the US it has just become the thing that you do once you graduate from high school, regardless of what you’re interested in doing in the long run. And, I think you are absolutely right that rectifying this would reduce the number of applicants to PhD programs (not to mention the fact that it would certainly improve the motivation of students in undergraduate classrooms to learn rather than just “get an A”) because I’m definitely seeing folks in our applicant pools who have finished their undergraduate studies, don’t know what to do, and so are just going on to the next level of education.

    All of the best scientists I know got into the field for exactly the same reason.

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