Ok, I can’t hold back on the cognitive elite post.
In America, science/eng is for losers. Period. Of course, I speak from the biotech/biology point of view, and this is the group to which most of my following comments will apply. However, I believe that my comments largely apply to chemists, engineers and computer people also.
Let’s start with the premise. Twenty years ago, the NSF came out with the famous report that the US was going to run out of scientists. This lie was repeated, even more forcefully in 1989, when the NSF predicted a “shortfall” of 675,000 sci/eng students. The government promptly went into social engineering mode, and grand campaigns (and graduate funding programs) were instituted to ensure the USA wouldn’t run out. Guess what? The faculty retirements never happened, people went into sci/eng and for the past 15 years, we’ve been running around with a huge glut of sci/eng (along with hordes of imported sci/engs)
Now, actually, this is probably good from a societal view, as these surplus sci/eng did go on to help start the biotech/IT boom of recent years as Razib points out (ex-IBMers–”Go start your own companies!”). However, from an individual standpoint, all this overproduction has done is to devalue your skills and increase the risk involved with sci/eng as a career path.
Let’s look at a typical career path for a biotech type scientist:
4 years undergrad. Age 21. Salary: $25-30K if job obtained as tech.
5-9 years grad school. Age 26-30+. Salary as a grad student: $20-25K
Likelihood of finding a job after PhD obtained: about 10-20%, depending on subfield. Salary: about $50-$70K. Alternative when job isn’t found, or job desired is in academia or higher up in industry is a post-doc:
Post-doc: 2-5 years. Age: 28-35. Salary as post-doc: 25-40K (note, this is for a PhD, and a person who is likely around 30 years old. This should be insulting). Likelihood of finding academic position: about 1%. (typical faculty positions advertised receive several hundred applications). Chance of second post-doc because job in industry is also not available: about 40%.
So, at the age of 30ish, and after obtaining an advanced degree as part of 10+ years of post-graduate education and training, you can hope for about a 59% chance of finding a “real job.” This real job pays about $70K in industry (up to 90K for chemists), a bit less for starting professors.
The rest circle around in post-docs or finally leave science in disgust.
Now, plenty of people might say, “what are you complaining about, those salaries are fine?” Perhaps. But the economics should be made clear to aspiring young scientists–expect to work 60-70 hours/week until you’re 35 before you can even hope to have a real job, with benefits, that pays more than a journeyman plumber (but not a fully bonded plumber and let’s not forget the average GM worker earning $68K/yr). These people who can make it in science are typically smart enough to be MDs (salary $100-200+K/yr by age 30 at the latest), lawyers (salary $100K-$400K by age 30), or banker/MBA types ($100K-$1M by 28).
That’s the reality. Science is for losers. If you’re going to go through all that education/training and work 60-70 hrs/wk, at least you should be compensated like MDs, lawyers or investment bankers. If you don’t care about the money, fine, but don’t ever start on the “nobility of science” crap that Gould liked to prattle on about. You’re making an economic decision–”I love science so much that I’m going to give up all this potential income, etc.” If you want to, fine. But go into science knowing that, and knowing that the situation will NOT get better (i.e. what’s going to happen when big Pharma starts outsourcing all their medicinal chemistry R&D to Bangalore and Hyderabad?).