alternative high and low projections here should not be taken to represent the limits of possible future variation. They are not based on the most extreme trends in past data and should not be taken to represent the extreme future possibilities, but are rather alternatives that depart somewhat modestly from the main scenario. A second implication is probably that better, up-to-date data are needed on foreign-trained Ph.D.s.
Projecting the research workforce in three major fields—biomedical, clinical, and behavioral—indicates that each faces different prospects. This variation in prospects is visible from a close examination of survey data on the workforce and on graduates. Running projections serves to confirm and concretize conclusions that might be drawn from such an examination.
The biomedical research workforce has grown rapidly, particularly in recent years. From 2001 to 2006, it expanded 24 percent, adding 37,000 scientists. The behavioral research workforce, in contrast, grew only 7 percent in the same period, adding only 8,000 scientists. The clinical research workforce is much smaller than the other two, in total only slightly larger than the 2001-2006 increment in the biomedical workforce. It grew almost as fast as the biomedical workforce, at 23 percent.
Reflecting this recent history, the biomedical workforce is projected to grow, over a decade from 2006 to 2016, by 61 percent, the clinical workforce almost as fast at 58 percent, and the behavioral workforce by an anemic 9 percent. Slow growth in the past has gone with less volatility, and alternative projections for behavioral and clinical scientists show less variation than alternatives for biomedical scientists.
Among those with U.S. Ph.D.s, behavioral scientists were almost as numerous as biomedical scientists in 2006, and actually more numerous up to 2001. However, behavioral Ph.D. graduates of U.S. universities have hardly changed in number since 1990, a period during which biomedical Ph.D. graduates have increased strongly. In addition, and just as crucially, foreign-trained Ph.D.s are far more numerous in the biomedical field than in the behavioral field and are also increasing.
The biomedical workforce could therefore be more strongly affected than the behavioral or clinical workforces by an interruption in immigrant flow. In the most extreme situation modeled, immigration would cease in 2010, and none of the U.S. Ph.D. graduates who are temporary residents would stay in the U.S., beginning with the 2008 cohort. Under these conditions, the decadal increment to the biomedical workforce would drop from 116,000 to 28,000—which would still be double the highest projected increment to the behavioral workforce. For the biomedical workforce to actually decline by 2016, a still more extreme situation would have to be imagined, such as, in addition, the departure of all foreign-trained Ph.D.s now in the United States. They were a third of the biomedical workforce in 2006, and their departure, together with a halt to immigration, would reduce the 2016 biomedical workforce by 42,000 from its 2006 level.
An increasing proportion of U.S.-trained Ph.D.s in the workforce are female. In the U.S.-trained clinical workforce, they have been the majority since 1994, and in the behavioral workforce, they became the majority around 2004. In both cases, their majority is projected to become larger. In the biomedical field, they are still the minority. Although they will remain so until 2016, the gap will narrow, with the sex ratio falling from 183 males per 100 females in 2006 to 146 in 2016. In the biomedical workforce as a whole, however, the gap will be greater, because women are a smaller minority among foreign-trained Ph.D.s, both in the biomedical and clinical field, although not in the behavioral field. Even among the foreign-trained, however, the sex ratio appears generally to be falling.
The workforce will almost certainly age in the slow-growing behavioral field, where the proportion 55 years and older will reach 44 percent by 2016. Whether the workforce will also age in the other two fields is less clear, since an increase in the smaller proportions 55 years and older is to some extent balanced by increases in the proportions under age 35.
Will sufficient research funding be available for the projected workforce? For 2006, total U.S. biomedical research funding, from government, industry, and foundations, was $93.4 billion, or $262,000 per scientist in the three major fields combined. Real growth in funding, from 2003 to 2007, was 3.4 percent annually. If the growth rate stays at this level (or declines because of recession), funding growth will be slower than the projected growth of the biomedical or clinical workforces, which will be more than 1 percentage point faster.
How accurate projections of this sort can be, drawing on data and trends that predate the economic crisis, it is not possible to say. It may take a while for data to emerge that would permit more confident projections.