scientists—academe, industry, and government—9–10 years after receipt of the PhD declined from 87% to 73% from 1975 to 1995. For the cohort 5–6 year after receipt of the PhD, the fraction has declined from 89% to 61% from 1975 to 1995.
During most of the time that those changes in permanent research-career outcomes were taking place, the number of life-science PhDs awarded annually by American universities was growing steadily, but slowly, from about 2,700 in 1965 to about 5,000 in the middle 1980s. Then, in 1987, the number began to rise rather steeply—to 7,696 in 1996. PhDs awarded to foreign nationals made up the majority of the increase after 1987. There has been a steady increase in the number of women receiving PhDs since 1965. Differences exist between biomedical and nonbiomedical fields; almost all the growth in numbers among life-science PhDs has been in the biomedical fields.
The 42% increase in PhD production between 1987 and 1996 was not accompanied by a parallel increase in employment opportunities, and recent graduates have increasingly found themselves in a "holding pattern" reflected in the increase in the fraction of young life scientists who after extensive postdoctoral apprenticeships still have not obtained permanent full-time positions in the life sciences. In 1995, as many as 38% of the life-science PhDs—5–6 years after receipt of their doctorates—still held postdoctoral positions or other nonfaculty jobs in universities, were employed part-time, worked outside the sciences, or were among the steady 1–2% unemployed. The comparable fraction in 1973 was only 11%. What may be most alarming about the 1995 figure is that it reflects the situations of those earning PhDs in 1989 and 1990, at the beginning of the sharp rise in the rate of PhD production.
The frustration of young scientists caught in the holding pattern is understandable. These people, most of whom are 35–40 years old, typically receive low salaries and have little job security or status within the university. Moreover, they are competing with a rapidly growing pool of highly talented young scientists—including many highly qualified foreign postdoctoral fellows—for a limited number of jobs in which they can independently use their research training. This situation—and its implications for both individual scientists and the research enterprise—is a matter of concern to the committee.
The committee viewed it as unlikely that conditions will change enough in the near future to provide employment for the large number of life-science PhDs now waiting in the holding pattern. Federal funding for life-science research is expected to grow but the growth is unlikely to compensate for the imbalance in production of PhDs as federal funding was growing substantially through the 1980s and 1990s while the employment situation for the increasing number of young life graduates worsened. We believe that the growth in funding does not ensure that trends in obtaining permanent jobs will improve. The cost of doing research at private universities has been borne traditionally by federal and private granting agencies, and it is highly unlikely that tuition, already high, can be increased to the extent that it could provide needed research support. Schools of medicine, where large numbers of PhDs are educated and work, are faced with the need to adjust to the era of "managed care" with a marked reduction in income from clinical-practice plans that previously contributed substantially to the support of research and training. Finally, industry—and perhaps specifically the biotechnology sector—which employed large numbers of new life-science PhDs in the 1980s, has slowed its hiring in the 1990s.
In response to the increasing difficulty of finding employment in traditional sectors, trainees and their mentors have looked to alternative careers, such as law, science writing, science policy, and secondary-school teaching. Our analysis suggests that opportunities in these