The data presented in this chapter confirm that the unemployment rate among recent PhD recipients in the life sciences has remained low (between 1% and 2%), and there is no indication that large numbers of them have left the field. Moreover, a majority of the graduates have been primarily engaged in basic and applied research—an indication that they have been fully using their research training—and this fraction has been rising. The intensive research involvement might be at least partly attributed to an expansion in industrial hiring, which began in the early 1980s, as well as to a large increase in the number of postdoctoral fellows.
So what is the problem? Over the last 2 decades, there has been a substantial decline in the fraction of young PhDs in the life sciences who have obtained tenure-track positions on university and college faculties—the positions considered most desirable by many life scientists. If the decline continues at its current rate, fewer than one-third of today's graduates can be expected to obtain faculty appointments, to which a majority of students have aspired. The apparent mismatch between career expectations and opportunities for faculty positions might be ameliorated, at least in part, by a growing awareness among students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty of the career options available to today's graduates. It is the committee's hope that the career-progression matrices and accompanying analysis presented here will enhance their awareness of the changing employment prospects in the life sciences.
A second problem, perhaps more difficult to solve, is the increase in the fraction of young scientists who, after extensive postdoctoral apprenticeships, still have not obtained "permanent" full-time positions in academe, industry, government, or private research organization. As illustrated in figure 3.12, in 1995, 39% of life-science PhDs 5–6 years after receipt of their doctorates held postdoctoral fellowships or other nonfaculty jobs in universities, were employed