professional system vary widely, depending in part on the perspectives of those holding the opinions. A convenient way to describe the situation is to identify groups of "stakeholders" who look at the current professional system from different points of view.
Leaders of industrial or government laboratories, university administrators, teachers in large undergraduate programs where extensive laboratory work is performed, and established life-science researchers who must compete for renewed funding are likely to argue that the current situation has much to offer; their motivation to promote change is weak or absent. Both the time-consuming experiments that are characteristic of much biologic research and the education of large numbers of undergraduates are well suited to the skills and training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The research productivity of an individual laboratory—even of an entire department—can depend on the number of graduate students employed, so future funding and intellectual prestige might depend on attracting as many good students as possible. Occasionally, there are additional incentives to keep numbers of students high, such as the supplements provided by some local legislatures to their state universities in proportion to the size of their graduate programs. All those factors are powerful arguments for leaving the current situation unchanged.
Few branches of the life sciences in the United States have adopted the alternative professional system of hiring permanent laboratory scientists and technicians trained at the bachelor's, master's, or PhD level. From an economic point of view, such permanent employees usually require higher salaries and a greater institutional commitment, such as retirement benefits, than temporary students and fellows. Furthermore, from an intellectual perspective, most life scientists will argue that students and postdoctoral fellows bring fresh approaches and new energy to a laboratory—features that are difficult to duplicate with a more permanent workforce. Thus, a pool of young scientists who rotate through a research laboratory is considered by many to be optimal for creativity and productivity, even though there can be inefficiencies while students are acquiring expertise.
Organizations that fund life-science research can also be seen as having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Life-science graduate students supported by research grants are regarded by many such agencies as employees, as reflected by their designation on budget sheets and the resistance of some agencies to paying tuition. Most life-science graduate students are good value for the research dollar: they earn annual salaries of only about $16,000 and generally work very hard. Their productivity might be modest early in their doctoral research, but they become effective producers of data later in their training. In this context, it appears that a long graduate-student tenure has features that are desirable to established scientists and funding agencies; this training system increases the likelihood that a student can accomplish substantial work while still being paid at a comparatively low rate.
Funding agencies are likely to view their investment in postdoctoral fellows in much the same light. Even though the initial salaries of this group are higher than those of graduate students, tuition is no longer an issue, and these young scientists are more likely than graduate students to be immediately effective research workers. Thus, the growth of both populations of life scientists carries benefits for institutions that wish to maximize the effect of their research