Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 2, 2005

"Big jobs that pay badly" was the headline of a recent story on CNN/Money, which shone a spotlight on the careers that require above average amounts of education, yet somehow lead to careers that fail to provide a proportional level of income compared to other professions that require much less education.

The following table illustrates the median income and time required to achieve the level of education and training needed to gain the needed professional pedigree:

High Investment, Low Payoff Jobs
Profession Post Graduation Income ($USD) Time Required (years) Education Cost ($USD)
Architect 34,000 7 50-80,000
Chef 32,000 2-4 20-40,000
Academic Research Scientist 43,000 10-12 100,000+

The article notes the plight of the academic research scientist (links and emphasis mine):

A Ph.D. program and dissertation are requirements for the job, which can take between six and eight years to complete. (Note: the time for the basic bachelor's degree has been added to these figures in the table above. - ed.) Add to that several years in the postdoctoral phase of one's career to qualify for much coveted tenure-track positions. (Note: Given the amount of variability involved, this time has not been added to the time required figure in the table above. - ed.)

During the postdoc phase, you are likely to teach, run a lab with experiments that require you to check in at all hours, publish research and write grants – for a salary that may not exceed $43,000.

The length of the postdoc career has doubled in the past 10 years, said Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. "It's taking longer and longer to get there. You can't start a family. It's really tough."

And it's made tougher still by the fact that in many disciplines, there aren't nearly as many tenure-track positions as there are candidates.

It would seem, at least from this report, that the simple law of supply and demand goes a long way in explaining why the U.S. isn't turning out science and engineering graduates like it used to.

Update: InstaPundit has published several charts showing the growth in the number of engineering and science doctoral degrees being awarded in various Asian nations compared against the decline in the number of degrees awarded to U.S. citizens at the end of his interview with Ray Kurzweil.

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