PhD: Reader story [send us yours]
I’ve graduated from a top 15 school with a Ph.D. in chemistry in four and a half years. What was next? Of course a postdoctoral fellowship in which I make less than a secretary (my fellowship is at a top 5 Medical school). When I came here, I was excited at the opportunity that I could develop my own research proposal, carry out my research and in potentially three years get a faculty position… WRONG. We’ve recently hired four faculty and we won’t be hiring again for years in our department and the number of postdoc years spent by the faculty (6, 6, 7, 9). It’s only going to get worse in 6 years because funding has leveled off.
So I decided well maybe I can begin applying for industrial positions, which I did. It’s been a year now and I haven’t heard back from one, despite multiple first author publications. I asked myself why, and began looking at the reasons.
The big Pharma companies have become equity companies. What does that mean? They don’t do research anymore, because research is costly. For example the cost of capital (basically the % return on one’s investment) is about 11% for Pharma because it takes 13 years for a drug to go from benchtop to market. The cost of all research including salaries comes out to an estimated $800 M from an Eli Lily perspective in Nature. However, the cost of capital comes out to $1 B, which is basically 55% of the cost of making a drug. So what did Pharma do? They began buying up pipelines from other biotech companies at premiums to reduce the time investment. They fire everyone after acquiring the company. Furthermore, they’ve gotten smarter and figured out that Postdocs and grad students are basically slave labor and they could give minimal amounts of money to struggling professors (by struggling I mean they can’t get adequate funding to enslave more students and postdocs), while keeping full stake in the ideas invented by these grad students and post docs.
So what about a government job? Clearly the U.S. government cannot continue holding more and more burden of scientists because we can’t afford the debt we currently owe.
I was very successful in my Ph.D. and what did this get me? Nothing. A lousy job where my boss expects me to do his, mine and that of a lab manager which he won’t pay for. I’ve applied to over fifty jobs a mix of scientific and non-scientific and I’ve only had one interview. However, considering the consulting firm hires less than 1% of total applicants since they receive 50,000+ a year my job outlook is getting pretty bleak.I wouldn’t recommend getting a Ph.D. to anyone. Don’t be naive like myself. I feel worse for the students that I helped recruit and haven’t been as successful in their Ph.D.’s as I was. But hey, maybe they’ll be more successful than I am at finding a real job that pays more than a secretary.