STEM: In Academia There Is A Glut, But There Is A Shortage In The Corporate World
    By Hank Campbell | October 29th 2013 10:50 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    One argument for putting a halt to government spending billions of dollars doing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) 'outreach' is that, like all government programs, they become self-serving and never, ever stop.

    After $5 billion of taxpayer-funded STEM outreach in the last decade, there is a real glut of Ph.D.s - America produces 6X as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs in academia, so income for post-doctoral jobs has plummeted. Some labs can even advertise for no-pay positions and still require that respondents already have one post-doctoral position completed - that is extraordinary. Obviously far too many Ph.D.s competing for a finite pool of government money is bad for young researchers (1) so why don't they go into the corporate world instead?  

    The reasons why so many want to work at a college are complex but two of the big ones are money and job security - career academia stopped being a low-paid occupation years ago - and the perception that being reliant on government funding meant more independence than being reliant on corporate money. Competition has meant that some people can't break in and the concern is that some of those barriers may be artificial rather than merit-based, because they don't exactly match the overall population.

    Bayer recently revealed results of its 15th survey of STEM fields to try and determine why people are going into STEM fields (or not) - and they affirm what most people know; a whole lot of students start off college in STEM fields and a whole lot less finish. STEM fields are hard, so universities are probably doing students a favor by weeding out people in the first two years. Is a "rigorous introductory instructional" approach a bad thing? Perhaps, but it isn't like STEM gets easier farther down the line and it's better if students learn they are wasting their time early, rather than spending years (and a lot of money) on courses they suddenly won't need after they change majors.

    When things are tough for all, if you make it, you know you earned it.(2)

    The answers of 413 STEM department chairs (87% male, 88% white) from 200 institutions were designed to determine how to increase representation for women and certain minorities and finds respondents saying all the right things we expect academia to say. The problem is that the canned platitudes about representation don't reveal anything meaningful, they just add evidence to the charge by former tenured academics that faculty and tenure jobs are not given based on sex or color, as some claim, and not on quality, as people holding the jobs claim, but rather that they are "hand-selected for mediocrity and obsequiousness", as former tenured professor Zachary Ernst phrased it. None of the respondents were going to call themselves out as part of the problem, they instead responded in milquetoast fashion about the issue and laid the blame on the institution that pays them, responding they they needed to be given a 'STEM diversity plan' or 'more academic support' or that 'university leadership must act'.

    Well, they are university leadership. Find any corporation in America and tell a CEO that the vice-presidents gave those answers about a problem the company was facing and every single one of them would be fired on the spot; fix the problem, don't throw it back on some boss upstairs to create some policy to tell you what to do when you already know the right thing to do. 

    I did a 30 minute panel on STEM diversity last week, on the Al Jazeera America television network. I made the point that when it comes to minorities in STEM jobs in Silicon Valley, there is negative unemployment. Because it's true, and it's what BAYER says also; they have a hard time finding qualified people at all, much less women and minorities. Two of the other panelists vigorously shook their heads when I said that, though neither of them had ever worked in Silicon Valley much less run a department or company there. My point was that companies won't artificially fix diversity by hiring unqualified people because of their skin color - that would be the exact definition of discrimination - instead they will challenge academia to graduate more qualified people.

    Women in gaming have turned stereotypes on their head, to hilarious effect. That can't happen if they are oppressed. You don't see women in Arabia doing joke videos about not being allowed to drive cars. ABSOLUTELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK DUE TO LANGUAGE.

    No one is tearing down the walls for you, all companies can do is make sure you don't have a wall that everyone else does not have. Science remains hard. So is academia the problem? That's been claimed plenty and I have argued with liberals that overwhelmingly liberal academia is not engaging in discrimination. If they are, schools obviously need more conservatives in their ranks, because we know conservatives don't care about people, they care about results - so the best people would be filling tenure jobs rather than people who will hire clones of themselves.

    Some of the Bayer survey results are a little wonky. They say, for example, that 36% of survey respondents believe females are underrepresented but then report that 42% of STEM degrees will be female. Look, 42% is not too shabby. Women get more PhDs than men, that is the whole argument women have made for why they should have better representation at the highest levels.  And I have yet to see lamentations about diversity when it comes to education and social science fields, which have less than 30% men. Variation in employment demographics is not a problem, as long as it's choice. Mechanical engineering pays women more fairly than every other job in America, including fields over-represented by women like environmentalism do, yet women still don't like engineering. When you ask women if they care about money, they don't, compared to men.

    Stereotypes as an excuse not to enter STEM seem to be dying off, that is some good news. Only 13% of respondents cited the stereotype of STEM being a male field as an obstacle for women and only 3% cited stereotypes as being on obstacle for Hispanics, blacks and native Americans. There are other obstacles, they note that Hispanics, blacks and native Americans arrive more less qualified overall, and wash out of STEM programs, while women are qualified but some of them wash out anyway. STEM outreach won't fix either of those.

    Hispanics, blacks and native Americans will only be 16% of STEM degrees though they are 26% of America. Yet unless we know it is bias, there isn't much STEM outreach spending can do to fix that. Making more public relations companies rich by giving them another billion dollars in taxpayer money to make STEM sound cool won't work. STEM fields are still going to be both hard and uncool to a lot of people.

    What's often the problem with surveys is that they ask elites about what they should do to fix a problem instead of asking students what they want. As I have written many times, taking a woman inclined to be a doctor and convincing her to be in STEM is not a great idea. If she wants to help people rather than be in a lab or behind a desk, she gets a degree in biology and goes off to medical school instead. Society still benefits, we don't have to criticize her for not being a computer scientist.

    Rather than having the NSF and 11 other government departments hand out more STEM outreach money to the people these surveys insist are the problem - academics at schools - I made suggestions during my Al Jazeera America appearance for improving STEM diversity:

    1) Instead of recruiting people into STEM directly with lovely stories about some person like them who went into STEM, show how fields like computer science and engineering help people. We have created an entire Zombie army of citizens bumping into lampposts because they are looking at their phones. And young people are first in line to buy those. Basically, if we must waste money on STEM outreach, at least be smart about it and stop waiting for an academic who understands grant politics to apply for a grant, and open up funding beyond schools. Technology is letting people play Angry Birds. Highlight that.

    2) Money talks. Our current government-driven STEM outreach is geared toward making more people dependent on government grants. Meanwhile, young scientifically inclined students see people in their late 30s and early 40s making less money than someone 23 years old and with a bachelor's degree.  That's a turn-off.

    Here's a free idea. Instead of glorifying academia using tax dollars, recruit more people into STEM with this simple ditty that worked when I was in college:

    (sung to the tune of the Mickey Mouse theme)

    M-I-T, P-H-D, M-O-N-E-Y.

    You're welcome.


    (1) Some are tackling the exact wrong problem - they think unionizing graduate students and post-docs is the answer. As anyone in government that has been crippled by a union, such as the teacher's unions in California, can tell you, unions care about seniority, so post-docs jobs would be slightly better pay, but they would also stop being a meritocracy, and post-docs will sit at home for two years while they wait for their names to come up on the list at 'union' labs.

    (2) A few weeks ago, a group of smart women on Twitter declared that they had "ripples of doubt" about their ability to blog at Scientific American (no, seriously, they had doubts they were qualified to be blogging) because the blogging recruiter tried to hit on a few of them. Anyone who really wants to find a flaw in quotas and mandates for STEM just needs to look at such "am-I-just-cute?" hand-wringing to see how policies that choose people for reasons other than merit can go off the rails quite rapidly in academia. 


    "all companies can do is make sure you don't have a wall that everyone else does not have..."
    So, companies can and are willing to finance all colledge education and make it free for public? If not - that's a lost case. It all comes down to this.

    Why should companies have to do that? Why not make teachers work for free? Why not make colleges free? It seems strange to arbitrarily pick one part of society and declare them responsible and that, if they don't agree, education is pointless. You've created a false dichotomy.
    I didn't mean to create any kind of dichotomy in this case. I meant the argument about "walls" is pointless. First, it's not arbitrary: it's companies who complain about the lack of qualified candidates. Well, the companies pay for the raw materials, office space rent, and other resources. So it makes no sense that they don't fully fund development and acquisition of their most important resource.
    Why the argument about "walls" is pointless: it's all about accessibility of education. "Walls" are purely financial. People, whose parents can pay higher education expenses out of pocket always have a better chance of getting enrolled, than those, who have to take out loans. Intellectual capacity or hard work don't matter much - you can either afford it, or not. Not to mention - why some get "handouts" from parents (way worse than "handouts" from government), while others, perhaps more apt ones, have to ruin themselves with loans?
    So, yes, in order to provide equal access to education based on students' willingness and intellectual, not financial merit of their parents - only free education system will work.
    Of course, everything "free" has to be funded somehow. Education, being in this case a service, provided to the companies (providing them with qualified employees), should be also paid by the companies...

    Most Companies have tuition reimbursement programs. Many don't pay 100%, and most require you pass the course. But this goes with giving people free stuff is usually a waste, they don't appreciate it, and I suspect funding tuition isn't the limiting factor to graduate with a STEM degree, it ability and hard work.

    If you're not willing to work for something you want, you don't want it enough. And remember McDonald's is almost always hiring.
    Never is a long time.
    How comes that "free stuff" from the government or companies is not ok, yet once it comes from parents, it suddenly becomes magically "appreciated"?
    As for tuition reimbursement - yes, the first problem is that it's never reimbursed 100%. 50% at best in most of cases.
    Second - it is only for the existing employees. So it doesn't fix the problem of the initial supply of the entry-level qualified employees.
    Any decent degree comes with a rather hefty tuition and living expenses. I can't see STEM being radically different. Also - those are serious degrees, which require a lot of time and effort to complete. Working even part-time puts enormous additional pressure on students. So why some people have to learn to "appreciate" getting a degree through having to work at McDonald's, while others get a "free ride" on their parent's money? This creates unequal conditions for success in studying.
    "If you're not willing to work for something you want, you don't want it enough" - can be easily applied to the companies/CEOs, too. If you want qualified employees and are not getting them - perhaps you don't invest in education enough.
    Having tough enrollment exams (and not just an automatic GRE/GMAT) does make students appreciate getting a degree way more than having to work at McDonald's to pay for it...

    It's not appreciated from parents either.

    As for the rest, why would a corporation invest tens or hundreds of thousands on educating someone who isn't willing to do it for themselves? And how would they guarantee after spending this amount the new grad would stay working for the people who paid for their education? Especially when there are so many in far away parts of the world, with far less who manage to do it and can for far less money come to the US on a greencard.

    You sound like a college student who's mad someone isn't making your life easy for you, mommy and daddy aren't paying your way, must not have gotten the big piles of scholarship money , so you want business to pay your way now?

    And some of the things I've read recently makes me think the government shouldn't be paying for schooling either directly or through loans either. The schools just build fancy buildings and sports teams, and then raise tuition to pay for it, students get stuck with life long loan payments, usually for degrees that don't help them get a high paying job.

    I know you don't want advise from me, but it might be the best free advise you get, work hard, relish the effort, don't spent your time in school socializing and partying, you'll have time later if you still want to. And when you graduate, if you don't give up first, your sense of accomplishment will be worth far more than your cost of schooling, doors might not get opened for you, but you'll know how to open the ones worth opening.

    It won't be easy, nothing worth while is.
    Never is a long time.
    "educating someone who isn't willing to do it for themselves?"
    What has willingness to educate oneself to do with willingness to ruin your future life with a student loan or willingness to burn yourself to ashes by working at McDonalds while getting your degree? Those who don't want a degree - just don't enroll. Those who want, but don't have intellectual capacity - well, too bad. I'm only talking about free education for the willing and capable, naturally.
    "how would they guarantee after spending this amount the new grad would stay working for the people who paid for their education?"
    Of course there's no guarantee. It's a risk businesses have to take, just like any other risks they take. Ideally, they'd fund it through taxation, through "one pot", which will make things more or less fair for them. As long as the application of these funds is stricly controlled and transparent, sure enough - so that the government won't be able to misuse it.
    "You sound like a college student"
    As for my particular colledge education, I received my BA in Russia. Quite a few years after communism - yet education was still mostly public. Yes, there were commercial programmes for people of inferior intellectual capacities - but that is ok. Those, who got good grades during the exams had it for free. And we really, really appreciated it... I lived in Germany as well. Some tuition fees there are about 300EUR a year. So, basically, almost for free as well...
    In the US tuition fees can go up as high as 20,000 a year and even higher. All that matters is whether one can afford it or not. While many people who cannot afford it do possess talents for brilliant applications of the knowledge to be received from colledge programs, there are plenty of the well-paying ones, who are just good enough to wade through the program, acquiring only basic knowledge, with no talent of applying it properly in future. I met plenty of both kinds in the US - yet almost no such discrepancy in Germany (Russia would be a bad example due to the culture of corruption - education is the only thing left intact there, pretty much - everything else went arseways). Of course, the ones who can't afford it can self-educate, should they feel passionate enough. But the employers do not care for knowledge so much as they do care for a diploma, don't they...
    So, no, it's not so much a personal grudge - it's more of a comment on a sad picture that I see as an observer...

    And yet the US still excel in science and technology and the commercial application of it.

    College should be given away when it has no value, that's the way markets allocates resources. I have nothing against web based education, and they cost structure for this is far cheaper, it will drive the cost of an education downward.
    But the employers do not care for knowledge so much as they do care for a diploma, don't they...
    This is somewhat true, the gate keepers to a job, look at degrees, wouldn't you rather hire a PhD than someone with no degree if given the choice? But the people who actually manage the individual want knowledge. I have done okay in a field dominated with degrees, yet have no degree, it's only a matter of getting past HR to the hiring managers. It's also why you need to act like anyone you meet might be your next boss, if you make a good impression he might just want to hire you.

    And we really, really appreciated it
    Maybe it a cultural thing, but I don't see this to be true in the US, some people would yes, but many would use this to just avoid working for a few more years and still graduate with no usable skills.
    Never is a long time.
    "The schools just build fancy buildings and sports teams, and then raise tuition to pay for it"
    But those are entirely different problems from what we are discussing. Yes, preventing schools from misusing funds has to be dealt with, too.

    Hispanics, blacks and native Americans will only be 16% of STEM degrees though they are 26% of America. Yet unless we know it is bias, there isn't much STEM outreach spending can do to fix that. Making more public relations companies rich by giving them another billion dollars in taxpayer money to make STEM sound cool won't work. STEM fields are still going to be both hard and uncool to a lot of people.

    The problem isn't STEM looking uncool.  It simply isn't taught well at the K-12 level in the communities you mention.  So a scientist from such an area has to be, as Niel Degrasse Tyson put it "self refueled" enough, driven enough, to learn about it anyway.  

    By college it is too late.
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    I think so also. But that problem is not getting fixed. Kids here in California can't even have a Halloween party so they are sure not learning how to make green slime in a science class for Halloween.  

    We've homogenized education and culture in schools to the lowest common denominator and that is not exciting anyone who isn't already inclined to like science stuff.
    It's worse than this though, they make it so boring to smart kids that they just tune out. By 13 I put almost zero effort into school, it wasn't until I just happen to take an elective electricity class in 10th grade, and then learned my school had a Vo-Ed exchange program with other local schools, and they had a 2 yr Electronics program that I found something interesting.
    In 12th grade I think, I signed up for a Physic's class, mind you when I was 8 or 10 I mailed away for little brochures from the AEC and know how nuclear energy worked. Anyways the first 2 weeks were spent trying to explain a swimmers velocity across a pool and linear slopes in equations, and half the class was still confused, I dropped the class, I couldn't stand it any longer.
    Never is a long time.
    That's true too.  We don't want to make anyone who doesn't get science feel bad so it is watered down.  Simple basic science literacy and teaching at least algebra-trig at the k-12 level would make all the difference in the world.  
    Instead we get no child left behind. 

    As for any racial/class/gender based issue.  That also has done it's damage way before college.  K-12 teachers tend to have really rigid ideas about who should do what.  They have been made into substitute parents and they end up trying to raise girls or boys rather than teach men and women.   I noticed a great deal of, how to put it, "steering", going on when I was in high school.    Things may have changed a great deal since the mid 1990's but I would not be surprised if that still went on.   The result is people who might make good scientist but who do not fit the mold are told to do other things.  

    i.e. if Enrique is good at mechanical problem solving is a high school guidance counselor going to tell them to become an engineer or become a auto mechanic?   Where I live I know what Enrique would be told is best for him or easier for him to make a living at. 

    At the school I got my MS from, there were many students who discovered an interest and aptitude for physics after two or three years in some more frankly stereotypical major.  That's not the fault of the Physics Department.  The same is true elsewhere. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Instead we get no child left behind.

    I think this was a good idea, but the side effect was that we got teachers just teaching or giving answers to tests.
    I worked in software sales, the sales guys weren't selling enough maintenance contracts, so the next year they increased the commission on maintenance renewals, worked like a charm, maintenance renewals went way up, except that year license sales dropped.
    The moral of the story is be careful how you compensate/reward people, you might just get what you asked for, but maybe not what you really wanted.
    Never is a long time.
    No Child Left Behind was tremendously successful. Scores for minority and poor kids spiked considerably and girls achieved parity with boys in math scores for the first time in history.

    Teaching to the test works, when your metric for success is how well they do on tests. Now we get annual criticisms of test scores of students because we teach 'concepts', when fully 50% of students cannot be in the top half of their class, so they get very little out of school. The US Army and China teaches to the test for an obvious reason - that is the surest way to make sure everyone has a baseline of knowledge, which is exactly the point of public education.

    President Obama had better hope his successor does not do to the ACA what he did to No Child Left Behind - cater to donors and declare it a failure after a few short years and gut it.
    I wonder if you found as I have that smart Americans have an aptitude for problem solving that many smart people from other countries seem to lack? I could have been, should have been in advanced classes of only smart people, but I ended up bored, I think I slept through my English lit class. Woke up one day, I think the class was empty, lights off, another time woke up and my shoelaces were tied to the legs of the chair. I'm sure someone thought is was funny, I did. But I passed the class.

    I can only hope his successor guts it. I'd buy into heath care reform, but the ACA is not the way IMO it should be done. The government should make requirements, and then let the market implement them. Not try to implement them their selves.

    Never is a long time.
    I am one of the few people who have defended education from its overwhelmingly liberal detractors, including all of them in the U.S. Department of Education. I have defended it here and in a book and in USA Today, etc.  And then I turn around and criticize gutting No Child Left Behind, even though it was fixing a problem we don't have at the high end - we clearly lead the world in science. 

    But those are two distinct segments. No Child Left Behind was perfect for creating the kind of base of information we want whereas our 'teach them how to think' method exceeds the products of Asian systems that are done by rote. We can easily do both but instead we abandon half of students by focusing on legacy 'concept' thinking, and we waste a lot of money and teacher time doing it, because we don't want 'teachers to be told how to teach'. So we'll just criticize them for worrying about seniority more than students and never being able to be fired.
    We can easily do both but instead we abandon half of students by focusing on legacy 'concept' thinking, and we waste a lot of money and teacher time doing it, because we don't want 'teachers to be told how to teach'.

    We could do both, we probably should do both. I know my public schooling was lacking, and I know my kids didn't really get what they needed to excel.

    So we'll just criticize them for worrying about seniority more than students and never being able to be fired.
    I think this is a justifiable though. Not that there aren't a lot of good teacher, so I'm not trying to paint all of them with this comment.
    Never is a long time.
    Agree'd.  Both rote recitation of certain basic facts and a concept based, or experience based, free exploration of knowledge should be part of education.  ...  rather than restate it... I will go ahead and let the late great one say it himself.  

    I don't see any reason his way of doing things could not be applied from say 7th grade going forward.  The main argument against what Feynman describes is that only the most competent teachers can effectively do what he did.  It also requires that students have a basic interest in what you are doing.  K-12 education can be so basic, and repetitive,  that it just bores the bejesus out of people from all points of the bell curve. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.

    "Sung to the Mickey Mouse theme: M-I-T, P-H-D, M-O-N-E-Y," is only appropriate for mathematics. If your kid is talented at math then you should be making every sacrifice to ensure your kid gets the best math education you can afford. That kid can then go to work for Wall Street and be rolling in dough. Otherwise there's no money in STEM:
    "Companies would rather not pay STEM professionals high salaries with lavish benefits, offer them training on the job, or guarantee them decades of stable employment. So having an oversupply of workers, whether domestically educated or imported, is to their benefit. It gives employers a larger pool from which they can pick the “best and the brightest,” and it helps keep wages in check. No less an authority than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said as much when in 2007 he advocated boosting the number of skilled immigrants entering the United States so as to “suppress” the wages of their U.S. counterparts, which he considered too high." Emphasis mine, source:

    If your kid declares he or she wants to be a scientist or an engineer you should be just as shocked and horrified as if the kid declared he or she wanted to be a musician or an actor.  Just as you would encourage music or theater as a HOBBY by taking them to community theater tryouts, open mic venues, talent shows, etc. and attending every performance you should encourage science and engineering by taking them to science fairs at school, 4H, and FFA--as a HOBBY--not an occupation.

    All science literacy does in the US is give your kid options. If there is a shortage of healthcare workers and healthcare wages and salaries are good, science literacy better prepares your kid to train as healthcare worker. When there is a glut of healthcare workers and healthcare wages and salaries take a nose dive, but a shortage of plumbers--and plumbing wages and salaries are good--science literacy better prepares your child to transition from healthcare and train to be a plumber.

    "This page intentionally left blank." --Gödel
    It is perfectly possible to succeed with a technical degree. Get your degree. Make decent grades. Then start networking, When you get a job, pay attention to the REAL rules and needs of the organization.