Tuesday, October 25, 2011

OWS and the labor market for scientists

Scientific American has an interesting article on scientists and science students participating in the OWS protests in Baltimore.

I wish I had more time to discuss this, because they're talking specifically about biochemists and the market for biologists is actually an interesting and unusual story. My read on most science and engineering labor markets is that concerns about shortages are way overblown - most of these markets are functioning just fine and respond well to price signals. Biology is a little different and has experienced a genuine glut in PhDs, so the concerns expressed here are in some ways unique to that field. A big part of the problem is supply-side policies in the market for scientific labor, which as Ken Boulding pointed out decades ago makes little sense compared to demand-side policies.

Anyway - if you want to learn more about the glut in the biologist labor market the person to read is Paula Stephan, and economist at Georgia State University.


  1. I can speak from the experience of my friends who are in the biological sciences - for those with PhDs the competition is fierce (I've known a number of people who left their respective fields for something else entirely). It seems that there are plenty of bench science positions for those with B.S. and M.S. degrees though (a lot of it tends to be sort of monotonous work however - a paycheck being a paycheck all things considered) - that's probably because there is such a huge churn in those types of positions - it tends to be a safe place to land while someone is figuring out if they want to go to medical school or get a graduate degree in science or get an MBA. I have known a few people who have made a career out of that sort of bench science, so that is one route to take.

  2. The argument could be made that biology is really applied chemistry, so no wonder the pharmaceutical industry is a factor in sucking up advanced researchers for biology! (I don't know the specifics, but I do know that major medicine companies like Pfizer are a reason for the drain.)

    Speaking of labor economics Daniel, have you ever written any papers on unemployment that try to model uncertainty? Daniel Ellsberg's doctoral dissertation is a useful source on uncertainty, and his paradox can be applied to labor economics.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.