The Future of Research


The symposium 'Future of Research' was held in Boston in October of this year and once again Paula Stephan recommended that biomedical graduate departments partake in birth control. "We are definitely producing many more PhD's than there is a demand for in research positions." she said.

“The biomedical research system is structured around a large workforce of graduate students and postdocs,” says Michael Teitelbaum, a labour economist at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “  Faculty members rely on cheap PhD students and postdocs because they are trying to get the most science out of stretched grants. Universities, in turn, know that PhD students help faculty members to produce the world-class research on which their reputations rest.

There are cost advantages in having a Postdoc scholar: the low salary and long hours mean that they are less expensive by almost half than graduate students of scientific staff. The hourly rate for postdocs is about US$ 16/hr compared to post-graduate students (US$ 34 - US$ 21/hr) and staff scientists (US$ 30/hr).  In the US, the NIH salary rate for a postdoc was US$ 42,840 in 2015. The other advantages of a postdoc are they have a higher skill than a graduate student and are usually more motivated than a staff scientist.

"Although principal investigators acknowledge the difficulty of securing an academic position, the system worked for them and so it is tempting to tell students that they can do it too — just another experiment, another publication or another year, and you’ll get there." says Julie Gould in the Nature article.

As for my own 'future of research' perspective, in the last 10 years of my academic career I didn't take on any more PhD students. This was partly due to the lack of resources (finances) to train a world-class scientist and also partly to my doing my bit for PhD birth control.