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According to many of the leading scientific organizations, the so-called ‘Best and Brightest’ American science students are increasingly abandoning graduate training for careers in fundamental research. Most mysteriously, this is claimed to be true even in fields experiencing significant ‘booms’ in both funding and discovery.


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American Society for Cell Biology, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, National Bureau of Economic Research


To figure out what is really causing American science to lose ground to other professional schools competing for the top American college students.


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For this problem we used a collection of techniques including a collection of 20+ interviews with leading biologists, as well as opportunity cost analysis and tournament models of labor force participation.



While it may appear that graduate training has become less costly with increases in assistantships and tuition reimbursements, the value of PhD level training must be evaluated as a form of investment. The two central concepts here are the focus on the opportunity cost and the expected value of PhD training.  The key problem is that the expected value of basic research training appears to have fallen significantly as an investment relative to other competing opportunities as the odds of success of gaining a PI position have decreased significantly. Furthermore, increases in stipends have not kept the opportunity costs from increasing for top American students as the number of years spent in training and apprenticeship have increased. We proposed a decoupling model which created non PI positions for biological researchers which were none the less permanent.


Publications, Article, Reports:

  1. Competition and Careers in Biosciences, Science, 14 December 2001, Vol. 294, pg. 2293.


  1. The report to the American Society for Cell Biology entitled “Careers and Rewards in Bio Sciences:  the Disconnect Between Scientific Progress and Career Progression” was published at the ASCB website.


  1. 'How and Why Government, Universities, and Industry Create Domestic Labor Shortages of Scientists and high-tech Workers' was made available (in draft form) at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).


Other references to the work appear in archived articles from newspapers like the New York Times, and magazines like US News and World Report, (as well as testimony before congress, and elsewhere on the web).



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