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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Science Job Shortage Is Front-Page News?

On 8 July, on its front page, the newspaper of record in the capital of the world’s only superpower broke a big story: There are too many scientists for the number of available jobs.  I repeat this news flash from the Washington Post: There is no shortage of scientists. Yes, you read that right: Despite what President Obama and industry and university leaders have been insisting for years, there is a surplus–repeat, a surplus–of scientists.

It must have taken some bold reporting in the tradition of the Post‘s legendary Woodward and Bernstein to nail this scoop. Why, reporter Brian Vastag even goes so far as to quote our own Science Careers Editor Jim Austin to the effect that “Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed.” Seriously, Brian deserves credit for getting onto the front page a story that contradicts the prevailing media narrative

So, what Science Careers has been saying for years, and years, has finally been corroborated by the Post. Now, if only some of the policy makers who claim to read the paper every day would finally do something about this Washington D.C.-created mess. They could, for example, follow some of the rather mild recommendations in the National Institutes of Health and National Academies reports issued last month. Or, they could–heaven forfend–do what really needs to be done and institute root-and-branch reform of the academic pyramid scheme that depends on grad students and postdocs as cheap, temporary labor on grant research. 

Doing anything, of course, will require overcoming the blandishments of industries and universities with financial interests in keeping supply of labor up and costs down. That sort of thing happens all too rarely here in Washington D.C. But now at least policy makers can say that they read about it in the Post.