Job Market Does Number On Ph.D.s in Math, Science

By John Yemma
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 7, Number 3 (Spring 1997)
Issue theme: "Restraining the American brain"

Let "x" equal the shrinking number of job openings for high-level mathe-maticians, physicists, and other scientists in the United States each year.

Let "y" equal the number of new American- and foreign-born Ph.D. scientists fighting for those jobs.

As many young scientists see it, "x minus y" equals dismal hopes of ever landing a presti-gious academic post.

"My situation probably won't elicit much sympathy," said Stephen Sawin, an assistant professor of mathematics at Fairfield University in Con-necticut. "I have a nice job now, but I am unhappy with how things progressed for me."

At a time when overall unemployment has fallen to around 5 percent, high-level scientists have been exper-iencing double-digit unemploy-ment. This does not put them in unemployment lines or soup kitchens, but it does lead to jobs for which they are overqualified.

John Yemma is a member of the Boston Globe staff. This article is reprinted courtesy of the Boston Globe from their issue of March 17, 1997. Take Sawin, 33. He has an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a Ph.D. from Berke-ley, and he spent five years doing post-doctoral work at MIT. He won a prestigious National Science Foundation fellowship, was given letters of recom-mendation from some of the most notable mathematicians in the field, and has a strong research and publication record.

Sawin applied for positions at research universities three years in a row, beginning in 1994 - "casually the first year, seriously the second, and really, really seriously the third." In response to about 90 applications he received only two job offers before settling on Fairfield, a liberal arts college with a few small graduate programs, where very little research goes on.

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