Academics & Research

Science doctorates still deemed useful

Ph.D. holders have an employment rate below 2 percent, according to a 2008 NSF survey. |  File Photo/The Daily Cougar

Ph.D. holders have an employment rate below 2 percent, according to a 2008 NSF survey. | File Photo/The Daily Cougar

With the growing demand for an educated workforce and most jobs requiring degrees, a college education is considered one of the most valuable assets a person can obtain to ensure a promising future.

Considering the rapidly increasing cost of tuition for doctorates — $48,400 a year for a public university and $60,000 a year for a private university, according to Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics — coupled with a high unemployment rate of 8.3 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, students on the doctoral track might be reevaluating their plans.

Despite the risk of financial loss that accompanies earning any degree, working towards a doctorate will ultimately pay off.

“It is almost universally true that a Ph.D. in the sciences ensures a higher starting salary and a more rapid rise towards greater responsibility in most companies,” said Mark Smith, dean of College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

For a newly graduated doctoral recipient, the starting salary is roughly $85,000 a year, according to Chemical & Engineering News. However, recent studies that analyze the success of science doctorates falsely assume that most doctorates graduates enter the world of academia upon employment.

“In my experience, the bulk of the industrial team leaders and research managers have Ph.D.s and are typically directing employees with Ph.D.s, or (Master’s in science) and (Bachelor’s in science) degrees,” Smith said. “The training obtained in Ph.D. studies regarding independent thinking, creativity and independent performance certainly aids individuals as they step into the job market.”

In a recent American Chemical Society poll, 13 percent of respondents claimed to be unemployed and to be actively looking for work, according to C&EN.

“Eight-point-three percent were newly minted bachelor’s degree holders, 6 percent held new master’s degrees, and 11 percent had just completed a Ph.D.,” C&EN said on their website.

“At the Ph.D. level, 19 percent earned a chemical engineering degree; 17 percent, a physical chemistry degree; and 15 percent, an organic chemistry degree.”

After Smith earned his doctorate, he was able to work in laboratories around the world and credits his doctorate for allowing him to do so.

“This is what makes a career in science exciting; to make individual discoveries of importance while sharing ideas with really smart people across the globe,” Smith said.  “The level at which this can be done is so much more limited without the Ph.D. degree and the doors it opens.”

In the world outside of academia, having a doctorate places someone at the top of any corporate ladder, said Ricardo Azevedo, UH Associate Chair of Graduate Affairs for NSM.

“That is definitely the case when it comes to pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies,” said Azevedo.  “I worked at an agrochemical company and saw first hand the differences in the potential for career advancement between scientists with bachelor’s, masters’ or doctorate degrees. Some very skilled, knowledgeable scientists with only Bachelor’s degrees were limited as to how far they could be promoted within the company.”

While C&EN stated in 2012 that 13 percent of respondents on a science-career track were unemployed, the National Science Foundation found in a 2008 survey that of about 662,600 work-ready science doctorate graduates in the U.S., only 11,400 were unemployed — translating into an unemployment rate of only 1.7 percent.

The same studies that argue a science doctorate is a bad investment also claim academia is in decline and as a result fewer professorships are being offered. However, this is not always the case, Azevedo said.

“Academia is doing just fine in this country,” Azevedo said. “Jobs in academia have become more competitive over the last few decades. The population is growing and, as a result, there is increasing demand for higher education.”

Right now, UH is recruiting BS students from around the world to enroll in doctoral programs, Smith said.

“We have approximately 550 students studying towards their Ph.D. The ones who seriously want to become practicing scientists are typically working in a research lab and are continuously exposed to the graduate students,” Smith said. “They see first hand the commitment required, but also the excitement of being involved in primary discovery, meeting the world’s top scientists and having opportunities to expose their work nationally and internationally.”

Another bonus is that doctorate students are essentially getting paid to do what they love — learn by researching and teaching. According to Smith, most graduate students studying towards a doctorate degree are awarded government grants, university stipends, teaching assistantships or research fellowships through their adviser’s grants that cover living expenses and pay tuition.

“In the sciences, essentially no one pays tuition while they study for a Ph.D.,” Smith said.  “The vast majority is paid a living wage for the contributions they make teaching and performing research.”

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