"The Future of the PhD". Much of the discussion centers on the career prospects of those with a PhD. As most of those in graduate school know, there are far more eager 1st-year graduate students than tenure-track positions at R1 universities - and often to have a shot at the few positions available at R1 universities one has to slog through multiple low-paying post-docs after a median of 7 years in a PhD program. Part of Nature's special feature includes an editorial entitled "Fix the PhD". But here's my question to those of us in grad school: in your experience, does the PhD system need fixing?
Before we jump into the debate, let me share a little bit of data. First, Nature has put together a few nice set of graphs showing three relevant tidbits on key aspects of the PhD experience - namely the number of PhDs awarded by field, the median time to completion for the hard sciences, and the employment of science and engineering PhDs 1-3 years after graduation.
Other sources have clearly indicated that the ranks of the non-tenured have been growing, but apparently not with new PhDs.
The second bit of data I would like to inject comes from my own department. CU's Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department is pretty good, but I would say that CU is somewhat average when it comes to the top-tier of the astrophysics world. So in the hope that CU's PhDs are in some sense "average", I decided to track all 43 of the PhD recipients from my department between 2000 and 2005 using Google and ADS in order to see where they were now. I sorted them into 7 categories (post-doc, tenure-track faculty at research institutions, tenure-track faculty at non-research institutions, non-tenure-track faculty, research staff, industry, or other). The results are on your left. Note that all of those that still post-docs graduated in 2005. Interestingly, only 1 of the 43 PhDs is in a non-tenure track faculty position and a very large fraction (67.4%) are still publishing in peer-reviewed journals in astronomy, physics, or planetary science. As a side-note, the "other" category has some great entries, including a fellow that works for Answers in Genesis, another that works for a foundation that advocates for manta rays in Hawaii, and another that does market research for Kaiser Permanente.
So, there's a bit of data - more is of course welcome - now what does it mean? Is the PhD system in the US broken and if so, how does one fix it?