According to the latest CRA Bulletin, the number of new science Ph.D.s is increasing steadily in the USA. It is now at its highest level since 1997, with 30,000 new science Ph.D.s a year. Meanwhile, the number non-science Ph.D.s is holding steady at 15,000 a year.
What is fascinating is their Figure 2, where it is clear that the number of new Computer Science Ph.D.s is growing exponentially since 2004. Up until around 2002, there were less than 1,000 new CS Ph.D.s. In 4 years, the number has reached 1,500 new CS Ph.D.s a year.
I have no number about the number of new tenure-track positions in Computer Science, but my guess is that, at best, it is stable. After all, Computer Science departments lost at least half their students since 2000 and things are not better, though we did stop part of the bleeding. I have good friends who have been looking for academic jobs and they are having a tough time. When we last opened a position, I was amazed at the quality of the c.v.s we got: some very good people have been hunting for a professorship for years…
If I am right, this means that we will have a serious problem on our hands. The overwhelming majority of Ph.D. students plan to get a professorship. Meanwhile, we are flooding the market with new Ph.D.s because training Ph.D.s is a great way to spend grant money, and to publish more papers, so that, in turn, we get more grant money… So the number of new Ph.D.s is growing exponentially. It helps also that hardly any students who plan on getting a Ph.D. reads my blog, and among those who do, few listen to my advice. How long can we sustain this system?
Thankfully, the industry market looks better than ever. At least, everyone seems to be getting an offer from Google. But again, I do not have any number. The trouble with industry jobs is that if you are in an area like Montreal, there are just not very many sensible research jobs in industry unless you are in the pharmaceutical industry. Government jobs are better, but not everyone is happy being a civil servant. But even if the industry and the government eat up this flood of new CS Ph.D.s, the value of the Ph.D. degree is going to go down. Elementary economics! I have said it again and again. Ph.D.s are part of an ecosystem. They can reproduce. But reproducing too fast, without any predator lurking, is going to lead to trouble.
My solution is quite simple. We must inform incoming students better about jobs. I am always amazed how Ph.D. students do not even believe the numbers I quote to them. Very often, they just go along, believing that they will inherit a professorship if only they can get this thesis finished. It does not work like that! We need to tell them! This simple step, called telling the truth, will go a long way toward making the ecosystem saner.
Hint to students: Consider a Ph.D. in accounting, law, or marketing if you must get a Ph.D. I hear that academic departments cannot fill these positions and end up betting for the few fishes who were crazy enough to get a Ph.D. in accounting.
Source: Thanks to Owen Kaser for pointing out the numbers to me.