Although this question doesn't pertain to me so much, and I have my own suggestions, I wanted to ask this general question to the community. What solutions can be (relativity) easily implemented, to cure the problem of a lack of TT (Teaching + Research) positions in mathematics and the sciences? This is a major problem in academia now, and we can see individuals with PhD's in Mathematics (for example) who struggle to find suitable employment, end up in postdocs for many years, etc.,

I ask this because these solutions can hopefully be looked over and possibly implemented in the future, if we have an idea of what they are.

  • 6
    In decreasing order of difficulty: 1. Create more tenure track positions in mathematics and the sciences. 2. Graduate fewer PhDs in mathematics and the sciences. 3. Convince PhD students (and their advisors) that they can be happy, productive, and intellectually fulfilled without holding a tenure-track position in mathematics and the sciences.
    – JeffE
    Oct 10 '15 at 1:55
  • 4
    Sorry to sound pessimistic, but some professions by their nature attract more people who want to pursue them as a career than the job market can support. As a thought experiment, reread the question with "TT positions in mathematics" replaced by "astronaut positions", "movie star positions" or "NBA player positions". Mathematics is less extreme, but the principle is the same. Fortunately, as with anything else, a person who is willing to compromise on geographic location, level of prestige of the college, salary, etc, and has reasonable talents probably has a good chance of getting a TT job.
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 10 '15 at 4:43
  • @DanRomik I'd have to agree with you on this. Good and true points.
    – user42055
    Oct 10 '15 at 19:20
  • 2
    Most of this question is a rant. Please consider editing it to get at the heart of the matter.
    – StrongBad
    Nov 20 '15 at 1:39
  • @StrongBad I appreciate your concern. Nevertheless, I think that content is necessary for context.
    – user42055
    Nov 20 '15 at 1:56

There are no "easy solutions" to this problem, but here are a couple things I have

  • Increasing the funding in STEM fields. Essentially, with more money, you can hire more people, and keep the "game" going a little longer. This is what created the Clinton-era boom in STEM jobs in academia - a surplus of money allowed the creation of low commitment soft money positions in Universities. The drawback to this is, of course, that it doesn't actually solve the problem as much as delay it.
  • Decrease the number of STEM graduates. The replacement of a single tenure-track professor in a field at steady-state size is 1. Even for a field that's doubling in size, it's 2. That's a very small number of graduate students who can actually be expected to find tenure-track positions coming out of a lab. Reducing the number of graduate students being produced stops this overpopulation problem. The problem with this solution is that you have a little bit of a Tragedy of the Commons problem - its really best if everyone else do this, and you don't, resulting in you having a massively productive lab. Right now, much of academia is built on large amounts of graduate student labor, and reducing the number of graduate students would mean figuring out a "new normal" for lab productivity.
  • Non-academic jobs. This is, essentially, where those students above replacement rate end up - but right now, many people in STEM view this as a lesser position, or a failure. That's not particularly realistic, and the fields would probably be well served by making sure that their grad students were aware of those options, and well-prepared for them. Some fields do better with equipping their students with transferable skills than others (biomed is particularly bad). The problem with this of course is that it's relying on tenure-track faculty to view the path they didn't take as one worth pursuing, and educate themselves on those options.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy