Professional Research Techs: A Way to Address Ph.D. Overproduction?

May 28th, 2009

Posted by: admin

This article at Science Progress describes an oversight in research funding proposals – both from funding agencies and from those seeking grants.  The scientific equipment, and more importantly, the personnel necessary to operate and maintain it, don’t get much attention in funding.  The main recommendations from the author, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry:

“In order to stay globally competitive, the federal government must invest in developing a sustainable and professional technical research workforce to supply research demands at both our nation’s institutes and universities. This could be undertaken by:

  • Boosting job stability in this sector by increasing the number of state and federal positions for permanent university research staff
  • Restructuring the grant process with an emphasis on personnel and service contracts in conjunction with new equipment
  • Sponsoring the creation of university degree programs for technical training in the laboratory sciences.”

While I’m a fan of the science masters degrees mentioned in the piece, and think a comparable degree focused on technical equipment makes sense, there’s no discussion of another source of talent – Ph.D.s.  While it is probably too much time spent to go from a Ph.D. to managing lab equipment, I’d be suprised and disappointed if Ph.D.s could not perform the technical support functions needed (or weren’t doing them already as part of their training).  Perhaps after a transition period where the masters degree programs ramped up and started producing graduates this wouldn’t be needed.  However, this is an option that should be included in these discussions.

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