The PhD Bubble Has Burst: Graduating 'Doctors' Are Having Trouble Finding Work

Tyler Durden's picture

Spending nearly a decade in college, racking up significant amounts of debt, and emerging with that coveted PhD designation isn't what it used to be... in fact it is safe to say the PhD bubble has burst.

The percentage of new doctorate recipients without jobs or plans for future study climbed to 39% in 2014, up from 31% in 2009 according to a National Science Foundation survey. Those graduating with doctorates in the US climbed 28% in the decade ending in 2014 to an all-time high of 54,070, but the labor market - surprise surprise - has not been able to accommodate that growth. "The supply of PhD's has increased enormously and the demand in the labor market has increased but not nearly as fast. When you can import an international workforce or outsource research, you have a buyer's market" said Michael Teitelbaum, senior adviser to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Of course the labor market isn't able to accommodate those PhD's, unless of course their chosen concentration is bartending, which in that case would mean that opportunities are plentiful (although paying back those loans may pose a problem).

As a reminder, since December 2014, while all of those new PhD's were emerging from a decade of lecture halls and academic circle jerks, the only jobs that have been created in any meaningful way have been in the service industry. There have been pockets of growth elsewhere, but even those higher paying jobs were primarily part-time roles.

As employment opportunities become increasingly more difficult to find, those that committed their time and future consumption capabilities (ie: took on a lot of debt to finance the degree) are also finding that median salaries are falling as well as a glut of those with a doctorate degree have flooded the market looking for work. Median salaries for PhD's working full-time fell 6% between 2010 and 2013 the WSJ reports, which doesn't bode well with the fact that those who obtained the degree thought it would be a hedge against stagnating wages and unemployment.

While PhD's still earn a premium over others in the labor market, median salaries have declined significantly. As the WSJ notes, Computer scientists earned $121,300 in 2013, down from $129,839 in 2008; engineers earned $120,000, down from $125,511, and so on.

Contributing to the pain is the fact that universities (academics being the larges employer of PhD's) have moved away from only employing tenured professors and have begun using a greater number of relatively lower paid adjunct professors. Another development that is hurting PhD's is the same type of thing that has plagued those in other industries, and that is the outsourcing of jobs overseas. The pharmaceuticals industry, who is the largest employer of chemists in the country, has moved much of its research overseas, shedding 300,000 jobs in the US in recent years, and as a result, furthering the supply glut and causing salaries for chemists with PhD's to fall 12% between 2004 and 2014 the WSJ reports.

The shift in employment opportunities has led graduate students beginning to think of careers outside of - gasp - academics, or their research field. This is raising the bar for those competing for jobs in the other fields, as now their resume will be examined next to a Ph.Ds, and we know how PhD's are viewed as the oracles of every subject.

From the WSJ

The decline in full-time hiring in universities has resulted in tens of thousands of Ph.D. holders teaching classes for around $3000 each without benefits. And postdoctorates, once a year-long stopover for scientists on the way to better research positions, are now stretching four years on average. Most pay between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.


As a result, many graduate students are considering careers outside the academy or their research field. This has led to credential inflation as Ph.D.s fill jobs traditionally held by professionals without such lofty degrees. For instance the number of Ph.D.s applying to teach at private high schools has jumped between 10% and 20% over the last five years, according to Devereaux McLatchey, president of Carney, Sandoe & Associates which is one of the nation’s largest recruiters for private high schools.


Many graduate students, however, are reluctant to admit to their professors they are considering careers outside of the academy for fear they will lose their support for the few tenure track jobs that are out there.


For some students, academia feels like a cult, with many grad students feeling isolated and disempowered,” said Kelly Brown, assistant director at the University of California Humanities Research Institute. The reality, especially in the humanities, is that only “Ph.D.s graduating from top-tier universities stand a real chance of landing a tenure-track position. The rest go on to contingent labor positions or leave academia altogether,” she said.


Schools are beginning to respond. Ms. Brown oversees a new program to place students in the private sector. One grad student working for her said she uses a pseudonym on the program’s blog to avoid alienating her professor. At Stanford University, a program is in its second year to help Ph.D. graduates find jobs as high-school teachers. At the University of Miami, doctoral students are interning in the school’s communications, development and research departments to learn more vocational skills; and at Columbia University, Ph.D.s are taking classes in using Twitter to better communicate their work to nonacademic audiences.

* * *

"There is hope" Jake Simson, a biomedical engineer turned financial analyst said in front of a group of doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago, as Simson was explaining how to find a job. Hope indeed, as central bankers around the world continue with the steadfast effort of completely ruining healing both the financial markets and the real economy, there is no doubt that PdD's will be in high demand to help model out the world's future.

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kingkong100's picture

Starbucks, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are always hiring.

bamawatson's picture

late 60's or early 70's movie Getting Straight; elliott gould


piled high and deeper

maskone909's picture

Hey, phd's you can ph deez nuts!

Enjoy this hilarious everest college parody commercial

Normalcy Bias's picture

Does this mean that my PhD in Pornographic Studies is worthless?

The bastards LIED to me!

Stuck on Zero's picture

PhDs, the new High School Diplomas.

Omen IV's picture

these people are a powder keg sooner or later - they know they are getting fucked - maybe Trump cant get to them but sooner or later someone will


millions in this condition underpaid and underutilized - and trade policy - H1b all the reason

techpriest's picture

Read "Disrupted" by Dan Lyons. Even more than H1b is the fundamental shift from companies that make profits by producing valuable goods, to companies that make money by playing around with financial magic.

I saw it myself working in a big corporation. My department (marketing) didn't have a lot of outsourcing, but we were asked to hype up dud products so that we could gin up some investment. In the year I was there I think every single product launch fizzled within 3 months, and the solution was to change the company business model in such a way that they could fire 90% of sales.

I took a job at a much saner place instead.

Jeffersonian Liberal's picture

This is actually good news.

With the inbreeding of post-modernism and critical theory, most PhD's these days are no better than matchbook degrees.

This was bound to happen when they destroyed classical education and critical analysis and replaced it with the 'personal narrative' which is each student's personal perspective and experience rolled up into an academic degree... just as long as it is from the perspective of the Big 4 PC interpretations: Class, Gender, Race, Ecology.

D Nyle's picture

Finally, fuck these professional educators (except hard science), no real world experience, liberal douche bags, welcome to the real world. Oh can I have fries with that


Not as bad a Germany though, paid for PHD's, no studying required   

Jeffersonian Liberal's picture

Most of these Phds today are no better than matchbook degrees.

nailgunner44's picture

Nice liquor store, I like they badly misspelled cigarettes in the window.

monad's picture

Ken Kesey wrote about comic books and their icons were used to promote raves at least as early as 63. His symbol was the school bus, to this day a uniquely American icon of the subtlety of State indoctrination.

flaminratzazz's picture

Reverts right back to the old phrase "you fvked up, you trusted us."

Jack Burtan's picture

Way things are going they may have plenty of work all over the planet. May not make their dream money but they'll have work.

Hyjinx's picture

Does the author know that getting a Ph.D. is a prerequisite in many fields? That applies both within academia and outside. Why the disdain? Also in the hard sciences the graduate student does not rack up any debt because they don't pay for classes and they are paid a stipend. The author can go fuck himself.

peddling-fiction's picture

The Ph.D´s I have had the displeasure of working with lacked a lot of practical knowledge in their fields, making them useless.

I know that this is not always the case in other fields, but for IT, I would think twice before hiring another one.

Hyjinx's picture

If you keep hiring Chindians that is what you'll get.  Also, a Ph.D. in IT seems a bit ridiculous to me.  Not to offend, but it ain't exactly rocket science.  I have a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology but on the side I was a programmer and ad hoc systems administrator.  I've written programs that ran on 100s of machines simultaneously.  That being said everyone is being H1Bed to death, myself included.  A shitty state of affairs because the degree mills of Asia are NOT producing anything nearly as good as what comes out of western universities, I know it because I live it everyday.  On paper though we're all the same and with the tax breaks given to foreigners and their employers we lose.  Fuck the government.

peddling-fiction's picture

I hear you Hyjinx. Very few areas in IT require PHd´s.

Sooner or later this will all be sorted out.

I don´t trust the U.S. government but I do trust hard working Americans.

Hyjinx's picture

Yes, hard working Americans really do need to sort this out soon.  The good is drowning with the bad.  Lots of young people that could be good choose other career paths in my field because things have just become too inhospitable from wages to hours worked.  Hel, I'm really wondering how much longer I want to stick around.  This will have reprecussions as I'm sorry to say the quality of research greatly declines as a result.

Collectivism Killz's picture

Everyone is fucked. Get PMs and Butcoin and prepare to shelter in place. Ironically, I am in sales and this has proven to be the safest area. We are a revenue center versus cost center and the H1b hajis and chinks have no social acumen, so what is presented as a high risk field, has actually proven to be stable. That said, I am still preparing to shelter in place.

techpriest's picture

Re: the clueless PhDs, when I was finishing up my own I had to train the next student to continue my project. She was a straight A student, but she had never turned a wrench in her life and couldn't fathom that data was off because of the reactor leaking, or an outsized amount of carrier gas blowing product out of a condenser. Practical things.

Then again, the only reason I knew is because I worked with my dad fixing his truck and pulling apart the lawn mower every year for maintenance. Many of these foreign students, despite being smart in class, were from rich families, and as such they never put their hands on something mechanical before.

hongdo's picture

A guy that sounds like Hyjinx worked for me a while back writing communications simulation software although his degree was in MB.  One of the smartest guys I ever met.  He finally got bored and movrd on.  And that's always been the risk hiring out of field.

Ms. Erable's picture

Specialization is for insects. - RAH

DetectiveStern's picture

I've experienced the same with undergraduates. Completely useless not just at the job, anyone joining needs some training, but just the attitude they can't work for themselves they need to be spoon fed everything. I'm happy i left school at 18 got a job and learnt actual skills to help me in my work.

I may never earn as much as if I went to uni but I'm debt free so I already had a massive head start.

Condition 1SQ's picture

I have to admit that I've run into the same when hiring for engineering positions.  I interviewed a few H1B graduate engineering students a few years ago.  I was surprised at how they were unable to do basic problems on the spot and were downright combative with me when I guided them to a solution.  Extreme arrogance.


The thing is, I think it has more to do with foreign vs domestic PhDs.  Indians, in particular, have a huge arrogance to knowledge ratio.  Seems to be a cultural flaw.


Well-trained and talented PhDs in general are overqualified to do most of the technical work out there.  That's why their wages are dropping.  When the economy is booming, companies will open their wallets and bring on PhDs to do R&D.  Now, not so much.  Too many PhDs, not enough work.  Amazing really, because between all the fresh PhDs out there, you've got an incredible amount of knowledge and talent that just isn't being steered towards solving worthwhile problems.  What those PhDs need to do is band together and get entrepeneurial ..

Omen IV's picture

my experiecne with Indians is the same - hard to manage - difficult for them to listen and take instruction for the task - headstrong - see only narrow solutions to a problem -

techpriest's picture

Yes, definitely something I saw also. Chinese students are much more humble and eager to please, until they have more power than you.

in4mayshun's picture

Uh oh! Is someone afraid of becoming not-so-special anymore?

Hyjinx's picture

Oh, I'm plenty special within my field so I'm not competely drowning with the rest of them.  And trust me, many people have Ph.Ds on paper but ain't worth jack shit in real life.  I work with them everyday and they have no future, thankfully.

Hyjinx's picture

Hmmmm... I wonder how many of my down-voters could last 3 days doing what I do.  Right... they never learned how to do what I do because they never got their Ph.D.  Not that that in-of-itself is any proof of being any good or having the correct knowledge but don't hate the effort.  Many of us do the research because we love it and your sorry ass will probably benefit from it someday and you'll never even know it.

rejected's picture

I have a friend who is presently working for his under graduate in computer science that intends to get his Doctorate. Some very important studies are required. Right now he is working on the feminist theory paper. Poor guy is only on the third wave. His wife doesn't understand any of it either.

So, is he being educated or indoctrinated? Even he wonders.

DocBerg's picture

Even in the so-called Hard Sciences, there are still opportunity costs for a PhD. And, few people can live on their princely stipends. Then there are the H1B Visa Holders!  I figure that mine in the social sciences cost me about a quarter million $.  But the revenge factor was worth it! Most of my way through the Collective Schools, I was in lots of trouble.   So, I decided that I would get a degree that almost none of my teachers could ever accomplish.  All through the process, the students are told that even though most PhDs don't get tenure track jobs, THEY will be different.  I realized early on that as I am a Vietnam Combat Infantry veteran, there was no way that I was ever going to get a tenure track job.  So, I went into city administration, instead.  The sad part of that was having to convince a bunch of people that just because I hold a PhD, I am not utterly incompetent.  And, my engineering and project management experience came in very handy. 

Your mileage may vary...

DrBrown's picture

PhD in a social science is a joke.....just pure bullshit.

Stanley Kubrick's picture

Plenty of jobs being cannon fodder for Cankles' New World Order Army, bitches.l

NoOneRides4Free's picture

The only reason you need a PhD is to do research on new products, new drugs or solve some vexing manufacturing problems with new technology.  With that said, The question of the day is: Without a large manufacturing base who needs PhD's?  The last I checked a service ecomony does not reequire a PhD unless you want to impress someone with your Loser status by working in , take your choice: coffee house, telephone survey, nanny, or Trump protester.


If you want to do research with your PhD head for India and China that is where all our research is being done now because of ITAR.

peddling-fiction's picture

Probably lots of PhD´s are required for prohibited genetics and psychiatric experiments. The MIC probably wants PhDs.

techpriest's picture

One of my mentors during grad school put it this way - a paid-for PhD (most hard science PhDs are paid through fed or state funds) is an investment by the person giving the funding.

It's really the equivalent of working for cheap for 4-6 years, so that the people likely to hire the PhD have someone who 1) has some experience, and 2) has self-selected to be friendly to their department's ideology. Rarely you also have the case of 3) the guy who uses grad school to build a business idea and then goes and generates much more than his cost in tax revenue. In all cases there is an ROI for the funder.

Hyjinx's picture

I couldn't imagine doing research in India or China.  I work with enough of them on a daily basis to know they are completely inferior when it comes to this.  God help us if our drug pipelines become entirely dependent on them!

peddling-fiction's picture

My experience with Indian IT was quite painful.

They came across as smart alecks and their English skills were lacking beyond the basics.

Hyjinx's picture

I once worked on a project that essentially got out-sourced to India.  It took me hours a day to explain to them what I had actually done and despite my best efforts I think the project fell apart after it left my hands.

rejected's picture

LOL.... I gotta ask! How was your Indian skills?

Hyjinx's picture

Or understand the basis of life.  You know, small unimportant things like that.

rejected's picture


R&D usually sticks pretty close to where the manufacturing takes place.

Yukon Cornholius's picture

Become a consultant. People always need a consultant.

Uncertain T's picture

A valuable "Consultant" usually requires field knowledge and experience.  Otherwise, you're just another "graduate".

artichoke's picture

Consultants end up with the ugly job that the hiring company doesn't want to do.  Have you actually done this?

peddling-fiction's picture

I have, and yes, you are right.

For example, business process reingeneering projects always needed an outsider, because you end up pointing out their flaws and remedies.

Most people have a hard time with listening to the truth. As an employee you would not last a long time doing that.

Rhetorical's picture

I'm getting ready to go back to school after a few year break to build up cash and savings. I hear stories of people getting fired all the time and then getting a phone call a few months later because whatever they were working on fell apart without them. They then get hired on as a consultant for their old pay +X. Seems to happen a lot in comp sci areas so I've heard.

Strode2's picture
Strode2 (not verified) Jun 19, 2016 11:36 AM

Actually, the glut of PhD's has been going on for decades. They are called, "migrant teachers" who get a one year contract at one college, then move on to another. In a lot of ways, having a PhD cuts you out of the market because you are "overqualified." Having a PhD in a field of low demand can destroy your career. I know a couple of PhD's in music who are waitresses or do other things.

adampeart's picture

My sister in law got her Ph.D. (what I like to refer as "Piled High and Deep") four years ago in physics. Her career took off like a lead Zeppelin. Her first research position was a one year contract in Munich. She got a dorm room style micro apartment and a $2k/mo.stipend. Then, returning to the States she was unemployed for a year, depleting her life savings, often being turned down for positions because she was over qualified. She then became an online tutor to high school students. She had 15-20 hour work weeks and had to live with her mother, earning about $2k/mo. She got a job offer in NYC for $45k/yr... In NYC! She passed after realizing her quality of life would be lower than a Harlem welfare queen. At 32 she finally got her first real job doing analytics for a health insurance company in SLC for $75k/yr. Meanwhile little old wife and I have been making six figures annually with our measly high school diplomas being the new scourge of American society: entrepreneurs. One thing you can never take away from a Ph.D. recipient is their pious arrogant self important attitudes.