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Who Wants to Be a S&E Professor?

Where do all of the STEM jocks go to school, the ones who end up getting doctoral degrees in a science or engineering discipline? Here’s where:

S&E Doctorates.jpg

Interestingly enough, small liberal arts schools like Reed, Swarthmore, Carleton and Grinnell rank ahead of the highest ranked Ivy: Princeton. At these small schools, your chance of going on to a STEM doctorate is more than twice what it is at Dartmouth. The College is #40 on the list, and Columbia and Penn don’t even make the Top 50 schools.

Meanwhile, more than one in three CalTech alums from the 1997-2006 period has earned a Ph.D.

Addendum: A member of the faculty writes in:

I’m trying to make sense of your interesting statistics today about S&E. Three questions.

First, what are the reasons Dartmouth scores so relatively low on this list? My hunch is that a preponderance of our good students are going into finance or consulting, as well, perhaps, as law and (clinical) medicine.

Second, should we try to remedy this shortfall of good students going for S&E doctorates? I think so. We need a better Dartmouth presence in this area both to enrich our alumni body and the nation.

Third, how do we do so? Not, I think, by spending vast new sums on science departments, graduate programs, and post docs. We somehow need to enhance the attractiveness of those departments. Reducing the sway of premed thinking and presence in some of those departments is one step. The guaranteed enrollment of premed students reduces the incentive to reach out to other students and the presence of so many competitive premeds renders the courses themselves less attractive to non-premeds. Above all, however, we need to hire and promote for teaching excellence in these areas. The S&E departments have some great professors, but teaching quality should be a consistent and high priority. Note that Reed, Carleton, Swarthmore and Oberlin have no grad students, but nevertheless score high on this list.

Addendum: A management consultant from a recent class has a comment:

Given the strength of post-collegiate job opportunities available at the Ivy League schools, it is hardly surprising that fewer graduates pursue PhD degrees. Most sophisticated students realize that the market for STEM PhD students is highly saturated, with few professorial positions available. Many of my colleagues in management consulting were PhDs from highly prestigious universities (MIT, Cornell, Harvard) who decided the academic rat race wasn’t worth it given reduced funding from the NIH, comparably low salaries, and extremely low probability of achieving tenure. These are the same sorts of trends that are pushing medical students into specialties over primary care. Until compensation is addressed, encouraging students to pursue economically unsound career choices (even if they have a passion for the field) will likely be futile. This is especially true when tuition is 60K/year.

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