A Job by Any Other Name

Scientist on Assignment

Department of Physics Blogs
Published: September

Yesterday, I had the wonderful chance to accompany Clive Cookson on an interview of  Dame Ann Dowling, who had only been elected President of the Royal Academy of Engineers the night before.

Dowling is a mechanical engineer, whose career has been spent studying acoustics of combustion and flight. She still has a month as head of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge.

Although she covered a lot of ground in our interview, I’d like to talk about one small detail – look forward to an in-depth interview by Clive this weekend in the FT Magazine. Dowling noted that the UK requires 450,000 undergraduate-trained engineers and a full 600,000 graduate-level engineers by 2020. This echoes what we heard from the British Science Association and Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company who have begun what they are calling the Curiosity Project, a funding scheme to bring science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to the heart of British society.

The Siemens website states:

According to recent research engineering companies are projected to need 1.86 million people with engineering skills from 2010-2020. Therefore the UK needs to double the numbers of engineering related apprentices and graduates coming out of colleges and universities.

This situation is quite at odds with what I had believed the situation to be for graduate-level scientists. I lookout and see a very aggressive market place for scientists.

It is important that I’m thinking about academic research positions. A recent Careers and Recruitment article in Nature Biotechnology called this career path a “disheartening outlook.” The article says that only 24% biomedical PhDs find tenure-track positions within 5 years of obtaining their degree but that there is no change in the number who do post-doctoral fellowships. That’s a bleak job market.

The Nature article goes on to talk about The BALSA Group and is worth a read.

It seems to me that we scientists must somehow be “reallocated” to these greener fields engineering.  This could be a much faster way of filling these jobs than “fixing the pipeline problem” of getting school age children to chose STEM career paths. It sounds like the employers need us and we could certainly use the jobs.

As Dowling said in out interview, “To me engineering is the application of science to meet a need.”

A last few points:

  • If the FT’s article on Dame Ann Dowling does not focus on this point then I will post the transcript of this portion of our interview here on my blog
  • Jordon Weissmann at the Atlantic has discussed these issues in a much more pessimistic way that is worth reading.
  • In 2008, graduate-level scientists and engineers (3 years out of school) had only 1.5% unemployment in the USA, which is quite good really.