TWO PLUS TWO MAKES FOUR! (1991)
One does not need a Ph.D. in mathematics to recognize the validity of this simple equation. But if you have one, you can verify not only more complicated equations, but inequalities too. Therefore, it is not surprising that it was the American Mathematical Society (AMS) which took a stand the first time among major professional societies on one of the most important issues in our higher education: the relation between supply and demand! At its January 11, 1994 meeting the AMS Council unanimously passed a resolution to speak in the name of the Society. The resolution is straight and leaves no space for if-s and but-s. It jumps into the problem right at the beginning stating three facts:
1." For several years now, there have been substantially fewer Ph.D. level positions available in Mathematics than qualified applicants."
2. "The disparity between supply and demand has caused severe difficulties for some recent Ph.D.-s."
3. "There is no indication that the situation will ease significantly in the near future."
In mathematics, one frequently substitutes one factor for another to see the scope of the validity of the equation. Therefore, let us make the following substitution: Mathematics = Chemistry and evaluate the above three statements. Perhaps even lacking a Ph.D. in mathematics will not prevent anyone to see the validity of these statements in this new format. It is even probable that the statements would remain valid by substituting other factors for mathematics, but let us remain within our own bailiwick.
Is this finding really surprising? The old story about the emperors cloth comes to my mind. The inequality between supply and demand was evident in the chemical profession for many years, but many persons for various reasons did not want to speak up. Perhaps their views were limited and there was no one within their sights whose life was burdened by this problem. Perhaps, they saw the problems but they hoped that it was just temporary. Or perhaps they were worried that by speaking up they might create other problems.
Whatever was the reason, it is unimportant now. Its discussion would only create further delay and we can not afford this. It is essential that we close the past and look to the future to implement solutions to the problem. It is encouraging that more and more persons in our profession who are in the position to do something about recognize the problem and willing to speak up. A well-known professor running for the ACS Presidency recently made the statement that five percent shortage of chemists only delays some discoveries, while five percent surplus can be a human tragedy.
The Cassandra-s of the past, could smugly elate on being proven right, but this is not about who was right or wrong. The AMS Council resolution does not dwell on the past either, its main recommendation is straight: "It is incumbent on mathematics departments to make all their potential Ph.D.'s aware of the realities of the job market and to encourage them to prepare for a broad range of jobs in the mathematical science." Make the appropriate substitution as done before, i.e., Mathematics = Chemistry and we made a major step. The AMS Council goes even further making a generic statement which does not require any substitution: "The systematic hiring of unemployed Ph.D-s part-time at substandard salaries is reprehensible and exploitative. It demeans the profession. Such practice undermines educational quality".
The time has come to discuss openly the inequality of supply and demand situation in our profession too. It is Utopian and, therefore, fruitless to hope that it will go away. The situation is not going to change in the future, the "good old days" will not come back. This was made clear by representatives of various employers. The ratio of jobs offered and persons seeking jobs at the employment Clearing House at ACS meetings has been the same dismal value for many years. It would be irresponsible to wash our hand claiming that if we ignore the problem we are not responsible for further deterioration. For awhile, we might be able to convince some of the youngsters that chemistry is fun, but the younger generation is becoming more and more realistic. They realize the inequality even without a Ph.D. in Mathematics. As a part of general education, we should promote the importance of chemistry in our everyday life. The emphasis should be on this and not on enticing them to chose chemistry as their profession. If the supply and and demand are balanced, there will be adequate number of entries.
What can be done? Numerous ideas have been presented in the past, the solutions are known. The pro-s and con-s have been debated for many years. There is no need to continue the debate,we need actions we long range effect! Any short range solution would be only a Band-Aid, allowing further deterioration of the situation.
Why do we delay action? Generally, we are concerned with the possible negative effects. Industrial representatives say that Academe would never agree to tighten the pipeline of the supply for various idealistic and self-preserving reasons. On the other hand, Academe is worried that if the supply is decreased, Industry will transfer research outside of the U.S. where it can be done cheaper. All of these may be valid arguments if taken out of context and viewed from a limited angle. No solution can be implemented in such way. What we need is the meeting of the minds of representatives of the involved parties to agree on a long range solution. We have to speak openly and not to hide behind unrealistic ideas and sanctimonious words. The solution is not easy, but this should not hold us back. The future of our profession is in our hand. This is not about who is right and who is wrong. The successful solution of the problem will not be considered as a victory for either side. It is when everyone wins if we act, and everyone loses if we continue to ignore the problem. The question is whether we have the determination to act jointly or we persist to sweep the problems under the rug leaving them to a later generation to solve it.
Attila E. Pavlath, Chair
Professional and Member Relations Committee
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