A few weeks ago I was reading an article which claimed before the recession seven times as many PhDs were awarded in the biological sciences as there were openings in tenure track positions. Of course in between finishing grad school comes years of post-doc work, but in the end PhDs in must equal PhDs out.
So assuming every PhD graduate wants to be a professor (probably not true) that means even after making it past admissions committees and qualifying exams and thesis defenses, these newly minted PhDs face an 86% washout rate in their quest for a faculty position.
Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put that in context. These are the numbers I turned up with some quick googling:
- Roughly 10% of marine recruits drop out during basic training
- Roughly 55% of people going through the training to become army rangers drop out
- In an average year 70% of the people who start training to be Navy Seals (the folks they sent in when they finally found Osama bin Laden) don’t make it to the end.
- To actually find a training regime with a higher dropout rate than the road from PhD to Professor I had to go to the wikipedia page of the Pararescue Jumpers — the guys who jump out of the rescue helicopters into enemy territory to rescue the wounded. Their washout rate in 90%.