I was checking the blog of the esteemed John Hawks, and found a link to the following editorial in Scientific American.
Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists?
American science education lags behind that of many other nations, right? So why does it produce so many talented young researchers who cannot find a job in their chosen field of study?
Hawks offers his two cents on the problem. Here are mine:
I don't like academia. I like research. But, I'm in the biological and social sciences, so I don't have as much experience with the systems in the physical sciences. Duly considering the limitations of my perspective, I still haven't met many PhD students in the past few years who are truly happy with the prospects of what they're doing. Some things have changed about the system, and others haven't. As a result, people are unhappy. Hence, continued change is needed.
Young science enthusiasts are brought up with the old values mentioned by the author, specifically, the image that people go to grad school, labor extensively, and then settle into a faculty position. Unfortunately, this vision is antiquated; the new truth is disguised by the system, and the old yarns perpetuated. I know too many people on their second post-doc, pushing 40, and still looking just about anywhere for faculty positions.
I like Hawks' suggestion, and they have come close to being implemented at Janelia Farm. I haven't heard the best things about how things are working there, but it is a very new institution, and might just need to mature.
Responses to the article overwhelming mention the possibilities in research outside of academia. The piece itself handles this issue with only the briefest touches, but the comments are more elucidating, particularly one from award winning Sci-Fi novelist David Brin. Maybe people do need to progress through academia to the PhD level before making a life of scientific research, but the long and winding road of post-docs that follow after are unnecessary.