A few weeks ago, the Economist ran a lengthy story, well lengthy for the Economist, on the apparent futility of pursuing a PhD. While advanced degrees may be pursued for purely intellectual reasons, doctoral students are being trained for specific careers, usually in academia. The supply has far outgrown the demand and some critics call doctoral education a ‘Ponzi’ scheme.
Indeed, the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.