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Monday, October 09, 2006

Academic Inflation

When I lived in San Francisco times were tough. They were tough because things were booming down in Silicon Valley. The explosion at one point was minting 60 new millionaires per week. All that wealth had negative consequences for those of us without a job. If you lived in a nice little house, you had to move to a nice little apartment. The resident of the nice little apartment had to move to a crappy apartment. The resident of the crappy apartment had to move to a hotel on skid row. The skid row hotel renter was out on the street.

This effect can be seen in education as well. Years ago, if you had a college degree, you had a job. If you had a PhD you were considered an important person. Flash forward. A college degree is required to be a cop. The guy whose father was a cop now has to shell out tens of thousands of dollars and four years of his life to do what his dad did right out of high school.

If you have a bachelors degree, no one is taking that to mean that you have any skills or knowledge. Many jobs in biotechnology for example are as mundane as anything job in a factory in Omaha Nebraska. Can you run an HPLC? In spite of the requirement to learn the equipment in college, no on believes that this education in any way prepared you to operate this piece of equipment. If you don't have a years experience using it in the biotech/pharmaceutical business, you are incapable of learning how to use it in any feasible amount of time. The same goes for LC/MS and all of the other techniques used in biotech research.

These techniques are merely tools to be used in research. With the increase in PhDs and other degrees, it is not unusual to find PhDs running HPLCs and LC/MS as a profession. In essence, the PhD in chemistry or biochemistry is a vocational degree. What does it take to actually conduct research? Will we have to start accumulating PhDs behind our names? Is one just for whimps. It takes three to be somebody?

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