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The shortage of scientists is a myth!
## _Science_, vol 256, 1 May 1992, page 606
## article about YSN and employment problems
E-Mail Links Science's Young and Frustrated
[ the article includes a picture of Aylesworth by Steve Turner, and an
My friends "were sending out hundreds of letters looking
for work, and there were no jobs." --- Kevin Aylesworth ]
Only 2 years ago, it was commonly believed that the United States was
running out of scientists. Stories about the supposed crisis appeared
in newspapers and journals---even as many young scientists, newly
minted ph.d.s in hand, were pounding the pavement in search of work.
For some, the news stories were merely depressing, but for Kevin
Aylesworth, a 32-year-old postdoctoral physicist at the Naval Research
Laboratory in Washington, D. C., they served as a catalyst.
Aylesworth founded the Young Scientists' Network, an electronic
mail drop for those who, like himself, faced an uncertain future.
"The stories made me angry," he says, "because I had many qualified
friends who were sending out hundreds of letters looking for work and
there were no jobs. It was a complete myth that there was a shortage
of scientists. So I started the network to counter the myth."
Once a week, Aylesworth dispatches an eclectic mix of job tips,
funding sources, summaries of news stories, and updates on government
decisions affecting scientific research. Members are invited to send
in their own tips, opinions, and queries. It's an informal support
group, and to join one need only add his or her name to Aylesworth's
subscriber list(*); there are no fees. Although the information is
heavily skewed to physicists ("I can only do so much," says
Aylesworth), there are also chemists, engineers, and computer
scientists among the 170 members.
Aylesworth doubts that his network has landed anyone a job. "If it
has, I haven't heard from them," he says. But it has provided an
apparently much-needed forum for frustrated scientists who see little
chance of finding a career in their chosen field. "For me, the main
value of the network was in confirming the trouble I was having
finding a job," said Alan Wachs, a 32-year-old physicist (with a Ph.D.
from the University of Illinois and a postdoc at Lawrence Livermore
Labs), who applied to more than 100 institutions in a fruitless
search for a position. "I had one interview," he recalls, "and was
lucky to have that." Wachs is currently working as a quality
assurance specialist at Tennesee's Oakridge National Laboratory and
things it's unlikely he will ever resume his research in materials
science. "I have to look at it realistically: there's too great a
supply of scientists and too little demand."
Like Wachs, other members laud the network for the support it
provides. "It helps save your sanity," said Carol Marians, 52, who
has two Ph.D.s from MIT (one in mathematics, and the other in
materials science and engineering) and is currently working as a
software engineer for Quantitative Technology Corp. in Beaverton,
Oregon. "After putting in all that time and training, it helps to
know that it's not because of a personal failing that you can't find
research work---it's because of the system."
Younger scientists use the network to keep tabs on the current
employment situation. "I watch the older students as they look at the
job market; they don't have the most upbeat stories to tell," said
Bruce M. Szabo, 25, a doctoral candidate in nuclear chemistry at New
York University of Rochester. "You'd like to think it's just poorly
qualified scientists who are not making it, but obviously that's not
Although the network's academic job tips are often stale reruns from
science journals, sometimes the electronic source does point to
intriguing alternatives. "It does pass on helpful information about
nontraditional jobs, which can provide young physicists with an escape
route," said Sanford Sillman, 38, an assistant research scientist in
atmospheric chemistry at the University of Michigan in Ann ARbor.
Sillman was intrigued by a message that identified Japanese firms
eager to hire Western scientists, while Wachs investigated a possible
career as a medical physicist---a field he did not know existed until
it was mentioned on the network. Even Wall Street has opportunities
for the enterprising scientist---one recent message announced that an
employment agency was looking for people with quantitative skills for
venture capital firms.
"We're willing to list any employer how is looking to tap into a large
resource of highly intelligent, well-trained people," said Aylesworth.
"That's one of the biggest problems: Young scientists don't know where
the jobs are. We don't need to do what we've been specifically
trained for, but we do need to get a foot in the door. We need
employers to tell us where the jobs are, what they'll hire us to do."
While universities traditionally provided a career pate for many
scientists, network members say this is no longer a viable route.
"Four hundred and eighty people applied for this job last year," said
John D. Sahr, 30, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at
the University of Washington in Seattle. "The department has another
opening now and so far has received more than 700 applications. And
the computer science department has received 1000 applications for its
one position." Though Sahr won the coveted post, he has no illusions
about his longer-term prospects, and so keeps an eye on the network's
news. "I haven't escaped the problems of having a scientific career,"
he said. "I don't have tenure, and while I'd like to go on and do
great things with my research and have graduate students of my own, I
think it's prudent on my part to keep alert, to pay attention to other
Besides providing job listings, Aylesworth and other members hope the
network eventually will unite scientists into a political force.
Aylesworth has already called on his group to write letters to
President Bush about the misconception of the shortage of scientists,
and to argue against the preferential hiring of scientists from the
former Soviet Union. "We're trying to become a constituency, a group
with a political voice," said Daniel Colbert, 29, a postdoctoral
physical chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. "When the
network first started [about 2 years ago], everyone was screaming
about the lack of jobs. More recently, we've realized that we've
become a recognizable and that we can get involved in political and
social issues. The network gives us a place to develop and refine our
Aylesworth believes that it was at least partly because of the network
that the American Physical Society recently established a committee to
investigate the lack of career opportunities for young physicists. "I
think older physicists finally realize that there is a problem," he
said. "I'm certain that in 5 years time half of my colleagues will
not be doing physics; or if they are, they'll still be doing postdocs.
But they'll never get a permanent position. There simply isn't a
scientist shortage, and expect that there may never be one.
--- Virginia Morell
Virginia Morell (a free-lance writer based in Ashland OR)
(*) Aylesworth's e-mail address is email@example.com
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