THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT?
The launching of Sputnik in 1957 triggered not only the space race, but also a large new influx of NSF support for graduate education. Throughout the 1960’s, the number of science and engineering PhDs granted rose. The supply of new PhDs eventually increased well beyond the economy’s ability to employ them as researchers, and around 1970 stories about PhD cab drivers started to appear in the press.
In the late 1980s, a half-baked NSF report projecting a shortfall of 600,000+ scientists and engineers in the 1990s got considerable press coverage. The report and increased NSF funding that followed led to increases in graduate enrollments. The alleged shortfall never appeared, and once again, PhD supply outstripped demand. The result was a terrible job market in the mid-1990s.
In 1999 the NIH started a 5-year budget doubling. Judging from this article in Science, the expansion has already led to visible strains. The most notable side effect has been, perversely, that the acceptance rate for R01 grants has fallen from around 32% before the budget doubling to about 18% afterwards.
Elias Zerhouni, the current head of the NIH, attributes the change in acceptance rates to more people applying for grants:
Zerhouni’s explanation leaves open a number of important questions that we’ll start digging into over the next couple of weeks: