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If you ask a tenured professor, they’ll often tell you that graduate school largely serves a single purpose: to prepare the next generation of professors.  Such an approach to graduate school reflects a romantic view of academia: hundreds of bright young minds flocking together at the worlds greatest institutions of new ideas and cutting-edge thinkers.  However, upon their arrival at the annals of nearly any big-name university, a different reality begins to set in.

Contrary to the enthusiastic encouragement of their professors, getting an academic job isn’t simply a matter of going to grad school and settling into a tenure-track position.  Instead, only a small fraction of them will actually get an academic job.  In a recent report, the NSF suggested that a mere 20% of graduate students get jobs in the academic world, a staggeringly small number given that the “sole” purpose of graduate school is supposed to be training professors.

This is largely a product of the changing demographics in the world of academia.  Just like any industry, the world of university-driven research has attracted more and more people to it, and universities in turn have expanded their ability to train graduate students.  However, this influx of eager young scientists has not coincided with an increase in the number of jobs available to academics.  As such, a fixed slice of the pie is being divided up by larger and larger groups of people, often leading to a cutthroat and politically-driven culture of scientific one-upsmanship.