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Shortage of Scientists Sends Signal

Projected drop in doctoral-level graduates would hamper US universities and research work

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THE United States faces an annual shortage of 9,600 doctoral-level scientists between 1995 and 2010. And this is only part of the national labor crisis in science and engineering. It will get worse before it gets better, said Richard C. Atkinson, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), speaking at the association's annual meeting late last month.

The crisis is most obvious in graduate programs that grant doctorates, the degree awarded for advanced research and an almost absolute requirement for university teaching or directing scientific work in industry.

``There isn't any doubt that we have a shortage of PhD candidates nationally, and that it is a crisis in math, science, and engineering,'' says Eamon Kelly, president of Tulane University in New Orleans.

The US will need 400,000 more scientists and engineers by the year 2000 than it will be able to produce, said Dr. Atkinson, quoting from a recent study by the National Science Foundation.

``Total PhD production in science and engineering increased rapidly after 1960, peaked in 1972, and thereafter declined until the late 1970s,'' said Atkinson.

While there has been a rise in the number of students graduating with PhDs in the 1980s, that growth has been due almost entirely to foreign students. ``In 1972, US institutions awarded over 1,000 PhDs in mathematics; in 1987, they awarded fewer than 750, and only 350 to US-born students,'' he said.

Changing demographics

The decline is due, in part, to changing demographics: The US population of 22-year-olds has been steadily declining since the early 1980s, a trend that will not change until the late 1990s, according to the US Bureau of the Census. ``Because of the continuing decline in the college-age population, the proportion of students receiving bachelor's degrees in science and engineering would have to increase dramatically just to maintain the current annual supply,'' said Atkinson.

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