May 15, 1996 - Research Training Survey

The Honorable George E. Brown, Jr.
U.S. House of Representatives
2300 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0542

Dear Congressman Brown:

Federal dollars invested in basic molecular biology research over the past twenty years have yielded revolutionary advances in medical diagnosis and treatment and launched a new biotechnology industry that did not exist twenty years ago. Today, the biotechnology industry accounts for over 100,000 jobs and $8 billion in annual sales. Biotechnology is expected to have a dramatic effect on the U.S. economy over the next decade if investments continue to be made. In fact, this nation's continued international leadership and economic competitiveness will be highly dependent upon continued advances in scientific research.

The opportunities for scientific discovery have never been greater and the solutions to societal problems are heavily dependent upon advances in scientific technology. Therefore, there is an unprecedented need for a citizenry well-educated in science. Even so, much has been said recently concerning fears that American universities may be producing more Ph.D.s than can be meaningfully employed in the scientific enterprise. These statements often are based upon perception without hard data from potential employers and societal needs. This is risky at best. Failure to produce a new generation of adequately trained scientists will jeopardize our previous investment in research. We must replace the talent we currently have in order to preserve, protect, and consolidate our gains of the past and to continue to expand our knowledge.

Scientists trained in microbiology make up a large percentage of the workforce in biotechnology. Their roles in protection of the nation's food and water supply as well as the environment are also critical. Problems associated with emerging infections and antibiotic resistance in humans, animals, and plants also suggest an increased need for individuals trained in defined subdisciplines of clinical microbiology. Thus to make judgments about the number of individuals currently being trained in microbiology in the absence of data concerning personnel needs in the different sectors is not acceptable.

The American Society for Microbiology with a diverse membership of over 42,000 recently commissioned a survey of employment needs. Results indicate a positive outlook for the need of Ph.D.s in the industrial and educational sectors with limited need in the clinical/medical sector in specific subdisciplines. Results of the survey illustrate the dangers in reducing Ph.D. training across broad disciplines without supporting data and the need to restructure training programs to take into consideration the needs of future employers.

We have enclosed a summary of the results of the survey for your review. We would welcome your comments on the report and would appreciate your sharing this document with your colleagues.

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