The Null Device
If you're thinking of doing a PhD to advance your career, you may want to reconsider: there is a glut of PhDs in the market and not enough jobs for them, other than postdoctoral work at slave-labour wages:
One thing many PhD students have in common is dissatisfaction. Some describe their work as “slave labour”. Seven-day weeks, ten-hour days, low pay and uncertain prospects are widespread. You know you are a graduate student, goes one quip, when your office is better decorated than your home and you have a favourite flavour of instant noodle. “It isn’t graduate school itself that is discouraging,” says one student, who confesses to rather enjoying the hunt for free pizza. “What’s discouraging is realising the end point has been yanked out of reach.”
Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.As a result, the traditional bargain (crummy pay now for an academic career later) no longer holds, and postdocs are starting to see themselves not as apprentices on the first step to something better but as disposable cheap labour. (In Canada, apparently 80% of postdocs earn no more than the salary of a construction worker.) This has led to a new development: the rise of trade unions of PhD-accredited teaching staff.
As far as non-academic careers go, the picture isn't much brighter. Having a PhD no longer gets one a salary premium over having a mere Master's. (In some areas, such as engineering and technology, a PhD actually gets you less than a Master's. Meanwhile, the functions of having a PhD (i.e., advanced knowledge potentially applicable to a field) have been taken over by more specialised, market-oriented courses:
Dr Schwartz, the New York physicist, says the skills learned in the course of a PhD can be readily acquired through much shorter courses. Thirty years ago, he says, Wall Street firms realised that some physicists could work out differential equations and recruited them to become “quants”, analysts and traders. Today several short courses offer the advanced maths useful for finance. “A PhD physicist with one course on differential equations is not competitive,” says Dr Schwartz.I imagine this is part of the ongoing theme of the entire education infrastructure of the current world, having developed largely from the Middle Ages onward, not keeping pace well with technologically-driven social and economic change. Chances are that, over the next few decades, the assumptions of how education works and what functions it fulfils will have to be looked at anew on all levels.
A US dating site has found a novel way of increasing its profile count: by automatically adding profiles for non-users from publicly available information. You know, just in case they might be open to romance, much in the way that other public-minded individuals send out emails to millions of people just in case some of them have erectile problems they're too embarrassed to seek out help for:
Jordan said the site would soon host some 340 million profiles after scraping information from social networking sites, e-mail registries, mailing lists, marketing surveys, government census records, real estate listings and business websites to create new dating profiles.
New research has shown that oxytocin, the neurochemical which promotes feelings of love and trust, also induces racism, or to be more precise, sharper discrimination against those ethnically or culturally different from oneself and one's group:
When asked to resolve a moral dilemma, such as choosing to save five lives from a runaway train by sacrificing one life, oxytocin-sniffing Dutch men more often saved fellow countrymen over Arabs and Germans than those who didn’t get a hormonal whiff.
“Earlier research of oxytocin paints a very rosy view of it. We thought it was odd a neurological system that survived evolution would make people indiscriminately loving toward others,” said social psychologist Carsten De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, co-author of a Jan. 10 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Under oxytocin we saw an increase of in-group favoritism, which has the downside of discrimination against people who are not part of your group.”The questions this raises are interesting. In modern Western society at least, the idea of love is almost a secular religion; it is seen as an unequivocally positive phenomenon, whose only fault is that it is, alas, not everywhere, not washing over everyone and making everything alright. Anyone who dissents from this opinion must be some kind of pitiably twisted curmudgeon; entire subgenres of Hollywood romantic comedies have been made about such sourpusses seeing the light and gaining a new faith in the redeeming power of love, replete with montage sequences. But if the biological conditions underlying the phenomena of love also measurably amplify less positive tendencies, such as reducing empathy to those outside of one's in-group, could love follow religion into becoming something once seen as universally good that has been subjected to more radical reassessment? Perhaps, in future, we'll see the same rational scepticism that has been applied to the virtue of religious faith applied to the universal beneficience of love?