kitchen table math, the sequel: Engineering Professor: Out of 18 Ph.D's I advised, 16 were from China

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Engineering Professor: Out of 18 Ph.D's I advised, 16 were from China

Interesting comment from Engineering professor in post about Chinese students taking SATs:
As a professor in Engineering, I see that the Chinese students who study in the US are just incredible. Out of 18 Ph.D's I advised, 16 were from China and we don't get any Americans into the doctoral program with nearly their qualifications. When they go back home, they will just leap-frog the US within the next 10 years.


Anonymous said...

This article is highly relevant to what is going on. Ignore the title.

Key quotes:

"Consider someone taking the kind of high IQ and drive that would be required to obtain a tenure-track position at U.C. Berkeley and going into medicine. This person would very likely be a top specialist of some sort, earning at least $300,000 per year. Instead of being fired at age 44, our medical specialist would be near the height of her value to her patients and employer.

Consider taking the same high IQ and work ethic, going into business, and being put on the fast track at a company such as General Electric. Rather than being fired at age 44, this is about the time that she will be handed ever-larger divisions to operate, with ever-larger bonuses and stock options.

A top lawyer at age 44 is probably a $500,000 per year partner in a big firm, a judge, or a professor at a law school supplementing her $200,000 per year salary with some private work."


"For whom does academic science as a career make sense?

Does this make sense as a career for anyone? Absolutely! Just get out your atlas.

Imagine that you are a smart, but impoverished, young person in China. Your high IQ and hard work got you into one of the best undergraduate programs in China. The $1800 per month graduate stipend at University of Nebraska or University of Wisconsin will afford you a much higher standard of living than any job you could hope for in China. The desperate need for graduate student labor and lack of Americans who are interested in PhD programs in science and engineering means that you'll have no trouble getting a visa. When you finish your degree, a small amount of paperwork will suffice to ensure your continued place in the legal American work force. Science may be one of the lowest paid fields for high IQ people in the U.S., but it pays a lot better than most jobs in China or India."

The essay elaborates in much more detail.

This doesn't *FIX* the "problem" in any sense, but it might shed some light onto the causes...

-Mark Roulo

Bonnie said...

This is simply because of the numbers - there are just so many more Chinese in the world than Americans, and they don't have nearly enough quality university slots to accomodate the numbers.

I have worked with plenty of very mediocre Chinese students at both the grad and undergrad level. Trust me, there are plenty of them. For a good look at AVERAGE Chinese students, read Peter Hessler's book River Town, about his time spent in China teaching English in a provincial town. I have friends who have also gone to China to tutor, who vouch for every bit of that book.

The Chinese educational system is pretty bad outside of Shanghai and Beijing, and the Chinese government is trying to figure out how to improve it, largely by copying American practices.

Anonymous said...

It is not *just* sheer numbers. There are lots of Chinese, but many/most of these are still quite poor. And there were lots of Chinese 30 years ago.

I was recruiting at Georgia Tech last year, and got to see a nice database of the grad students in the STEM fields (we recruit from almost all of the engineering disciplines, as well as chemistry, physics, math ...). The DB included an "eligibility to work" field. 75% of the grad students were foreign. Many were non-Chinese, but 75% were foreign.

So I think the point that US University STEM post-grad is dominated by non-US citizens is dead on.

But part of this is that the cost/benefit tradeoff is very different for these kids (especially Chinese and Indian kids).

Philip Greenspun has a nice essay on this. Ignore the title and read the essay anyway. It suggest that things won't be getting better any time soon.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

The overwhelming numbers of international students in STEM fields is not new. It's been well over a decade now. In fact, a decade ago, right after sept 11, universities were desperately afraid that the closing off of visas would destroy their graduate programs because of how dependent they are on international students. In fact, declining applications from overseas are still a concern.

We've talked about this in a few threads:

Here's a report or two:
has this data:
NSF data reveal that in 2006, the foreign student population earned approximately 36.2% of the
doctorate degrees in the sciences and approximately 63.6% of the doctorate degrees in
engineering. In 2006, foreign students on temporary resident visas earned 32.0% of the doctorates
in the sciences, and 58.6% of the doctorates in engineering. The participation rates in 2005 were
30.8% and 58.4%, respectively. In 2006, permanent resident status students earned 4.2% of the
doctorates in both the sciences and in engineering, a slight change from the 2005 levels of 3.8%
in the sciences and 4.4% in engineering.

is another report.

Bonnie said...

When I started my academic career in the 90's, most grad students in CS were Asian. And, I was at a not so great school that aspired to be an R1. We had LOTS of really terrible Chinese and Indian grad students. The American undergrads were far better, but they went to better grad schools or to jobs.

I agree that there are lots of sharp Chinese grad students, but there are also lots of not-so-sharp Chinese grad students. And there are far more "regular" people in China, who have lousy educations. We really are not going to learn much about education reform from China, I am afraid.
(btw, I was in China for several weeks in 2007, and it was truly an eye-opener)

Debbie Stier said...

Same commenter had this to say:

"I was at University of Maryland, CP until I moved to Israel. I found a direct correlation with wireless internet in the US classrooms with zero productivity. Even when they do homework, it is whatever they find on the internet. Colleges in the US have taken the work out of homework (after all, "they are the customers!" to quote my former Dean). International universities (including Israel) still take learning seriously. The US, in my humble opinion, maintains its sports and party programs far better than any academics. I think the same is true for college prep in China, it is very competitive and they still require the kids to work for themselves or face disgrace. Not such a bad idea."

Lsquared said...

Mark--thank you for sharing the Greenspun essay. I think I need to make my older children read this.

SteveH said...

Interesting article by Greenspun. There is a natural tendency to think that one should shoot for the most prestigious positions in a field. But which is better, a professorship at a top college in science or engineering, with its need to bring in R&D money, publishing, tenure risk, and full year responsibilities, or a teaching position at a second or third tier college with no publishing, easier (perhaps) tenure, and no R&D requirements. You then have your summers free where you have complete control over how much extra work you bring in. I taught at a teaching college. I had to teach 4 courses per semester and had no TAs, but there were almost no other responsibilities and I had 3 1/2 months off in the summer, plus Christmas plus spring break. My extra work and R&D weren't tied into one job package. They were my own, which I used to start my own business.

Bonnie said...

I hate to tell you this, but the teaching colleges all have publication requirements now. I teach at a 4/4, and we are being strongly "encouraged" to bring in grant money. We are also required to publish to make tenure. Most teaching schools have ramped up requirements in the last decade, in an effort to chase those federal dollars.

ChemProf said...

Yeah, life at the teaching colleges has changed (I'm at one, myself). Now we still teach heavy loads without TAs, but are also expected to do research, either alone or with undergraduates at my institution, since we don't have grad students in the sciences. It isn't quite the deal that it used to be, and a lot of my older colleagues have a hard time understanding the life of a junior faculty member.

SteveH said...

The main point of the article is that the top end of a career path is not necessarily the best place to be. If teaching colleges are now expecting more, then how do those jobs compare with high school?

If you get a bachelor's degree in math at age 21, what is the supply of high school math positions? Can you find a position almost anywhere you want to live? (Where do teachers go on the web to find open teaching positions?) If you wanted to teach college math, can you get started in a tenure track position while working on your master's degree and PhD? How many positions are available at that level right out of college? At what age will a high school teacher get tenure versus a college teacher? The pay scales might look similar, but the high school teacher will be further along at the same age.

The following is from the NY Times:

"Still Doing the Math, but for $100K a Year"

"But in the late 1980s, teacher salaries took a jump across the country, and they just kept improving, to the point that now, with the economic collapse, a lot of people who sneered at teachers, wish they had it so good.

Health insurance? “My health care is free,” Ms. Huff said.

Security? “Long as there’s kids, I have a job.”

Pension? “Guaranteed pension. I hit the magic numbers last June — 55 and 30.” That’s 55 years old with 30 years of experience, at which point teachers across New York State can retire with an annual income of about 60 percent of their top salary — likely to be between $60,000 and $70,000 a year in Ms. Huff’s case. If she’s fortunate enough to live 25 more years, that’s the equivalent of sitting on a 401(k) of about $1.5 million."

It seems that the risk (and effort) to benefit ratio in the teaching profession is inversely proportional to the level.

This is from:

"If you're planning to become a teacher in New York, you've got a lot to be optimistic about. With over 3 million students and more than 4,000 schools in environments ranging from rural upstate New York to the bustling city streets of Manhattan, opportunities for teachers are diverse and numerous. Not only that: New York teacher salaries were the highest in the nation in 2009-2010, according to the National Education Association—$71,470 on average."


The interesting thing about the teaching profession is the advantage of getting started early. It seems that it's better to get your master's degree on the side unless you don't have the motivation to get it done.

If I read the NY pay scale chart correctly, if you have a masters degree and 5 years of employment, your salary is about $70K. If you get your master's degree on the side, you could be making that when you are 27. What would that be equivalent to if it were a year-round job? How about adding tutoring into that mix for $75+ an hour. How about setting up the woodworking shop you've always wanted to have. Maybe that can grow to provide an earlier retirement. You get flexibility that can't be found in other career paths. Too many other jobs are all or nothing, and nothing is your own. You have no free time to create anything else, and if you do, you have to worry about the employment agreements you signed. Then there is job layoff and obsolescence. That won't happen for high school math.

Bonnie said...

$70,000 doesn't go far in NYC. A person making that kind of salary wouldn't be abjectly poor, but they wouldn't be able to live in a truly middle class way either. One of the big problems for NYC is that all of the surrounding communities pay more, and have easier-to-teach students. So the good NYC teachers all flee to suburban districts as soon as they can. NYC has mainly become a training ground for teachers who intend to have careers in the suburbs.