Letters 4/24/08

April 24, 2008
Ph.D.s don’t make sense

I totally agree with your editorial (“Want to compete globally? Education isn’t enough,” Feb. 21), especially with regard to Americans getting Ph.D.s.

In 1992, I was in graduate school for mechanical engineering and I decided I might as well get my Ph.D. So I took the qualifying exams and was admitted to the program. But I started to observe some things as I took classes; There seemed to be an awful lot of post-docs around. I got to talking with them and others who were there specifically on postdoc fellowships. Each and every one of them was having enormous trouble finding work. Indeed, most were doing postdocs because they couldn’t find anything else.

So I asked the professors what was going on, and they told me that there is, in fact, a small market for people with Ph.D.s. I talked with friends in industry and was told the same thing. And that people with Ph.D.s are almost universally shunted into pure research, with little chance of doing anything truly applied. I decided to drop out of the Ph.D. program after one year, got a job, and have not looked back ... too often. I still wonder about my choice.

What’s my fundamental point? Not only is there little-to-no chance of a Ph.D. being a financially viable investment, there is tremendous difficulty in finding work once you earn a Ph.D. Even for professors there is a glut, or at least there was at the time and I would imagine it is the same now.

With the difficulty of finding work, coupled with the willingness of immigrant Ph.D.s to take jobs at pay levels that destroys any incentive to pursue a Ph.D. financially, why bother?
David Hunt

Patent Nonsense

William Hawkins editorial piece (“Patent reform threatens U.S. compe t it ivene ss ,” March 6) would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous. His “save the little guy” rhetoric rings hollow in a system that already doesn’t do the little guy any good. He says “smaller enterprises drive true innovation,” and notes that 60% of U.S. patents are held by manufacturers. And never does Mr. Hawkins mention the gaping flaws in our current system. The Lemelson patent ring a bell? How about Rambus defrauding Jedec? The Amazon One-Click patent? The ridiculous SCO versus IBM suit? PanIP going after small e-commerce sites, since apparently it holds a patent on the concept of e-commerce? I’m not saying that S.1145 would solve all our problems, but we are desperately in need of patent reform. Ten monkeys banging on a typewriter for 15 minutes could produce better patent law than we have right now.
James Ingram

More MPG follies

Regarding your reply to Richard Petters Letters, Feb. 12), you take issue with his assertion that, “The majority of one’s driving is between home and routine points ... (and it isn’t) likely to change with an increase in the CAFE standard ...”, by replying that his statement could have been made decades ago and that history shows the public has not cut back on its driving.

It seems to me that it is self-evident that Petters’ basic assertion is absolutely true, has been true in the past, and will be true in the foreseeable future. After all, with the exception of people who stay at home, children, and professional drivers, most working people do in fact drive in exactly that pattern. On weekends, they will drive to whatever recreation, shopping, or errand that they need to, as they have in the past.

If people are actually driving more these days than they used to, as you seem to be suggesting, perhaps it is due to the fact that more and more people are choosing to live further from their places of employment than they did decades ago. This is due to the flight to the suburbs as well as the current employment situation, with less stability in jobs causing people to change jobs more frequently. If they don’t want or cannot afford to move their every time they change jobs, there is a good chance that their day-to-day drive will be longer than before.

Accordingly, it seems to me that your rationale in shooting down Petters’ argument is based on a rather shallow reading of statistics, and is most likely not reflective of reality.

I also have no idea where you get the information that, “there is no shortage of high-mpg vehicles.” If you feel that a highmpg vehicle is one more miserly than a Hummer or large pickup/SUV, then you might be right. But there are very few vehicles with actual high-mpg when compared to recent passenger vehicle statistics. Even new models of popular cars (e.g., the new models reviewed in Consumer Reports) all have lower mpg than the models they replace. I don’t think the limited variety and supply of Prius type vehicles qualifies as “no shortage”.
Paul Schmidt

A 30-second search of the Internet brought up a list of the following cars currently for sale that all beat the CAFE standards discussed in my editorial: Honda Civic, 38 mpg, Smart fortwo, 41 mpg, Toyota Corolla, 41 mpg, Mini Cooper, 40 mpg, Toyota Yaris, 40 mpg, Honda Fit, 38 mpg, Hyundai Accent, 35 mpg (all mpg figures are for highway driving).

If I went to a dealer lot this afternoon, I doubt I would have much trouble driving home any of these models, except for the Smart Car — Smart dealers in my area are taking orders but they don’t have cars yet. If I wanted to expand my horizons to consider used cars, there are several other models I could name that also beat these standards. That doesn’t sound like a shortage of high mpg cars to me.

As far as people drving more, the Energy Information Administration keeps track of average miles driven and has documented the fact that this figure has steadily risen during the same time frame as mpg figures rose. If, for whatever reason, people consider commuting to work locations that are farther away, it is because to do so makes economic sense to them. Getting higher mpg from their vehicles probably would not be a dealmaker in that decision, but it certainly would be one factor they would weigh. — Leland Teschler

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