What’s the ROI to the nation? A quick, back-of-the-envelope estimation (okay… a quick spreadsheet estimation) shows the internal rate of return to be positive. The short-term cost of supporting graduate students has long term benefits.
Figure 1. Estimated salary from age 22 to 59 for a hypothetical worker.
Figure 2. The internal rate of return on supporting a graduate student for six years in this example is 3.6%.
As a democracy, we have a unique opportunity to decide what is important. What “Great” ideas can we as a nation support that as individuals we could never achieve.
Most people today are familiar with an MRI; however, most people do not know the technology is based on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). The fundamental physics of NMR was first worked out in the 1930s. Development of the technique continued after World War II, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the first MRI was performed on a person. (https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200607/history.cfm)
That’s a three to four-decade process from lab to commercialization. For every mainstream technology our society uses today, there is a similar story.
How many graduate students worked on projects during the 30+ years of development of the final product? Buried inside the major headlines are thousands of “little” stories. Stories of our nation’s commitment to supporting researchers and their basic research.
Those who pursue advanced degrees in science and engineering – financially supported by our national government – provide the foundation for companies who take an idea to market; industries (semiconductor, pharmaceutical, medical device, energy) aren’t building widgets anymore, they’re building vast databases of knowledge that will result in physical products. The jobs needed to create those physical products will rely on highly automated systems and any tasks that require low skill labor is going to be outsourced or marginalized. As a Democracy, we can support the creation of knowledge and develop skills to improve our quality of life or fall behind countries making that investment. As a bonus, it makes financial sense as well.