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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SUSTAINABLE VINEYARD PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

Location: Crops Pathology and Genetics Research

Title: Disciplinary, Institutional, Funding, and Demographic Trends in Plant Pathology: What Does the Future Hold for the Profession?

Authors
item Gadoury, David -
item Andrews, John -
item Baumgartner, Kendra
item Bjerkness, Michelle -
item Burr, Thomas -
item Kennelly, Megan -
item Lichens-Park, Ann -
item Macdonald, James -
item Savary, Serge -
item Scherm, Harald -
item Tally, Allison -
item Wang, Guo-Liang -

Submitted to: Plant Disease
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 1, 2009
Publication Date: November 5, 2009
Citation: Gadoury, D.M., Andrews, J., Baumgartner, K., Bjerkness, M., Burr, T.J., Kennelly, M.M., Lichens-Park, A., Macdonald, J., Savary, S., Scherm, H., Tally, A., Wang, G. 2009. DISCIPLINARY, INSTITUTIONAL, FUNDING, AND DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS IN PLANT PATHOLOGY: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE PROFESSION?. Plant Disease. 93:1228-1237.

Interpretive Summary: Following the 2006 annual meeting of the American Phytopathological Society (APS), President Jan Leach appointed an ad hoc committee with the following charge: Based on an assessment of where plant pathologists now stand as a profession, develop a vision of where we will be in the future (10-20 yrs) are how we should position ourselves to achieve this vision. Some key questions and background related to the topic include (1) disciplinary balance, (2) institutional erosion, (3) research funding, (4) age demographics of the profession. This report summarizes the efforts of the APS Ad Hoc Committee on the Present Status and Future of the Profession of Plant Pathology, to address the above charge. A complete census of plant pathology at US universities formed the foundation for these analyses. Also, the Committee obtained historical data on funding of all plant pathology research within USDA/Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and from four mid- to large-sized departments for from 1996 to 2007. The Committee found no evidence of preferential filling of positions in topics such as molecular biology, suggesting that there is sufficient disciplinary balance in the profession. Nonetheless, considerable declines in numbers of scientists engaged the subdisciplines of nematology and forest & shade tree pathology were noted. Evidence of institutional erosion included our findings that seven of eight large departments lost 17 to 40% of their faculty positions since 1987, and several smaller graduate programs in plant pathology have all but disappeared. While the absolute level of funding increased over 1996 levels, when adjusted for inflation, there appeared to be a plateau in funding that began in 2002, a trend mirrored that observed in total funds allocated to USDA/CSREES for plant pathology research and extension for the same period of time. Thus, USDA/CSREES is a relatively important source of funding for plant pathology research at the national level. In our analyses of age demographics, we found that the predominant cohort (median age 52 yrs) was directly attributable to hiring in 1966 to 1985, after which point hiring rates dropped by nearly 50% for 20 years. Accelerated retirements are projected to begin in 2009, and the rate will steadily increase before peaking in 2016 at approximately five times the 2008 rate. At the same time, the annual number of PhDs awarded in plant pathology dropped by 15% during 2001 to 2005 from the previous 35-year period. Although focused on university faculty, the demographic trends are also broadly applicable to government service and the private sector. While our findings indicate improved job prospects for Plant Pathology graduates in the near term, the profession will simultaneously lose those best suited to mentor the broadly-trained professionals that are presently in demand.

Technical Abstract: Following the 2006 annual meeting of the American Phytopathological Society (APS), President Jan Leach appointed an ad hoc committee with the following charge: Based on an assessment of where plant pathologists now stand as a profession, develop a vision of where we will be in the future (10-20 yrs) are how we should position ourselves to achieve this vision. Some key questions and background related to the topic include (1) disciplinary balance, (2) institutional erosion, (3) research funding, (4) age demographics of the profession. This report summarizes the efforts of the APS Ad Hoc Committee on the Present Status and Future of the Profession of Plant Pathology, to address the above charge. A complete census of plant pathology at US universities formed the foundation for these analyses. Also, the Committee obtained historical data on funding of all plant pathology research within USDA/Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and from four mid- to large-sized departments for from 1996 to 2007. The Committee found no evidence of preferential filling of positions in topics such as molecular biology, suggesting that there is sufficient disciplinary balance in the profession. Nonetheless, considerable declines in numbers of scientists engaged the subdisciplines of nematology and forest & shade tree pathology were noted. Evidence of institutional erosion included our findings that seven of eight large departments lost 17 to 40% of their faculty positions since 1987, and several smaller graduate programs in plant pathology have all but disappeared. While the absolute level of funding increased over 1996 levels, when adjusted for inflation, there appeared to be a plateau in funding that began in 2002, a trend mirrored that observed in total funds allocated to USDA/CSREES for plant pathology research and extension for the same period of time. Thus, USDA/CSREES is a relatively important source of funding for plant pathology research at the national level. In our analyses of age demographics, we found that the predominant cohort (median age 52 yrs) was directly attributable to hiring in 1966 to 1985, after which point hiring rates dropped by nearly 50% for 20 years. Accelerated retirements are projected to begin in 2009, and the rate will steadily increase before peaking in 2016 at approximately five times the 2008 rate. At the same time, the annual number of PhDs awarded in plant pathology dropped by 15% during 2001 to 2005 from the previous 35-year period. Although focused on university faculty, the demographic trends are also broadly applicable to government service and the private sector. While our findings indicate improved job prospects for Plant Pathology graduates in the near term, the profession will simultaneously lose those best suited to mentor the broadly-trained professionals that are presently in demand.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
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