Modeling Science Workforce


Joshua Hawley (Ohio State University), Richard C. Larson (MIT), Navid Ghaffarzadegan (Virginia Tech)


Last updated: 2-28-17


Change in number of tenure-track faculty members and PhD graduation rate in biological and medical sciences, and estimated R0 in three time intervals. Adopted from Ghaffarzadegan et al. (2015)

Breakthroughs are made by “human”: established and young individuals, referred as scientists, who discover novel solutions for major societal problems and contribute to social wellbeing. But what do we know about this population? Are we training enough and productive scientists? Are they happy with their job? How the future looks like for young scholars? What policies can help improve science workforce development?


Started in 2010, we have been employing a combination of systems approaches, mathematical models, and data analyses to address these very important problems. During the first years of our project, our main focus was on biomedical scientists. Among other developments, we have defined a measure of population growth in academia, the basic reproduction number (R0), and estimated this measure for various since and engineering fields (+, +, +). We have looked at the effects of change in research funding on performance of scientists and research enterprises uncovering unintended consequences of abrupt changes (increase or decrease) in funding (+, +, +). We have analyzed the population of postdocs in different fields bringing insights into how to efficiently maintain science workforce capacity (+, +). This research has helped to understand some of systemic shortcomings of current science policies (+) and led us articulate different aspects of education as a complex system (see our editorial).   


During the upcoming years we are analyzing behavioral and social science research (BSSR) workforce who contribute to health outcomes. The broad term of behavioral and social sciences encompass various scientific fields that deal with human decision making and behavior such as economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and formally is part of the broader definition of STEM fields. One of our recent analysis focuses on the problem of diversity in BSSR.





(1) Ghaffarzadegan, N., Xue, Y., Larson, RC. (2017) Work-Education Mismatch: An Endogenous Theory of Professionalization. European Journal of Operational Research. Forthcoming.

(2) Hur, H., Andalib, M., Maurer, J., Hawley, J., Ghaffarzadegan, N., (2017) Recent Trends in Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (BSSR) Workforce in the U.S. PLoS ONE 12(2): e0170887.

(3)  Larson, RC. (2017) Cross-­Sectional Surveys: Inferring Total Eventual Time in Current State Using Only Elapsed Time-­to-­Date. SocioEconomic Planning Sciences. Forthcoming

(4)  Ghaffarzadegan, N., Hawley, J., Larson, R.C. (2017). Education as a Complex System, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Forthcoming.

(5)  Xue, Y., Larson, RC (2015) STEM crisis or STEM surplus? Yes and Yes. Monthly Labor Review, US Department of Labor. 

(6)  Hur, H., Ghaffarzadegan, N., Hawley, J. (2015) Effects of Government Spending on Research Workforce Development: Evidence from Biomedical Postdoctoral Researchers. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0124928.  

(7)  Ghaffarzadegan, N., Hawley, J., Larson, R.C., and Xue, Y. (2015). A Note on PhD Population Growth in Biomedical Sciences. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 32 (3): 402–405.

(8)  Larson, RC, Ghaffarzadegan, N., Xue, Y. (2014). Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings: The Concept of R0 in Academia. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 31(6): 745–750.

(9)  Ghaffarzadegan, N., Hawley, J., Desai, A. (2014). Research Workforce Diversity: The Case of Balancing National vs. International Postdocs in U.S. Biomedical Research. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 31(2): 301-315

(10)  Larson, R., Ghaffarzadegan, N., Gomez Diaz, M. (2012) Magnified Effects of Changes in NIH Research Funding Levels. Service Science, 4, 4, 382-395.

(11) Larson, R., Gomez Diaz, M. (2012) Nonfixed Retirement Age for University Professors: Modeling Its Effects on New Faculty Hires. Service Science, 4, 1, 69-78.


Work in progress


(1) Baghaei Lakeh, A., Ghaffarzadegan, N., 2017. Biomedical vs. Behavioral and Social Sciences: Trends and Variations in Studies of HIV/AIDS.

(2) Andalib, M.A., Ghaffarzadegan, N., Larson, RC. 2017. The Post-doc Queue: A Labor Force in Waiting. Submitted to the Monthly Labor Review. Status: Revise and Resubmit.

(3) Xu, R., Ghaffarzadegan, N. 2017. An Analysis of Past 20 years PhDs Dissertations in Behavioral and Social Sciences: Current Trends, New Paradigms, and Strategic Insights.

(4) Andalib, M.A., Ghaffarzadegan, N. 2017. Simulation of the Leaky Pipeline: Gender diversity in US K-Graduate Education.

(5) Hur, H., Hawley, J.D. 2017. Turnover Behavior among U.S. Government Employees, Under Review for Review of Public Personnel Administration.

(6) Hur, H., Maurer, J., Hawley, J.D. 2017. Misalignment of education and workforce outcomes: Understanding the workforce pipeline and diversity in behavior and social sciences





(1) Yi Xue (2014) STEM Crisis or STEM Surplus? Master of Science in Technology and Policy.

(2) Mauricio Gomez Diaz (2012) Unintended effects of changes in NIH appropriations: challenges for biomedical research workforce development Master of Science in Technology and Policy.




o    Panel, Education as a Complex System, INFORMS 2016.

o    Co-editing a special issue on “Education as a Complex System” in the journal of Systems Research and Behavioral Science. 2016

o    Invited panel, modeling biomedical workforce, Academy Health, 2015.

o    Invited talk, PhD population growth, The Council of Engineering Systems Universities, April, 2014

o    Invited talk, Modeling workforce development” invited by NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Hematology Workforce Working Group,  June 2013

o    Invited talk, Modeling Changes in NIH Funding Levels, NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Heat Division, June, 2013

o    Invited talk, Illustrative mathematical modeling for science workforce analysis”, NIH-office of Behavioral and social science research, Bethesda, MD, March 07, 2013 (video)

o    Invited panel, modeling biomedical workforce, Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (2012).


Media Coverage

·       New York Times: So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors

·       The Wall Street Journal: Is There a STEM Crisis or a STEM Surplus?

·       Discover magazine: Does Science Produce Too Many PhD Graduates?

·       Cosmos magazine: Are there too many science PhDs or too few jobs?

·       NPR blog: After The NIH Funding 'Euphoria' Comes The 'Hangover'

·       Blood Forum: Planning for the future workforce in hematology research



·         Illustrative Mathematical Modeling in Scientific Workforce Analysis



Funding Sources

·        The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health supported this work (grants 5U01GM094141-02 and 2U01GM094141-05).