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motivation and "career counseling"

matkisso at opal.tufts.edu matkisso at opal.tufts.edu
Mon Mar 25 11:50:30 EST 1996

In article <Pine.A32.3.92a.960324232810.84962A-100000 at homer19.u.washington.edu>, Sarah Boomer <sarai at u.washington.edu> writes:
> [snip]- our FIRST
> EVER career options day was held this weekend - after severe pressure.  It
> was, by far, the most amazing event the program has ever done for me.  We
> listened to about 20 individuals, most of whom had their PhD talk about
> actual choices - and I would say that 80% stated outright that they were
> black sheep in the eyes of their peers, advisors, etc. because they
> "dropped out."  As long as this terrible attitude persists, there simply
> will be no such thing as career options. 

When students here in the Biomedical Sciences school at the Tufts Medical
campus began to get panicky about the job market, some of the more vocal
students began to agitate for moer information on career options.  While I think
this is fine, these students seemed to think that it was *owed* to them.  The
associate Dean made it clear that her office would support a student-organized
series of career seminars.  For *nine months* no one moved on it.  After
hearing the most vocal agitator fail to act on his own suggestions, I
organized a small committee to put together 6 seminars on career paths
available to people with Ph. D.'s in biomedical sciences.

It took some work, most of which was on my shoulders, but it went well.  We
have had 5 sessions so far, each with a three member panel.  The subjects have
been Academia, Writing and Information Systems, Education, Industry I (bench),
and Industry II (business).  The last will be Law and Technology Transfer. 
Each panel has consisted of 3 individuals at different stages along a
particular career path.  We had little trouble filling every slot.  In many
cases the answer was, "Yes!" even before I got the whole question out.  In some
cases this was because they had felt the disapproval of their advisors and
peers, and wanted to let young scientists know how they had found their current

I'm not writing this to toot my own horn.  I'm writing this because of the "no
such thing as career options" stated above.  My point is that as students you
can *get* information if you go looking for it.  Part of our training is to be
independant and to take charge of our own education.

> I thought one of the sadder
> themes amongst many speakers was that of truly being raised or holding
> pedestalized ideas that they were someday going to cure cancer and win the
> Nobel;  obviously, when things didn't go the straight and narrow path the
> level of disappointment was even greater.  

Actually, one of our overriding themes was the satisfaction that our panelists
found in the careers they had chosen.

> I would hope that realistic
> career choices are presented and, really, connections to people IN THE
> FIELD - in many fields are made available because that's the only true
> answer in terms of really getting a feel for a career choice. 

Having more than one person from a field really served that purpose for us. 
One interesting response from several students was that after a particular
session, they realized that that path *wasn't* the one for them.

> Sadly, I
> talked to my undergrad.  mentor recently and he told me that the
> university party line and code for advising scientists was still to push
> graduate school as the best option, despite a lot of professors being
> well aware of the market.

If you want to be trained as a scientist, graduate school *is* the best option.
What you do after graduate school is your own decision.  Yes, yes, I know the
culture pushes one direction, but aren't we supposedly being taught/encouraged
to *think*?

> 	The same poster made the remark that women are the best bet for
> revolutionizing the field.  I sure hope so but I see too many women -
> women I work with even, sucked into the idea that you fail if you drop
> out, if you want to teach highschool or community college, or whatever.
> you don't stay on the research track. 

Actually, this attitude is found not only in the faculty and students, but also
in the offices of graduate school Deans as well.  There was a recent conference
on the subject for Deans of scientific schools, and the conference was
organized with the seeming subtext of, "What are we going to do with our
students that aren't good enough to make it in academics?"  Vivian Siegel of
Cell was one of the speakers.  She post-doc.'ed with a recent Nobel lauriat,
and turned down a faculty position to take the job at Cell.  Her point to the
audience was, essentially, "I *am* 'good enough', but I *chose* something
else."  (Emphasis and paraphrase, mine)  We can only hope that eyes are
opening.  Sometimes our advisors can learn from us.


M. S. AtKisson, Dept. Neurosci., Tufts U. Sch. Med., Boston, MA  USA

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