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A correction

bmartin at utmem.edu bmartin at utmem.edu
Fri Jul 2 01:24:33 EST 1999


In article <37726AC2.8517E1DF at salk.edu>, S L Forsburg
<nospamforsburg at salk.edu> wrote:

> (bmartin at utmem.edu) wrote
> ....
> > I agree with J. that many (not all;
> > maybe even < 50%) who choose to leave science are discussed as quitters
> > by those remaining. It is part of the human equation
> 
> For the record, I have not described those who chose to leave 
> as quitters, although everyone seems to be accusing me of this. 
> I know that some professors do, and what I don't understand is who
> pays them any attention since they are obviously neanderthals.  I am
> also 
> I must admit tired of the false divisions that come up, as though
> I can't feel the pain because I  have a position.  
> I guess I'm One Of Them now, but who was I before
> I got here?  

I do apologize.  I was not actually intending to signify YOU, but the
general response I have observed.  I apologize for not being more
clear.
 
> It might be nice if you gave those of us in the system who are
> trying to improve things some credit for our efforts rather than
> all the blame. Sometimes it feels like anyone who posts here who has
> a faculty position is just a target for postdocs who want to complain.
> Don't forget that it's no harder now than it was 5 or  10 years 
> ago to get a job or a grant.  We've been through it.  And I didn't
> get my job through divine intervention and I'm no different than
> anyone else.

I absolutely give your credit for how you seem to run your lab and
offer insight to others.  You also, however, fall into the same trap as
other good faculty and take criticism of the system personally. 
Sometimes though, some of your comments seem to "parrot the company
line" as it were.  You comment about "people are not owed a job" was
one these instances.  As I said, I have no recollection of anyone
expecting to be owed a job.  Why did you infer this belief?  Lacking
any substative example in this thread or newsgroup, it seemed
reminescent of the neanderthals, as you call them.

Actually, IMO, it was easier to get a grant in 1986-1989 than
1996-1999.  1986-1989 was the only period for many I know to have more
than one grant.  Funding went to 35th percentile routinely.  The
granting world isn't that easy now.   

> Complaining is fine, but at some point you have to deal with the
> way it is now, not kvetch that it isn't different.  It's not different.
> So  how do we (a) fix it and (b) live with it till we do?

This is absolutely so, but your complaining about what you see as
complaining does nothing, except make it seem that people with
complaints should be quiet.  This does not enfranchise people as part
of the community.
 
> > In science, significant more time 
> > invested and if the initial job tries don't work out, the yound
> > scientists is 30-35 yrs old and will have some difficulty starting
> > over.
> 
> The point is that there is no excuse for any
> scientist to reach 30-35 without knowing that it will be
> tough, and they may not make it into an academic position
> --unless they've had their head in a bucket.  And  whose responsibility
> is that????  
> 
>  No one forces people to do a PhD and a
> postdoc--its a decision you make for yourself.  If the
> potential rewards are outweighed by the risk in your
> mind, then it's up to you to decide not to do it.  

This is one area where I do disagree with your presentation.  This is
true in the letter, but not the spirit.  It is still true that a large
plurality, if not majority, of graduate students come from colleges
which don't have graduate programs.  These students have no idea what
graduate school is expected to be like.  Once in, it takes some time
even to the point of completing the degree before some understanding of
the system develops.  Secondly contrary to many peoples expectations,
many graduate students work in labs with no post-docs and have no first
hand experience with the career challenges of a post-doc.  Then these
students move on to the post-doc and discover many new issues about the
scientific system.  

Yes, the 30-35 yr old scientist likely knows the score but for some
this too late to do anything about the situation.  
 
> Also no scientist at 30-35 has wasted their time--there are many
> many options outside of academics. In fact, a lot of the most
> cutting edge research is done in companies, because
> they can afford the investment.  I have friends who have done 
> everything imaginable with their degrees from company science 
> to management to  writing to law.  Have they "wasted" their
> training?  Hardly--they couldn't be doing what they do
> without it.  And most of them, I might add, are very
> happy to be free of the reationary conservatives who make
> up the status quo in the academy.
> Do what you do because it's what you want,
> not because it fulfills someone else's expectations.
> This is your life, after all, to make of what you will.

Except, this idea of doing other things outside research is over-rated,
IMO.  It is just not that easy to re-start in a new profession.  At 35,
many people are considered too old to be hired compared to new
graduates.  Moreover, the new graduate typically has less personal
baggage and can tolerate a lower salary with poorer benefits than the
35 yr old. 

B. Martin



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