Postdocs & Future of Science

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Apr 11 10:21:15 EST 1997

Reposting of an open letter by Alan Hale
regarding the future of science - Alex Berezin,
Secretary of CARRF (Canadian Association
for Responsible Research Funding)

An open letter to the scientists of my generation:

I am Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp 
which, as I'm sure you're aware, is getting a tremendous 
amount of media attention at this time. Like I'm sure 
is true for many of you, I was inspired by the 
scientific discoveries and events taking place during 
my childhood to pursue a career in science only to find, 
after completing the rigors of undergraduate and graduate 
school, that the opportunities for us to have a career 
in science are limited at best and are which I usually
describe as "abysmal." Based upon my own experiences, 
and those of you with whom I have discussed this issue, 
my personal feeling is that, unless there are some pretty 
drastic changes in the way that our society approaches 
science and treats those of us who have devoted our
lives to making some of our own contributions, there 
is no way that I can, with a clear conscience, encourage
present-day students to pursue a career in science. It 
really pains me a great deal to say something like that,
but I feel so strongly about this that I have publicly 
made this statement at almost every opportunity I have 
been given.

I am trying to use the media attention that is currently 
being focused upon me to raise awareness of this state of
affairs, and perhaps start to effect those changes that 
will allow me to convey a more positive message to the 
next generation. So far, I'm sensing a certain reluctance 
among the media to discuss this issue, as they seem far 
more interested in items which I consider to be irrelevant 
and unimportant. But I intend to keep hammering away at 
this, and I'd like to believe that eventually some are
going to sit up and take notice. I am also attempting 
to schedule meetings with some of our government leaders, 
to see if I can at least get some acknowledgement from 
Washington that this is a problem that needs to be
dealt with.

My reason for writing to you is to ask your help. I know 
that I'm not alone in being frustrated about the current
prospects for pursuing any kind of decent career within 
science, and I'm quite sure that many of you have "horror
stories" about your searches for decent employment that
are quite similar to my own. I'd like to hear them. I'd
especially like to hear from those of you who are on your 
second or third or fourth post-doc, or who have left the 
field as a result of the employment situation, or who have
experienced severe personal difficulties (e.g., break-up 
of a marriage, etc.). I realize that some of these might 
be painful to discuss, but I'd like to show that we are 
not a bunch of impersonal statistics, but that we're 
human beings trying to make an honest living and perhaps
make a contribution or two to society while we're at it. 
Speaking of statistics, though, if you received any 
information about the numbers of applicants to some of 
the positions you applied to -- which was often a
3-digit number in my case -- I'd like to hear that, too.

Please e-mail your stories to me at ahale at, with a
subject line of "horror stories" or something like that. 
Please let me know if you would prefer to remain anonymous 
when I share these stories with the press and the 
government. Also, please pass this message on to any of
your friends and colleagues who might be interested in 
sharing their stories with me, and keep in mind that I 
would like to receive stories from as many scientific
disciplines as possible. (Because of the amount of e-mail
traffic I'm receiving these days, along with everything else
that's going on, I probably won't be able to acknowledge 
each message individually.)

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you. 
Perhaps, with the opportunity we have before us right now, 
we have the chance to make a difference.


Alan Hale


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