Career opportunities

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Jan 22 13:07:07 EST 1997

On Tue, 21 Jan 1997 JRANCK at wrote:

> I am a high school senior who is very interested in biology.  I have
> taken and done very well in the Honors Biology and Advanced Placement
> Biology courses at my school.  I am currently looking for a college and
> plan to major in either biology or biochemistry.
> I was wondering about what various careers are available for biology
> majors, and what kind of planning I have to do for the future.  If
> anyone would respond, that would be great.  Thanks.
> Mike

Dear Mike,

It is very encouraging to hear that there are still some
young people who are interseted on biology (and other
sciences), and not just in money, sport and sex. Perhaps
you are one of them.

Keep reading the best literature which (fortunately) is
realatively easy to find. Jay Gould, Isaak Asimov, scores
of others. READ A LOT OF IT. Say, 1 book every 2 weeks is 
a good reading rate, I did for for the last 30 years
and still woiuld like to read a lot more than physically

But you have to make yourself well aware of the difference
between the scientific curiocity and the real world of the
modern science (including the university science) which
is a world of corporate stuctures, rat race competition,
building of power-control empires, dirty trick of the
so called "peer review" (secretive assessment of you 
work by you competitors who often steal your ideas and

And most of all (this is especially importnat for young 
people to understand), the world of various, elaborative 
ways of exploitation of this curiocity. Read books/works
of Erwin Chargaff, retired professor from Harvard, who
wrote a lot about this. 

If you want to know (which I think, you should) how it 
all looks "from inside" try to find and talk to some 
so called "postdocs" (PDF: postdoctoral fellows).

This is probably the most massive (and most unlucky)
category of (professional) people in the modern 
academia - those who were usually attracted to science
on the basis of their curiocity and talent, only to 
find (usually after several) years that there in no 
decent place for them in science. And this (PDFs) is
not some fringe group of people, but the actuall
working core - those who do the 90-95 % (often 100 %)
of all the ral work.

Of course, you can find some lucky stories (like some
postdocs landing on permanent [ "tenure" ] positions 
as university professors), but these happy ending are 
not %-wise numerous. The present world of 'academia' is 
based on the uncontrolled (and socially irresponsible) 
overproduction of PhDs (sciene doctorates) well beyond 
the capacity of the job market. 

In short, be sure that you talked to several people who
are REALLY in science, before you make the decision to
venture in it. As a univerity professor (ca. 20 years),
I see well too many disappointments from people with
5-10 years after their PhDs who are looking for exit
routes from science to (almost) any other alternatives.

And the last, remember, that there you can enjoy
science and contribute to it even if you will not
be a "paid practicioner" in it. Ignore those who
say that this can't be done.

Yours truly
Alex Berezin

More information about the Bioforum mailing list