Academic freedom humbug

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Wed Jun 7 18:51:27 EST 2000

On Wed, 7 Jun 2000 old_pif at wrote:

> In article <393DCBEE.F328A363 at>,
>   "Jeffrey J. Potoff" <potoff at> wrote:
> >There are a number of careers where there is no guarrentee of future
> >employment, or that you will ever really make the big time.  Consider
> >a rock band.  They suffer under horrible conditions for years just
> >waiting for that big break.  Most of the "hot" alternative acts these
> >days are made up of people in their late 20s and early 30s.  The lead
> >singer from Everclear is 35!  These people took a big risk and
> >suffered for a long time.  There isn't room for everyone at the top in
> >the music business.  Some of the acts that make it big may have just
> >gotten lucky. Professional sports are similar.  Painting, book
> >writing, acting, etc all entail that one takes a rather large risk
> >when they embark on that path.
> >
> >The same is true of academic careers.  You toil for years waiting for
> >your big chance, and you may only get one shot.  But this is no
> >different that in many other careers.  Are any of you who are so angry
> >about the situation with PhDs concerned about what happens to an
> >author who can't get a job, or a minor league baseball player who
> >never makes the majors?  Or 5 guys who live in a van for 5 years
> >touring the country playing music?  Probably not.
> >
> >If you want a "safe" career, go ahead and get a technical degree.  You
> >can fix computers from 9to5 everyday for the rest of your life.  Or do
> >painting, or repair HVAC systems.  Not much competition, nearly
> >guarenteed employment for life according to Art.  But for me, that
> >would be like dying inside.  I like the competition because at the end
> >of the day I feel like I've really accomplished something and because
> >I'm doing something I for which I have the love.
> >
> >I have a friend who is trying to make it big in a rock band.  He's
> >been at this for years seriously.  Not just playing the local bars, but
> >touring, sending packages to major labels, etc.  It's rough.  A hell of
> >a lot rougher than landing an academic job.  But he keeps at it because
> >he wants to make it.  Is this logical?  No.  But this band is his
> >life. To tell him "go fish in another pond" would be completely
> >rediculous. Give him advice on how to make it.
> >
> >The short story is, there's a lot of bitching on s.r.c about how "bad"
> >things are, but no one is giving people who are trying to follow their
> >dreams any advice on how to make it.  It's all "get the hell out
> >now." Useless advice!  Are you going to tell all the actors "get the
> >hell out of acting" or the kids in bands "get out of music" because
> >there is a very real probability that they will never make it big?
> >
> >Everyone here makes some good points, but why doesn't anyone give
> >advice that will actually help people do what *THEY* want to do, not
> >what you think they should do?
> >
> > Jeff
> >
> Although everything what you have said is true, you obvioiusly missed
> the point of at least some discussion at this group. The problem is
> that substantial part of academic elite missrepresents the situation in
> science. People, especially young, must be informed upfront before
> taking decision. As Art once said in his posting to know "where shit
> happens". There are a lot of missinformation and missrepresentation of
> academic life. Young people read books written by famous scientists and
> think that they find the same sort of life. Alas, what they will find
> (most of them) is a lot more different. What is wrong with sharing your
> experience?
> Old Pif
> Sent via
> Before you buy.

Good for you, Old Pif

I appreciate Jeff's "positive attitude" spin, but helping some people get
their dream also means helping explain that some other people will need to
change their dreams and it would be better for them, the sooner they do

At least my website chapter "what needs to be in a CV" tells people
exactly that. If they don't get somewhere into the top end of the stack,
its going to be progressively rougher the farther one is from the top. 

My chapter on "how to find a good postdoc" is also meant to help people.

The career halflife parts mean to tell people that some ARE going to fail
and the sooner they understand that, the sooner they can/should start
planning on a "fall-back" plan. That interesting article in The Scientist
is just one of many on how many leave science, either voluntarily or
involuntarily, sooner or late. I wish it were not so, but it is so.

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
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