Is there a future for good sci careers? Was: Re: Rich Lemert humbug. Was: Re: Academic freedom humbug

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Sat Jun 10 15:01:09 EST 2000

On Sat, 10 Jun 2000, Rich Lemert wrote:

> Arthur Sowers wrote:
> > On Sat, 10 Jun 2000, Jeffrey J. Potoff wrote:
> >
> >  For those that were not interested in my research, I was in
> > > the bottom 10-20% and received a nice reject letter just like everyone
> > > else.  That's what I was getting at.
> >
> > There are guys out there with poor CVs and dont know it. They won't get in
> > anywhere.
> >
> > > Not every school is looking for
> > > the same thing, so it's really difficult to say there are 200 applicants
> > > for 50 positions and that makes for a horrible job market.  The fact is,
> > > you (or I) really aren't a competitive applicant for all 50 positions,
> > > only a small fraction at best.
> >
> > Sorry, I've seen CVs where I don't think they will get any job offers.
> >
> > > > But what about the bottom
> > > > 80-90%.... all those guys are SOL.
> > >
> > > Who is in the bottom 80-90% of the applicant pool varies wildly from
> > > school to school.
> >
> > A guy from: a) an unknown school, b) zero publications, c) zero conference
> > abstracts, presentations, d) zero everything else, e) wildly obscure
> > problem (with no future).
> >
> > But I'll ask again...what do you tell the guys at the bottom.. you haven't
> > done this yet. Neither has RL.
> >
>   Neither do you, at least here. 

Untrue. Guys at the bottom need to find out that they are at the bottom
and get 

I have made many posts with quantitative information or made reference to
quantitative information. For example, most recently we had discussions,
which I participated in, regarding the 20% of biomed PhDs who were out of
science ten years after their degrees. This was from a recent
"interesting" article in The Scientist. I also brought up the article on
astronomy careers. This means people are leaving science to take up
non-science jobs. They have to if they are to pay for rent and food. I'm
just documenting it. 

I have made continual posts of alternative jobs in the commercial world,
and these have involved jobs where there are high numbers, relatively low
numbers of applicants to jobs, and high placement rates. I have made many
posts dealing with the high success rates for MDs. Other jobs are
blue collar jobs; they are not high prestige jobs, but they should be
easier to get into and don't require 5-10 years of schooling and have
better job security because lateral mobility is high (lose a job and you
can find another one in the same town or city sometimes in days to
weeks.. you can't do this with a PhD.) People with poor CVs need to see
these alternatives as more viable possibilities than "staying the course."

In most cases, one who cannot find a job/career which is relevant to
his/her education will have no choice but to find work in non-science
jobs. I have made many posts on this. The transition is difficult. We've
even had posts from one guy who said he now drives a taxi. We have a few
posts from guys who had their jobs taken away. 

I have made many posts with these general ideas. Your claim that I don't
is a lie. What is true is the general reluctance on SRC to face the 
reality that a lot (not all) will not get their dream academic job and
there are few potentially permanent plum jobs in industry. 

You do provide tools on your website that allow
> people to do a self-evaluation, but here you make _NO_ distinctions.

I make almost constant reference to my website. I am not going to repeat
for those too lazy to have a look at my website. The self evaluation is
for people who are getting tired of waiting on postdoc jobs for a real
and good and relevant job to come through. At "here" we have two groups of
"holdouts" - i) those who are still waiting for their careers to develope
and thus are not looking for self-evaluation and are not ready for it
anyway, and ii) those who refuse to consider anything "less" than a nice,
cushy, prestigeous PhD-requiring job that they have a high likelyhood of
never getting. 

> is going to fail in their quest for a research career" is the clearest message
> that
> comes out of your posts.

You constantly harp on this and lie constantly; I have made reference to
many sources of information dealing with career half-life. Its a
fact. Thomas Kennedy's article deals with NIH grant data that shows only
about ten percent of all NIH principal investigators ever have lifetime
grant support. That The Scientist article we talked about cites 20% of
recent biomedical PhDs who are out of science after ten years. "20%" is a
failure rate and NOT a "Everyone is going to fail...." statement. I have
given these failure rates and cited sources for years. For you, it just
goes in one ear and out the other. 

 If I see someone with a poor c.v., I tell them that. I
> also
> tell them ways I think they can improve their c.v.

Improving a CV says nothing about how that is going to raise confidence
enough to generate more job offers than rejections. "Improving" by itself
is an empty gesture. People with a poor CV need to be told something they
probably don't want to hear, and in some cases are in a mindset where they
are not ready to hear. But prolonging the agony is unethical and
contributing to a lie. These people need to be asked if they are
i) unemployed more than an unacceptable period, ii) if they know why they
are not geting interviews, job offers, iii) ready for radical surgery. For
academia, people have to have perfect or near perfect CVs. You can't take
a poor one and improve it, not quickly. These people need to start looking
in the commercial world for a job.  

 I will even tell them what
> alternatives I think might be available for someone with their background.

Like what? 

> However,
> I leave any decisions up to the individuals involved because they are the ones
> that
> will have to live with them. You, on the other hand, prefer to tell everyone
> "don't
> even bother trying."

This is an overstatement, but we've had open posts from guys who have been
looking for work for a long time and not finding it. There has to be
something wrong there and if the period of time is getting to be 1-2-3
years, they have to decide if their life savings in the bank (or
whatever) is going to last and they want to make it 4-5-6 years ... that's
their business. After a couple of years of unemployment (or under
employment) I don't see that continuing the search is going to help. The
more "bad time" on a CV, the worse the job prospects get. 
If you want to tell them "Keep on trying".... like on one armed
bandits.... go ahead. There are people who constantly play the lottery and
not win. 

> >  It's not like a standardized test exists for faculty
> > > candiates and those that score the highest get all the jobs.  It's this
> > > phenomena that makes it very difficult to fix your CV if it doesn't get
> > > you interviews the first time around.
> >
> > Yeah... it means, in the end, a guy has wasted ten years of his life.
> >
>   Did the guy fail to reach his goal? Yes. Could he have made more money
> doingsomething differently? Maybe - its likely, but nothing is guaranteed. Did he
> "waste ten years of his life?" That's something only he can answer.

I've heard lots of guys tell me they wasted ten years of their lives. I've
heard lots of guys tell me they wish they knew more about what they were
getting  into BEFORE they got into it. If you want to make the decision,
for him, that his life was not wasted, you are doing him a disservice. The
USA got in a war in Viet Nam back in the '50s -'60s plus and its now
pretty much agreed by the historians that it was a waste and a
mistake. Books have been written on this. Even former secy McNamara
authored a book on this.

> having
> had what certainly looks to me like a successful career, you prefer to focus on
> what happened at the end and say "I wasted my life". I, on the other hand, look
> back at my research experiences and say "I'm glad I had a chance to have those
> experiences." I can't change what has happened, so lets see what I can do to
> influence what's going to happen.

You can look at yourself any way you want. If there are two PhDs per
PhD-requiring job, it would be best if the one of them with the weaker
track record drop out of the competition. The drop out will get into
something else sooner, get on with his life and NOT waste the
time on a futile undertaking. Its hard advice to give and few are willing
to face it. Many will hold out on all these postdocs and end up even more
disapointed and feel foolish for not seeing the writing on the wall. 

Its even worse when you look at all the shift from tenure track jobs to
adjunct jobs with lower salary, low or no fringe benefits, and no job
security. And, that is going to get worse. Its in all the magazine and
newspaper articles I read. 

Here is the website again.....

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
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> Rich Lemert

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