Mainly for Becky ... no longer-> Re: Open rough draft for forming a RC advocacy group.....

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Fri Jan 19 02:59:39 EST 2001

On Thu, 18 Jan 2001 rmchamberlin at wrote:

> Normally I don't respond to Art's flamebaiting, but I'm feeling generous
> today, so:

As a person who I know can generously find time to lurk but not feel
generous to contribute, I am amused and happy to have trolled out the
harder work of writing (compared to reading). More below...
Besides, flamebaiting is very inexpensive and fun to do and...its like
seeing if there are any fish in a pond ("Lets see if this _bait_ will get
me a fish"). And, of course, it did. Ergo... big smile on my face. Sorry,
you will have to use more "resistance" next time. But, see below...

> In article <946u2g$itk$0 at>,
>   Arthur Sowers <arthures at> wrote:
> > Then, we have
> > all those who are in nice, cushy situations and essentially say to
> > themselves "I've got mine, I'm not going to help anyone else" or "I've got
> > mine, I don't want anything to change that migh affect 'mine'." People
> > like Becky and Josh seem to be totally uninterested in the health of the
> > PhD culture and I don't recall hearing either of them complain much about
> > their own situations and hardly if any complaints about the PhD culture,
> > itself, either.
> You're right, I don't make a career of using the internet to "help"
> people I don't know personally and whose circumstances I can't fully
> understand. 

I fully understand that for the majority of people in the world the main
pursuit is to "get whatever they can out of the rest of the world" but
care little or nothing about "giving back".

 I personally don't believe that one-size-fits-all advice is
> as valuable as one-on-one interaction (i.e. "mentoring"), which is why I
> put more energy into promoting the careers of the people around me than
> those on src. 

Well, in the librarys of the world and on the internet are many examples
of "one size fits all" and.... didn't you contribute to Derek's FAQ?

 You, Art, cannot possibly know what I do outside of src,
> and I'll thank you to refrain from making assumptions.

I don't care what you do outside of src. You are a scientist and a PhD and
you do show up on src and, among other things, talk about src issues. What
you say or don't say is of interest to me, and I will make assumptions
and judgements based on what you say. After all, the rest of the
world is going to make assumptions and judgements based on what you say,

> As it happens, I'm *not* particularly concerned about the "health of the
> PhD culture," if by this you mean the health of traditional academic
> careers.  Having entered graduate school with one career path in mind,
> transitioned midway through to another career path, and ultimately found
> myself ensconced in a third (with an ongoing curiosity about some future
> options), I frankly can't relate to the distress of those who have been
> singlemindedly pursuing the classic academic research path since the age
> of 12 and then find that it's not all they imagined it to be.

This sounds quite honest, actually, and I accept that you can't relate to
that distress. But its really a lot of words that boil down to "I've got
mine, and I don't care about anyone else." But see below.

  I don't
> think they're bad people, I just can't understand what motivates them. 

You mean you can't understand that someone goes into the pursuit of a
research career because, for example,: i) its interesting, and/or ii) its
a socially redeming pursuit? What motivated you?

> think life's a journey and if you aren't exploring all the paths
> available to you, you're missing half the fun.

Are you exploring all the paths? I doubt if you are exploring more than
one at a time. 

> An advocacy organization for PhD's?  Art, I salute your dedication to
> this cause and I wish you the best of success, but I prefer to spend my
> energies elsewhere. 

This is also honest and understandable and I accept it.

 I've just gotten started last fall on adult basic
> literacy tutoring, which is really exciting to me.  People who have
> completed a science PhD will face setbacks and challenges in their lives
> and will need support at times, but clearly they have a strong set of
> skills that can be leveraged into almost any imaginable future.

I disagree. Right now, I use almost nothing from my graduate work and
career in what I'm doing now and what I have plans for in the future. 
In the two relevent career books I read and reviwed on my website, were a
number of people who claimed relevance of their PhD training to their
non-PhD jobs and they also had trouble justifying the time they spent in
grad school.

> who can't read at a functional level face a world of challenges that you
> and I can scarcely begin to imagine. 

Above you stated that you could not "relate" to certain kinds of
"distress" and here you _can_ "relate" to some other kind of problem. So,
I guess, you can scarecely begin to imagine career problems that could
affect your own career unless you had first hand experience with your own 

 That's my "thing," and you have
> yours, and even if you can't respect that I have different values, you
> can at least have the class not to insult me for it.

The problem is that I am seeing a lot of scientists that can't even see
their own sociological problems. Where you maybe should feel insulted is
that, as a scientist in a nice job, you can't understand the problems of
other scientists who are not in nice jobs or lost their jobs due to
circumstances beyond their control and someone points this out to you and
it bothers you. 
> You want me to complain about my job?  I am a strong believer in action,
> undergirded by optimism, humor, loyalty, and common sense.  Ernest
> Shackleton (my hero!) wrote that "Optimism is the highest form of moral
> courage."  I find that I am a happier and more productive individual if I
> leave little room in my life for complaining and pessimism.  If you must
> hear some complaints:  I work under spirit-crushing security and ES&H
> regulations, exorbitant overhead rates that prevent me from participating
> in most civilian research arenas but are still too low to maintain a
> functional infrastructure, constant berating of my community and my
> workplace in the local and national press, and a job description that
> changes frequently at the whims of Congress and assorted program
> managers.

I don't hear anything there that says you might lose your job at any time,
for no reason, and with no notice. I don't hear anything there that says
things are so bad that you are actively looking for another job. When I
was _in_ my career, I had a long list of complaints, too, but I decided I
could put up with them as long as my career continued.

> On the plus side, I earn (and can pay the people who work for me) a
> generous salary doing stimulating, purposeful work.

My friend at LLNL just announced his retirement after some 35-40 years and
going out at something like $85K per year. His last years were on the
National Ignition Facilty and in an email from him last week he told me
that this was the worse, most boondoggled, most mismanaged project he's
ever worked on. I don't doubt that there is some purposeful work at many
govt (and academic) labs, but when I was at LRL (as it was called) they
just got over preliminary work on the atomic powered jet engine. They told
me that besides making the atmosphere radioactive, they concluded that the 
plane would have to be as heavy as an aircraft carier and fly at 7,000 mph
to be otherwise economical. My other friend at the USDA labs has given me
a long and continuous string of stories about the stupidity of his
organization but he just kept doing his research and publishing. "dahd" on
this NG works at a govt lab and has high security and told me of
mismanagement and the PhD waste he's seen, too. So, I'm glad you can see
purposeful work because a lot of what I'm seeing that is purposeful
is keeping some PhDs off the street and on the payrole.

  I work under
> managers who respect and value my talents and work hard to give me
> opportunities to advance in my career.

How many promotions did you get since you first became a manager? 

  I have ample opportunity to
> collaborate with interesting people across various disciplines and from
> different institutions.  Most important, I live in a beautiful (albeit
> crispy) community with people who have shown that they will
> unhesitatingly give their heart and soul to support each other in times
> of crisis. 

Your "crispy" Los Alamos community, who will give their heart and soul
to support each other, but the "community" of scientists seems to be a set
of islands, all far apart from each other, and who are mostly annoyed when
a cry for help is heard from any nearby island let alone mostly unable to
acknowledge that help could even be necessary under any
circumstances. I see few hearts and souls.

> I have counted my blessings many, many times in the past
> year.

In most respects my own life is better off than many. I do have an
interest in attempting to make some small part of the world better than it
was before. Its not so easy. But, I hate to see someone pursue a science
career and not know what awaits them.

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
  | Science career information website:   |
  |      |

> Cheers,
> Becky
> Sent via

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