Career in the Microbio Sciences

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Tue Feb 15 19:58:54 EST 2000

I don't think the advice on having "fear" is bad. The grad school part is
easy. The postdoc part is easy. The problem is getting that first _real_
job afterwards (and I mean one with some job security). Then, getting
tenure (if in academia). In industry, you can always be at some nice
company with a _nominally_ permanent job, but if your company merges then
there will be layoffs (because there almost always are). If your company
reorganizes or gets a new CEO, vice prez, division cheif....then there
could be a reorganization. This usually means new people are hired and old
people are fired. And, that is because, ususally, that really is the way
things work. 

The other piece of advice (besides having your radar turned on, and
looking over the shoulders) I have is: start working on a fall-back plan. 

Yes, attrition is everywhere. Not everyone who wants to be another base
ball star (eg. Babe Ruth, etc) is going to make it. Actually most will
fail. Same for movie stars, other sports, famous artists, musicians, and
rich people, and presidents of the USA. There will be only one Nobel
winner every year even though maybe 100 are doing that quality of work.
Marriage: 50% will fail. 84% remarry. 60% of remarriages also fail. In the
end, we will all die. The real trick is to find some happiness and
fulfilment. At least I did have a career as a grant funded PI for 14
years. Buuuuuuuut, I would think academia could be more civilized towards
its own brethern and its students. 

Its still ironic that in the military, where the goal is pain, death,
destruction to the enemy and his lands, the troops all help each other
out, bring back the wounded, bring back the bodies of those killed in
action. But in academia, those who falter or get denied tenure or get
their grants turned down all go out to the dumpster and are just flat out
forgotten. "Old soldiers don't die, they fade away" but scientists get
vaporized by chairs, tenure review committees, grant review committees,
etc. Those who can only get adjunct positions will live a life of


=== no change to below, included for reference and context ====

On Wed, 16 Feb 2000, Chris Larosa wrote:

> Well I must agree with parts of J. Hu's statement,,,,I make a little joke with the
> phrase be afraid....I mean plan plan plan and be extremely discriminating, and be
> prepared to work like hell.   Nevertheless  the activity itself is very
> compelling.    Some people, myself included are just addicted to working in the
> lab.   I must admit I have no hard data on the applicant numbers.   But I do have
> first hand experience working in a big lab group and I know the sucess rate versus
> failure rate.    This was in my experience about 50 percent .  About half of the
> graduate students dropped out before getting a PhD.   Ok.. now some were rewarded a
> PhD , but really were lousy scientists,   some just decided to drop out after
> getting the degree and some went on to postdocing.   Some got good postdocs....
> some got bad ones....for what ever reasons their own fault are whatever.....some
> still on track and some got jobs.....Through each layer of the academic pyramid
> scheme there is a filtering process.   I dont have hard numbers for the current
> trend for every field.    But in my experience the probability of sucess is low.
> 10's of thousand of dollars are spent on careers through this long training
> process, with I and Art Sower's would suggest is an unexceptable failure rate.  Is
> the personal cost and risk worth it to the individual?? That is up to the
> individual..... Of course career choises shift and careers sucess and failures
> alter our paths through life.    But lets get clear...academic careers are hard,
> and opportunities for advancement have decreased over the last 30 years.    So as
> we all seem to agree, be very very discriminating on what graduate program you go
> to.
> I am glad there is a newsgroup site where we discuss this issue in a free
> forum....    Just try to bring it up in your own academic environment and your
> looking for trouble.
> Jim Hu wrote:
> > First, thanks for the vote of confidence, such as it is ;^)
> >
> > .

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