Career in the Microbio Sciences

Wayne wlogsdon at
Fri Feb 18 00:44:22 EST 2000

Great comments Dr. Art:

            As an EE in industry, it all applies there too.  Corporations
exist for one reason.  To make money for the stock holders.  Globalization
and the disintegration of nationalism has made life worse for the citizens
of  industrialized countries, and great for the multinational big guys.  In
electronics the hot degree for now is computer science.  Due much to PCs and
microprocessors, there is a lot less hardware designing and drafting going
on now, in the U.S.,  than there was 30 years ago.  30 years from now the
bulk of the U.S. software may be written in India.  Who knows?  When I
worked for G.E. in the early 90s, Jack Welsh make a statement to all 300,000
employees; "G.E. offers jobs, not careers".  Great moral booster huh?  In
other words, don't get comfortable.  Every time there is a merger, it
creates layoffs, and a chance to remove the excess pension money too.
Layoffs churn employees and reduce pension costs.  Universities are
corporations too.  they sell knowledge.


Arthur Sowers wrote in message <88ijv5$njg$0 at>...
>On Thu, 17 Feb 2000, Matt Teeter wrote:
>> It seems that the consensus is that there are very few job opportunities
>> right now for people with Ph.D.s in Microbiology or a similar science.
>> However, if I were to get a Ph.D., it would be in a little over ten years
>> from now. What do you think of job opportunities then? Obviously it is
>> an exact science -- nobody can predict the future. There is talk about
>> scientist are getting older and retiring, but there won't be enough
>> to fill the jobs that they leave as most students are getting into
>> science and related fields. Any comments?
>> Matt
>There are some books out there worth reading:
>The End of Science, by  Tim Horgan
>The End of the Future, by Jean Gimpel
>The End of Work, by Jeremy Rifkin
>The End of History, by Francis Fukayama (?)
>The End of the Nation State, by another with a Japanese name.
>I have read most of them. The quality of some of them is variable, but
>there is a trend and some themes. I think we might be moving into a
>millennium that will be very different from the past.
>Occassionally there are a few "futuristic" articles in the Wall Street
>Journal that try to spot trends. You'll also see some "op-ed" articles
>regarding the way certain things seem to be going.
>I don't feel very good at crystal ball gazing, but some authors make
>interesting observations (eg. Tim Horgan). I read Horgan's book and at the
>time it came out it was very heavily read and very heavily reviewed. I
>read at least four reviews including one in _Science_ and even the review
>got reviews through letters to the editor that were published in
>_Science_. Lots of people didn't like his book. I'm in the minority; I
>think he was "onto" something.
>A related book which I cannot seem to locate is "Little Science, Big
>Science" and the sequel "Little Science, Big Science, and Beyond" by
>Derek John de Solla Price, which I'm told talks about the way research is
>administrated and managed, especially in terms of large bureaucratic
>government funding agencies and how universities and institutions have
>adapted their organizations to deal with this. I got a few glimpses of how
>the administrators at research universities have adapted to this while at
>UMAB; academic departments would play smaller roles in the future.
>Instead, universities would have "centers of excellence" that would have a
>life cycle of 10-15 years and then be disbanded.
>As far as how a young person should think in settling on a program of
>study, to become extreemely specialized in a study area over a period of
>ten years (counting PhD and a post doc) in order to pursue a career that
>may last only another 10-15 years and then end up being _out_ of that
>career thereafter certainly seems to be a low efficiency way of getting
>professional satisfaction out of life. In fact, I can think of several
>"hot topic" areas that I've noticed to come into existence and then fade
>out as some new hot topic appears and then the old hot topic becomes a
>cold topic. In technology, almost no one knew about the internet about a
>decade ago. Today you see URLs and dot com adverts everywhere in printed
>media and TV and radio. These are all exciting things, but I've read a few
>speculative articles in Business Week, Wall Street Journal, etc., that
>foresee a "slump" in the internet in the future. An internet tax, a
>surcharge by the telcos, ...whatever... could come into existence and the
>internet technology bubble could burst. I think business cycles have not
>yet ended. I read one scholarly article about the stock market and
>somewhere back in the mid 1870s-80s some aspect of electricity came out
>and was overhyped (yes, even back then) and the stock went into the
>stratosphere and shortly afterwards it tanked. Then there was the crash of
>1929. Another one in 1987. A large number of people lost their jobs and
>for a lot of people the '29 crash had a major negative impact on their
>whole lives. There are books written about these things.
>The major negative with a career in science today is the job security
>question. Institutions both teaching and research are pulling back from
>tenure track positions AND redefining tenure in a maner as to dilute its
>strength. The other constant is age discrimination. Once you are over 40,
>it almost doesn't matter what your subject material, you have a rapidly
>increasing chance of being passed over if you are looking for a job among
>a large applicant pool. Greater experience does not have clout over
>inexpensive help.
>As much as I have been excited about science, technology, and progressive
>changes in society all my life, I have to say we should not forget the
>problems in society that have not improved and the problems that may have
>gotten worse. Rapid changes and low job security pursuits will introduce
>serious uncertainty in two things you need to do over a lifetime: i) build
>up a retirement fund so that you can have some minimum material standard
>of living when you are older, and ii) be able to have a health plan
>available to you for all of your life. The numbers I see discussed in the
>media seem to imply that as time goes by, fewer and fewer people are
>having both of these.
>You also have to remember that we are in a post-industrial economy and
>have been for at least two decades. Whole categories of jobs no longer
>exist in the USA. They have moved to Mexico, the Pacific Rim, etc. No one
>expects these jobs to ever return to the USA in our lifetime. Be aware of
>Over the last ten years I have become sensitive to career loss on the part
>of people who have been in sci and tech careers. Over the years many
>people have posted on the NG about various aspects of this. There will
>always be some PhDs who will finish their studies and easily end up with a
>high paying, high prestige job in industry. Some fraction of those may
>even retire with good pensions and do well. Another fraction will get laid
>off when their company gets aquired, merges, or reorganizes, or a
>technology fades out. When you go on the job market after that, what will
>your job landscape prospect look like? Can't predict it, right?
>A poor employment model is one where people are sci-techie outsources for
>episodes of employment followed by unemployment followed again by another
>cycle of employment and unemployment. Health benefits usually stop when
>you are unemployed and when you are unemployed, you take money out of the
>bank instead of put it in. They say in newspaper articles that there will
>be more of this employment model in the future. Its not good.
>Some fraction will end up in academia. You can see my website for details
>on that. On the whole, its a worse picture unless you maybe go for
>administrative/managerial jobs and can stay on a career growth curve.
>I'm not very fond of administrators & managers, but they are in a better
>position to influence things to benefit themselves (often at the expense
>of underlings) and so YOU might be better off, for yourself, going that
>There is the CEO model, also. You form a company, print stock, etc., becme
>a millionaire like they talk about in the newspapers. Trouble is, for
>every Bill Gates and Steve Balmer that you hear about, there are hundreds
>if not thousands of failures. You don't hear about those very much in the
>papers unless its a letter to the editor about a company that goes out of
>business. Where I've lived the last 18 years, my wife and I have seen
>60-70% of all new restaurant sites open, close, reopen under a new name,
>close again, reopen under a third name, closse still again. It costs
>a lot of money to open, and when they close its because they had negative
>cash flow for longer than they could stand. I feel bad for them. I've
>known some of these guys. One guy who was a prison psychologist for a long
>time. Always dreamed of having a restaurant. Put his life savings into a
>restaurant and over two years lost all his life savings. He was lucky to
>get back his job as a prison psychologist. So, he had one chance in his
>life to have his dream and it blew up on him. You don't wanna do this.
>Look at business models. Very risky companies are being created with the
>main idea that they will be sold to large corporations after 3-5-7 years
>or so. Competition around the world has never been as fierce.
>"Globalizatiin of the workforce" is a polite phrase for some of the
>changes whereby labor can be obtained as cheaply as possible (eg. bring
>foreigners to the USA and pay them less, or bring the factory to a foreign
>country where they can pay less wages and salaries). None of this will
>help your life.
>My present favorite model for a decent life is to look into ways an
>individual can have his own business and in a low tech area. Over the last
>few years I have met many people making good money in secure jobs doing
>very simple things. They are not on "the 'net" they don't have a web page,
>but they have always had plenty of business. These may not be very
>glamorous, high prestige jobs, but I think you will be able to enjoy life
>all your life. In contrast, the problems of the PhD glut, computer
>programmers, our technology-driven culture, the preoccupation with
>larger fractions of HS graduates going on for a college education which
>ends up not benefiting them (see the book "The Over Educated American" by
>Richard B. Freeman, copyright 1976) for a very detailed analysis of a
>situation that is not new; he drew, 25 years ago, the conclusion described
>in the title).
>If you are thrilled by science, you may enjoy it best by watching the
>nature programs on TV, the programs on The Learning Channel on cable TV,
>and science fiction TV & books. And leave the worries about grants,
>promotions, politics, job security to those who will have to endure those
>problems; after all, you'll probably never see a program on "60 minutes"
>about all the problems in careers that, for too many people, end sooner
>and end permanently than anyone would like. I'm not sure its a good idea
>to hope for a dream job; it might be more realistic to hope for a decent
>job that you can live with and benefit all life long by it. I went to a
>retirement seminar two decades ago where the lead speaker said: "What you
>need for happiness is money and health and money and health and money and
>health." I appreciate the hippie movement, the free spirit lifestyle, the
>lone cowboy mindset, independent private detectives, basement inventors,
>and stories like Steven Segall movies where one good guy with a pistol
>takes on fifty bad guys with grenade launchers, machine guns, and
>air-to-ground missles and beats the crap out of all of them and rescues
>the girl. But just remember, most of that stuff exists only in the movies.
>I had a career in science that lasted about 15 years. At least I'm happy I
>got that far. Over the eight years I've been on this newsgroup, I've run
>into or received private email from hundreds who also lost their careers
>involuntarily or, after their postdocs never even got a chance to get into
>a career in science. I've been in contact with those who got denied
>tenure, lost their grants, or gotten into bad political trouble. None were
>happy about these.  A few times I've reposted something on the NG and
>anonymized it to protect the author.  Its OK if guys want to give it a
>try as long as they realize their chances are as poor as they are. Success
>in any area is a low number. The main thing about the PhD route is that
>it is, as you know, a ten year trek before you get to go hunt big game.
>The better route is the MD route, where there is a better chance for both
>the money, the respect and recognition, and a lifelong career. Other
>better routes, I think, are routes where it may take 2-3 or 4 years of
>training and experience to get something that might be less exciting, but
>you can count on it for the rest of your life.
>  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
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