I want to be a professor. Am I crazy?

Sarah L. Pallas spallas at bcm.tmc.edu
Fri Oct 13 16:07:31 EST 1995

In article <45jur6$suv at ccshst05.cs.uoguelph.ca> Sophie Wilson,
sophiewi at uoguelph.ca writes:
>Is it reasonable to come back to university in this "day and age" with 
>the goal of becoming a professor?  

I don't know if it will help you or not, but my perspective was always
that I love doing science, and I will continue to do it as long as they
let me, and when they no longer do, I'm smart enough to find something
else rewarding to do.  In my case, I got a great tenure track position
but if I don't get major grant funding on a continual basis, I will not
get tenure.  Period.  In my field from 25% to 1% of grant applications
submitted are actually funded.  So after you beat out the 200 other
people that applied for the same job, you have a 1 in 5 chance, at best,
of getting enough money to do the research.

Have some contingency plans.  Work in a field that has options.  For
example, molecular biology seems to be hot now, and there are also jobs
in industry for people with that training.  Teaching in a small college
is another option, but then you need to get some teaching experience.

Have a supportive family, they won't be seeing much of you, and your
spouse will need to do more than half of the housework and child care
(unless you're wealthy and can afford a domestic helper).

The rewards are great, but have a realistic attitude.  If it doesn't work
out, you can go to medical school.  I have a friend who at age 35 went
from journalism into grad school in life sciences, did a postdoc, then
ended up in med school because she wanted more security in life than
academics was going to provide.  I doubt she regrets any of it, she had
fun along the way.

Good luck,
Sarah Pallas

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