Why I want to be a prof

SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
Wed Apr 24 10:29:44 EST 1996

Dianna L. Bourke wrote: (lots of edits for space)

> I did have some "start up" funds, but anyone used to "big" reasearch would
> roll on the floor laughing at the amounts I have had to deal with. ...
> I am very grateful for what I have, but sometimes it is
> frustrating.
> (Julia Frugoli said of her husband)
>  Best of all, he had to beat out a pool of
> >over 50 qualified applicants for this gem of a position-and that's a
> >small pool by today's standards.
> I was told there were over 90 applicants for my position.

About 120 applied for my job.  I got a couple of reject letters from 
major departments saying they had >400.

>  I have one friend who told me he'd
> >never take a position like this.  He's in his 5th year of post-doc, with
> >no interviews in sight, so he may have to "lower his standards".
> THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF ALL! People are just going to have to
> begin to think compromise. 

Certainly people have to think realistically.  Part of that is
defining what is most important to them:  what do they REALLY want
to be doing?  Do they want to teach and mentor?  (I'm intrigued
and encouraged by the number of people for whom that is a major 
attraction.)  Do they want to do fast-track research science?  You
really can't do it all, you have to make choices about your career,
what you like doing, where you like doing it, and your life.

> My position is kind of neat, in that I can do
> some research, but the days of just putting in the PO and knowing there is
> money to cover it, are over. Some days I feel like I am crossing the Great
> Salt Flats in a Conestoga wagon, but I am getting things done, even if I do
> have to illegally carry liquid nitrogen in the front seat of my Toyata!
> And, I am on hard money all the way folks, something not to be taken
> lightly!

Grants don't go very far when they are paying the PI's salary, as I 
know only too well.  Hard money is NOT to be sniffed at!

The question I have for the people who are at the smaller schools is,
did you make a conscious decision to go this route, or did you feel
forced into it?  Was it hard stepping off of the "fast track" of 
research (what Dianna describes as filling out the PO without worrying
about the money).  For me, I consciously decided that I wanted to 
go the major institution route, soft money and all.  I emphatically
do not want to teach undergrads (except the occassional one who
finds his/her way to my lab)--I've done enough of that. My major
goal is to do science (of course that means what I really do is
write grants to fu nd the research) and everything else is backseat
to that.

On a related track, I'm really disturbed at the number of graduate
students who start out and are completely floored to discover that 
money is tight (usually when they can't get in the lab they want) and
that the age of guarenteed faculty positions are gone.  These students
are coming in incredibly naive, and ill informed about doing science 
in the '90s.  There is a conflict between the desire to have students
as hands (immoral as it is), perhaps more gently described as 
the desire to encourage students to go on in science, and our duty
to tell them the way of the real world before they embark upon this.
I know a lot of students and postdocs who feel bitter becvause
"it wasnt supoposed to be like this".  I felt the same way and
I got my degree in '89.  Why do the students still not know how it 
really is?
Part of this also relates to my previous comment a post or two ago
that some of them don't seem to be sure why they are in grad school.
How can we ensure an informed group without discouraging EVERYone
from pursuing science?

susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu

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