Why I (don't?) want to be a prof

Thu Apr 25 09:46:03 EST 1996

On 24 Apr 1996 eoshuster at UCDAVIS.EDU (Beth Shuster) wrote:

>On Wed, 24 Apr 1996 08:29:44 -0700, susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
>>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?

>   Part of the answer may be in making sure that students are
>informed about the range of career options in the sciences.  If
>the only "accepted" option is academic research science and
>everything else is scorned (either implicitly or explicitly) as
>second rate, then students are going to soak up this attitude
>and feel discouraged/betrayed/inadequate if they don't end up in
>that job (or even if they do land the job, but find that they
>don't like it as much as they expected to).
>  Several years ago, I gave several dorm talks in which I tried
>to outline multiple career options for those interested in the
>sciences.  I think students at both grad & undergrad levels need
>to hear more about these as the field evolves.

I agree wholeheartedly!  When I was in grad school I knew that I
wanted to stay in "academia" - yet the more I saw of the
frustrations, politics, etc. of the tenure-track system the more
I became convinced it wasn't for me.  And, while I loved the
academic environment, teaching/public speaking scared me to
death.  Add to that the "burnout" of finishing my Master's thesis
and doubts whether I could face a Ph.D. program without some kind
of a break - I had to reevaluate what I really wanted to do...

I, fortunately, had a position practically fall into my lap -
herbarium (natural history museum) curation.  It fit so perfectly
with my career and education goals, yet I'd never dreamed such
positions even existed (the "curators" I'd known before were
profs, doing the job in addition to their teaching/research
duties).  There aren't many positions like this, but they do
exist!  While we (probably especially students) think of
university employees primarily in terms of faculty and
administrators, here at Iowa State "Professional and Scientific
staff" now outnumber the faculty.  Of course not all of these
jobs ARE scientific/research-oriented, but many (and very diverse
ones) are.

I have found many advantages to working in this kind of system,
- it's not a "tenure-track" position (and I don't have to attend
"faculty meetings").
 - I interact with students mostly individually or in small
groups, more on "my terms" and related closely with my interests
and knowledge.  I also am in a better position than most faculty
in our department to interact with the "general public".
- while my job is largely to facilitate faculty and graduate
student research, I am encouraged to do my own research projects.

No job is perfect, of course.  The "downsides" include MUCH lower
salary than faculty, MUCH harder to get grant funding for
research, less "respect" from some faculty colleagues, and that
sort of thing.  But I'm doing what I love to do, and wouldn't
trade jobs with anyone!  Especially at large universities, being
a prof isn't the only option.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Deborah Q. Lewis, Curator
Ada Hayden Herbarium (ISC)                   Ph.: [1]515/294-9499
Department of Botany                         FAX: [1]515/294-1337
Iowa State University                  E-mail: dlewis at iastate.edu
Ames, IA  50011-1020   U.S.A.                   (or as in header)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

More information about the Womenbio mailing list