Why I want to be a prof

friedman-hill stacia
Fri Apr 26 17:59:10 EST 1996

SL Forsburg <susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu> wrote:

>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.

I think what I am going to say may spark some controversy, but I
have often wondered while reading this group whether the number
of women grad students and post-docs who say they want to teach
primarily is greater than the number of male grad students or post-docs
who would choose to take a job at a small college as their first choice.
I, personally, want to have a big lab with big grants at a large
research university. From the limited teaching experience I have had
as a grad student, I really like explaining things to students. So,
I definitely would like to teach several courses a year. (Undergraduates
really make you think about how you know what you are telling them
and often make you see things a completely different way.) But, my
first love is research. And in order to pursue the answers to as
many questions as I have about the visual system, I know that I would
need very good funding and several bright, enthusiastic grad students
and post-docs.

Of course, I am about 2 years away from getting my PhD, so I will
probably find out that finding a position and getting grants is
not always possible. But I certainly don't see any of the male students
around here apologizing for having big dreams and goals.

>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?

I think that more and more graduate students understand how difficult
the job market and funding situations are.  Since many of us are paid
as research assistants from the grants of faculty members, there is
a "trickle down" effect of funding.  In the neuroscience program
here at Davis, grad students are guaranteed funding for their first
year. This money is gathered by collecting a tithe from each faculty
member. The funds allow students to rotate through 3 labs and try
out different types of research. In neuroscience, this is particularly
important since there are so many different levels of research: from
molecular neuropharmacology to cognitive experiments with human subjects.
But after the first year, students must secure their own funding. The
faculty tries to help as much as possible. Potential sources of funding
are TAships, RAships, and outside fellowships (from private sources
or from NRSAs from NIMH). The students consequently have very frank discussions
with faculty about their current level of funding before joining a lab.
And, many of us are active participants in writing grants so that we have
the resources and materials necessary to complete our thesis projects.
For my part, I was have been funded for 2 years from a private foundation,
will be funded for 2 more from a training grant, and will probably be
funded for an additional year from an NIH grant I helped develop and write.
Because I wanted to proceed as quickly as possible with my dissertation
instead of waiting for the pending NIH grant to be reviewed, I also obtained
$5000 of research money from a private fellowship.  I am pretty typical
of the grad students in my program. So not all of us are "naive" or passive!

Just my two cents,
(Make that four with overhead...)

--Stacia Friedman-Hill
Center For Neuroscience
University of California, Davis

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