where is everyone/PhD and education

Sarah Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Thu Nov 14 20:05:45 EST 1996

Hi -
	I agree - this group has been pretty darn quiet!  I, for one, have
been in the final month before defending my PhD!  It's been a roller
coaster right down to the bitter end - with one committee member taking my
thesis apart and the others loving it.  Talk about a complex over what
"scientific style is."  My oh my.  But I've appeased everyone and am set
to go the 27th of November (Yipee) 

	I liked one of the poster's ideas about a names and interest
discussion but I, for one, am a floater... when I finish, I don't have a
job.  I decided over the last year that a post-doc wouldn't do anything
for me because what I really love the most has always been teaching.  So -
I am going back for my masters in education!  Anyone out there with a PhD
done that?  In my local networking, I have found three people who have
done it but I'm always looking for more stories. 

	As for where I came from and so on:  I fell in love with science
in junior high (had a neat woman who - unbeknownst to me at the time -
taught all this advanced DNA stuff) and have kept with it.  I made the
for-better-or-worse decision of attending a small liberal arts college. At
the time, I thought I would pursue medicine but my experience there lead
me to aspire to want to be a professor.  I worked with an excellent woman
boss and did a really neat research project and Honors thesis on novel hot
spring bacteria from Yellowstone National Park.  The school, though,
wasn't up on molecular techniques, something I yearned for ever since
hearing about DNA in junior high.  I really wanted to do phylogenetic
analysis on my "bugs" but there just wasn't the means.

	So - with great encouragement from my boss, I went for my PhD,
choosing UW Microbiology, most of which is quite
molecular-biology-dominated.  I chose to work with a new woman studying
AIDS-like viruses.  Part of it was her evolutionary bend;  part was the
techniques I could FINALLY learn;  part, certainly, was the chance to
continue working for a strong woman role model.  I struggled a fair bit
here and there but my boss and I have always had an excellent
relationship.  It's taken me seven years, which is a little longer than
projected but I have been mostly satisfied with the successes I have had,
the failures I have endured, and the flexibility and freedoms I have been

	My job searching began two years ago when I started approaching
people for post-docs.  I had about three regulars who lead me on and on
and on, only to finally decide there was no money.  I wrote several dozen
letters only to have a few people write back - and then it was always no
money, no money.  Two years of this really broke my spirit and I simply
became tired of playing this game - the game where you never get anything
written down and PIs hedge and hedge and hedge.  I watched a few brilliant
colleagues get royally screwed by future bosses who promised them the
world verbally only to back out and I came to the opinion that this wasn't
for me. 

	I even turned down a recent post-doc from a collaborator because,
at this point, I have become so burnt out and I have decided that I would
do better to retrain for a defined year than to move from here to kingdom
come for god knows how long and then face more of the same.

	The whole last year, I applied to more than three dozen small
schools - small four years and community colleges up and down the west
coast.  Every single one was a rejection.  My teaching record has been
excellent compared to most grad. students because my boss has sent me out
to guest lecture every chance I have at local community colleges as well
as filling in for instructors at UW.  Totalled, I have three lab assistant
equivalent years and more than two dozen "guest lectureships." My evals
are great and everyone knows that is what I love and am tops at.  The
problem I have been told by all the teaching/reject jobs is (a) I don't
have obvious experience running a whole course or a teaching
certificate/coursework equivalent and (b)  nearly every position I applied
for had 100-300 applicants, most PhDs.

	Knowing this, I felt painted into a corner - faced with the
decision to choose an academic path or not.  Given what I know I am good
at and the fact that I have decided to remain living in the northwest, I
am jumping off the track.  It was very satisfying to make that decision
finally, in the face of a boss who continues to try and sway me otherwise. 
I hooked up with an advisor in education and two local highschool teachers
and begin volunteer work and night classes in January.  One of the most
refreshing things I was mentored by my new advisor to do was to go to a
science teachers conference.  Wow - what a great thing.  I even met one of
my former students who has gone on to a successful career teaching
highschool!  I'll be going to talk to her kids about AIDS in the next
month! I also went to a general meeting on the ed. program and was
flabbergasted when the director said that they will only take as many
students as the market will hold.  I was, like, gee - that's so novel
compared to graduate programs!!!

	I'd love to hear from others on this one.  My experience these
last two years trying to find an academic career has been very depressing.
I have watched friends dropping left and right, changing gears, going to
lawschool - you name it.  Many have been post-docs for upwards of five
years, unable to get a job in academics.  

	I hope that the training of PhDs grinds down a whole lot because,
as an aging student, I think it is sad to face more and more and more
education and uncertainty.  I hope that more PhD programs, at the very
least, will incorporate better general job training into their curricula -
whether it is more teaching experience and coursework or more industry
partnerships or just holding job fairs that stress that there is more to
jobs than academics.  I did some statistics in our dept. on
job placement for PhDs and it was staggering that less than 20% really
wind up in "traditional" tenure type positions at even small universities.
I didn't do a gender-based breakdown but I strongly suspect women are
still falling out faster than men.  

	Good luck to all - whatever path you find yourself walkin'!



Sarah Boomer				email:  sarai at u.washington.edu		
Dept. of Microbiology			work phone:  543-3376
Box 357242				work FAX:  543-3376
University of Washington		
Seattle, WA  98195	

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