where is everyone/PhD and education

cboake at utk.edu cboake at utk.edu
Sun Nov 17 12:18:55 EST 1996

In article <56kgmp$2b1g at ns5-1.CC.Lehigh.EDU>, bb02 at Lehigh.EDU wrote:

> The crazy thing is that while we have studied too much science, the members of
> our society as a whole are not understanding science enough.  Supposedly,
> scientific illiterates abound.

Unfortunately, not just scientific illiteracy, but overt hostility to
science abounds.  The fights about evolution are just the tip of the
iceberg.  The problem is not so difficult for research with an obvious
applied aspect, like biomedical or agricultural research, but the work
that is called "basic" is seen as a luxury by many taxpayers.  We need to
develop ways to educate laypeople so that they can understand and respect
what we do.  I am regrettably inarticulate when it comes to dealing with
the public, and I'd like to know how others of you discuss the need for
basic research.

In the spirit of the postings that I found today, I'll give a brief sketch
about myself.  I am an evolutionary biologist who studies the processes
involved in species formation, particularly the role of mating behavior in
speciation.  I am a laboratory experimentalist and I study insects, which
have the advantages of being available in large numbers, and being
reasonably normally-behaved in a laboratory.  I am an associate professor;
I head Graduate Admissions for my department and I am on the Tenure and
Promotion committee for the College of Arts and Sciences, which gives me
certain insights into academic life for both scientists and

 I work at the University of Tennessee; which is in Knoxville, close to
the Smokies.  I am a transplanted Northener, and many of my northern
friends have biases and prejudices about the South that are certainly not
true of this area.  In particular, the university is a 10-min walk from
downtown, but until about 2 years ago, many campus buildings had doors
that were rarely locked on weekends; a security system was installed as a
result of burglary, not as a result of assault.  It's a comfortable city
to live in, and the cost of living is low.

To those of you who are still in graduate school: Academic job prospects
do indeed look bleak.  Although quite a few retirements are likely in the
next 5 years, downsizing appears to be hitting universities.  We need to
train students for non-academic careers, which is a new way of thinking
about PhD's.  Clearly such a discussion needs to be conducted
internationally.  Some academic jobs will be available, but with far too
many PhD's having been trained for the past 20 years, the competition will
be intense. Even small schools, that used not to focus on research, now
expect applicants to have postdoctoral research experience as well as a
PhD (whether this requirement is wise is another matter; when you look at
the back pages of Science, you see that it is a fact).  If you want an
academic job, you will have to be extremely focused.  It might be valuable
to ask yourself what it is that you like about academic life, and see if
the same kinds of rewards could be found in other fields.  (One of the big
myths that nobody explains to graduate students is that when your career
advances, you will have less time, not more, for research.  Ask your
adviser how she/he spends the week.)

I hope this isn't too disheartening.  I am trying to be realistic; there
will be academic jobs available, but the compeition will be tough, so if
you want such a job, you need to prepare yourself early.

Chris Boake

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