Re. so long....

Betty Woolf woolf at
Tue Apr 8 15:14:09 EST 1997

In article <334A67D0.47ED at>, forsburg at wrote:

> Cindy Hale wrote
> .......(stuff deleted)......
> > So, after job searching for over 6 months and
> > being
> > cut off without warning from the project I expected to be on through
> > June,
> > I will be taking a manual labor job which pays MORE than any job I
> > have
> > held in the last 13 years.
> > 
> > I am angry. I have worked, for almost nothing, for 13 years and have
> > nothing to show for it, not even the thanks or respect of the society
> > I
> > worked so hard for. TELL THAT TO ASPIRING SCIENTISTS!
> This really stinks.  Cindy, I am so sorry to hear this.  You are
> right to be outraged.  
> Science is incredibly wasteful of its practitioners.  I know 
> two people who did not get tenure last year.  Last I heard one was 
> collecting unemployment and the other was working for an electronics
> store.  These people, like Cindy, are highly trained, bright,
> motivated people who have spent their lives working hard for
> little reward.  The system has spit them out wastefully, as though
> their talents are worthless.  Given what they are doing now, 
> it would appear that their talents ARE worthless.  Yet their
> training was an investment by them AND society, and must have
> value!  They got jobs, ran grants, taught students.  So they didn't
> get tenure at their institutions, okay.  But they still have
> talent and ability and intelligence.  All are being thrown away.
>  What's wrong with this picture, and HOW CAN WE FIX IT?
> -- susan
> S L Forsburg, PhD
> Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
> The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
> forsburg at

Cindy, I'm sorry to hear about this too.  I used to think this would
happen to me too.

About the situation Susan describes, and her question, I add these thoughts:

I figured out pretty early in life that lots of school and an academic
career weren't the right path for me.  I thought about teaching middle
school or high school; I thought about going to vet school; I thought
about becoming a naturalist/ecologist for a nature center; I thought about
a career in science writing.  I eventually became a technician in a
molecular biology lab affiliated with a medical school/teaching hospital,
moved up a few levels, left academia for industry, and gave up lab work
for computational biology/sequence analysis.

I was discouraged literally every step of the way by well-meaning people
who didn't want me to "waste my potential" or words to that effect. 
Almost everyone felt that the ONLY true path for an intelligent person
interested in the sciences was to get a PhD and go into research at a
large academic institution.  If this is the attitude of all the role
models, it's no wonder people get discouraged when they can't or don't
want to make it in "the system."  

Is it fair to say "the system" spit them out as though their talents are
worthless?  The system is made up of people, men and women, who sometimes
have very narrow-minded views of what is and isn't worthless.  

Many of my professors, bosses and lab mates condemned "the system" but
still advised me to join it because to be "just a teacher" "just a writer"
or "just a technician" was, to them, practically the same as working in an
electronics store or being unemployed.  A lot of people I looked up to in
one way or another think that I am not a success even though I have an
exciting, challenging job that I love.

I am very glad that I made the choices I did.  It still makes me angry,
though, when I think about the attitudes of some of my
professors/bosses/mentors.  The professors in my undergraduate department
took it very badly that I didn't go to grad school, and for the first 6
years of my career, people constantly asked me when I was going back to
school.  When I left my academic lab for industry, it was seen as selling
out; when I left the bench for computer work I was originally treated as
though I was leaving science. 

If I had joined "the system" ten years ago after I got my undergraduate
degree I am sure I would now be miserable, disillusioned and stressed,
even if I became one of the fortunate ones who "made it."  

I don't think enough is done to educate people about what they are getting
into if they choose a career in science.  And in my experience, advisors
tend to push people in a certain direction whether it's right for them or
not...maybe if we started trying to fix things at that level, some of the
problems could be prevented before they start.

I don't have any answers for the poor pay, job instability, lack of thanks
from society, etc.  I do know that that part is not unique to science,
though -- talk to social workers about the subject sometime and see what a
reaction you get!

My $.02

Betty Woolf

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