postdocs -- ask your mentor

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Fri Aug 15 13:33:00 EST 1997


In article <Pine.SOL.3.95.970815094047.18836A-100000 at ag.arizona.edu>,
Kimberly  Snowden  <ksnowden at ag.arizona.edu> wrote:

>So shouldn't we talk about some sort of birth control on producing new
>PhDs?  If we have such a glut of PhDs, shouldn't we limit how many we
>produce? 

Hi Kim,

I personally agree with you, and I've heard that actually "market forces"
are starting to kick in, that today's undergraduates understand what they
will be up against.  However, I know that when I was trying to make this
decision 10-11 years ago (whether to get a PhD in Biology), they were
still circulating the "PhD shortage around the year 2000" data.  Possibly
those of us who are postdocs now are just an unfortunate group who were
caught in the transition and weren't warned soon enough (that doesn't 
really make it better, personally, I know).

 Other professions limit their numbers so that these problems
>don't occur.  Unfortunately, given how difficult the funding climate is,
>many labs are reliant on the labour of graduate students.  So how can we
>continue to get our science done, in order to compete for the next grant,
>without contributing to the problem of producing more warm bodies who

Frankly, I think that more grant space and resources should be devoted to
technicians and less to graduate students and postdocs.  I think there
should be a kind of "permanent" job in academic and/or research science
that isn't P.I.  Some people just like to do science, like working for a
mentor they respect, and don't want to have to deal with all the classroom
teaching, grant writing, committees, travelling, giving talks, etc. etc.
I can't begin to enumerate here all the ways in which having a technician
in a lab who is around for 5 years or more has benefitted the labs I have
been in--in terms of organization, institutional memory, training of
students, taking some of the load off the already overworked P.I., etc.
And yet many labs seem to try (probably because of funding constraints) to
get by with only transient workers--the graduate students and postdocs.

When I write what I write above, I don't mean that fewer resources should
be allocated to individual graduate students and postdocs (I agree with
everyone who says we're underpaid, given how long it takes), I mean that
in any given lab, there should be fewer people "in training" and more
people who are already trained and working at a permanent job.
And those people should be respected and paid what they're worth (including
benefits, etc.)

>large number who can't get jobs.  Should we expect that 50% (OK I'm
>pulling numbers totally out of the air here) of our profession will
>eventually be weeded out as not "making the grade"?  

I do think that there is quite a bit of merit in the "alternate careers"
track.  There are many careers that can help you make use of a science
Ph.D.  Science magazine is making an effort with their "next wave"
website.  I don't have time to get the references now, but check the web
in more detail--there are other websites and resources too for scientists
interested in putting their scientific training to use in all kinds of
interesting ways.  Again, though, the transition period is going to be 
hard, and we are the ones who get stuck (or blessed, if you're feeling
optimistic) with being the pioneers.

Another postdoc with an uncertain future,

Karen



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