Hale Bop

MV. Hayes bimvh at zeus.bris.ac.uk
Fri Aug 15 10:28:20 EST 1997


An open letter to the scientists of my generation:  -- --


 I am Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp which, as I'm sure you're aware, is
getting a tremendous amount of media attention at this time. Like I'm sure is true for many
of you, I was inspired by the scientific discoveries and events taking place during my
childhood to pursue a career in science only to find, after completing the rigors of
undergraduate and graduate school, that the opportunities for us to have a career in
science are limited at best and are which I usually describe as "abysmal." Based upon my
own experiences, and those of you with whom I have discussed this issue, my personal
feeling is that, unless there are some pretty drastic changes in the way that our society
approaches science and treats those of us who have devoted our lives to making some of our
own contributions, there is no way that I can, with a clear conscience, encourage
present-day students to pursue a career in science. It really pains me a great deal to say
something like that, but I feel so strongly about this that I have publicly made this
statement at almost every opportunity I have been given.  I am trying to use the media
attention that is currently being focused upon me to raise awareness of this state of
affairs, and perhaps start to effect those changes that will allow me to convey a more
positive message to the next generation. So far, I'm sensing a certain reluctance among the
media to discuss this issue, as they seem far more interested in items which I consider to
be irrelevant and unimportant. But I intend to keep hammering away at this, and I'd like to
believe that eventually some are going to sit up and take notice. I am also attempting to
schedule meetings with some of our government leaders, to see if I can at least get some
acknowledgement from Washington that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. My
reason for writing to you is to ask your help. I know that I'm not alone in being
frustrated about the current prospects for pursuing any kind of decent career within
science, and I'm quite sure that many of you have "horror stories" about your searches for
decent employment that are quite similar to my own. I'd like to hear them. I'd especially
like to hear from those of you who are on your second or third or fourth post-doc, or who
have left the field as a result of the employment situation, or who have experienced severe
personal difficulties (e.g., break-up of a marriage, etc.). I realize that some of these
might be painful to discuss, but I'd like to show that we are not a bunch of impersonal
statistics, but that we're human beings trying to make an honest living and perhaps make a
contribution or two to society while we're at it. Speaking of statistics, though, if you
received any information about the numbers of applicants to some of the positions you
applied to -- which was often a 3-digit number in my case -- I'd like to hear that, too. 
 Please e-mail your stories to me at ahale at nmsu.edu, with a subject line of "horror
stories" or something like that. Please let me know if you would prefer to remain anonymous
when I share these stories with the press and the government. Also, please pass this
message on to any of your friends and colleagues who might be interested in sharing their
stories with me, and keep in mind that I would like to receive stories from as many
scientific disciplines as possible. (Because of the amount of e-mail traffic I'm receiving
these days, along with everything else that's going on, I probably won't be able to
acknowledge each message individually.) Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from
you. Perhaps, with the opportunity we have before us right now, we have the chance to make
a difference. 
 Sincerely, Alan Hale




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