was it always this bad? Rafting the Grand

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Sun Aug 17 15:02:38 EST 1997

Hi you all,
	Well - I have been reading many of the post-doc threads and just
sorta shaking my head a lot going - thank goodness my silly post-docing is
	I think personally that most of the complaints about post-docing
really stem from two sources:  (1) the whole idea that "we" have spent
decades training and now we have this degree and should be done - that we
should be able to be paid what we are worth (not 20K);  and (2) the notion
that there simple aren't as many jobs (i.e. that people wind up
post-docing many times or upwards of 5-9 years because they can't find
a permanent position). It's hard to sit and effectively soapbox or find
solutions to the first issue because it really has to do with values and
education and requires more grassroots things (like better science
education and public perception of basic science issues). 
	The second issue, though, is the one that drives me crazy.  Most
of us "young un's" seem to think that the job crisis is a new one.  Last
year, in the middle of big doubts, I had dinner with a man who earned his
PhD from my dept. (where I got my degree) in 1969.  He laughed heartily at
my complaints about the job market and said - it was that bad when I got
my degree... what do you mean "new?"  He ended up dropping out of science
after many years of floating through research and teaching positions, none
of which were permanent. He now manages several rentals and is into the
real estate thing. 
	I certainly wasn't told there was a job crunch;  I was also not
even told what a post-doc was as an undergraduate applying to grad.
school.  Shoot - when I started grad. school, people who wanted to teach
small college didn't NEED a post-doc.  To me - that is something that HAS
	So - I am really curious... do people in the field perceive that
there has been a change?  Is is worse?  

	I will just add a little more personal lore here.  I have worked
with three fine post-docs during many years of my graduate training.  I
have watched my two grad. student compatriots take post-docs (we all
graduated about the same time).  Any objective outsider looking at all of
us would never have guessed where all of us would wind up - or where we
all may wind up. Shoot - I was ready to drop out of science a year ago
before even considering a post-doc...  but a six month one landed me a
tenure-track job.  My two friends who were grad. students can't believe it
- one went to the NIH and is making that lovely 32K starting salary that
began this thread.  One went to the UK, to a very competitive lab - also
making around that much.  Both have laughingly said they want to kill me
for getting the real position and are already concerned that they are
dead-ended and not going anywhere quickly.  And you really have to
understand that they were the stellar researchers - I was the one who took
the longest, struggled the most with molecular (because I came in with no
background in that stuff and was changing fields bigtime), who played the
most because that was how I dealt with stress.  They have the 3-4
publications from grad. school and clearly believe they deserve a big
academic job (not that that's what I took - but tenure-track sounds mighty
friendly to anyone in this big ill-defined process called post-docing).
	And meanwhile, I have watched the three post-docs in our lab go
2-3 years without being able to get jobs.  These are people who are
absolutely committed to research, have CVS and publications a mile long... 
and they cannot get jobs.  I think they have each applied to 100-300
places since I first met them.  In my year of job applications, I did
upwards of 70 with nothing... and then the next year (this year), I did
one and got it. 
	For me, honestly - nothing makes sense anymore.  Yes - I am happy
to be where I am and I can sit and say great things about the "work" but I
am hit with this pounding sense of fairness - or unfairness.  I actually
FEEL guilty for having gotten a job because I see so many people around me
who can't - who are into their 4-9 years of post-docing and ready to quit.
	It is too idealistic to say that we should sit back and accept
this kind of position because we simply love the subject matter, in my
opinion.  We are losing great minds to other fields.  We are driving great
people out of the field.  And that, to me, is tragic. 
	When I talk to undergrad's about what science training/PhDs are
about, I like to use the analogy of rafting the Grand Canyon.  I like to
say - well, if you want to guide yourself down the Grand, you have to put
yourself on a waitlist that, at present, is ten years long.  I know it
sounds really great to say - wow, I am going to raft the Grand Canyon...
but what does ten years really mean?  Upwards of 30% of all people, by the
end of that ten year period, bail... they are ten years older - they have
spouses or children;  they haven't been rafting in awhile;  they lost that
desire.  They are different people.
	That's what this whole process is like to me - you wait ten years
for the chance to go down the river.  You wait ten years for what you
think you want to happen to even begin.	


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