Tenure & Pipeline

S L Forsburg forsburg at nospam.salk.edu
Sat Jan 11 05:26:24 EST 1997

Karen Kustedjo wrote:

> All crabbiness aside, I am still hoping that there are some of you out there
> who might relate your thought process as you sorted out these questions for
> yourself.  I can't speak for others on this newsgroup (and Isis help me if
> I ever tried!), but I would like to learn and share this experience.
> I always try to reassure myself that if it started to look like I didn't or
> couldn't achieve what I expected to in science, I could divert to a couple of
> back-up plans:  go to med school, or perhaps learn how to program (gads!
> HTML takes a week to learn, and people are willing to pay me $40,000 to do
> that?)  Do any of you do that -- hedge your bets on your career?  Or did you
> do "double or nothing"?

I don't think it's possible to account for everything in advance--if not
plan A, then plan B?  No, life doesn't work like that, and if you
have blinders on and a rigid agenda, you tend to miss all 
those lovely unexpected possibilities that pop up along the way.
 I've always figured that smart people who can
think have options, or can create them.  It may take a while, but
there are always other things to do.

The mistake comes when people are ashamed to admit that maybe the
decision they made at 22 isn't right for them  at 30.
There's nothing wrong with changing your mind and direction, and
nothing sadder than someone who is obviously doing science because
she feels trapped after all this time, rather than because she wants to.
I have said before that the work you do for a PhD is intrinsically
valuable, quite apart from the degree.  The journey matters, not just
 the destination.  

My advice to an undergrad who isn't sure is to take a year or two off,
as a technician, and get a good taste of doing science.  It's a big
mistake to rush off to graduate school just because that's what
everyone seems to expect, or because it's the next thing to do.
This is a long term commitment and a helluva hard job.  You want to
know what you are getting into, and whether it is the right thing for
The world is a big place and at 21 most of us have seen only a 
very small part of it.  If you find that you DO want to do science,
there isn't a problem.  A prospective graduate student who has taken
time out and gotten experience has if anything an advantage over the
students straight out of college.

-- susan

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S L Forsburg          forsburg at salk.edu
The Salk Institute    http://flosun.salk.edu/~forsburg
La Jolla, CA

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