Get over your insecurity
Wow, well after the comments on my last post, I can't just let that go.
Here's the thing: if getting your PhD didn't convince you you're worthy, nothing will. If grad school wasn't hard enough for you, you must not have been trying. It's like college: you're going going to get out as much as you're willing to put in. And doing a postdoc is the same deal. It's not a holding pattern. It's not an end in itself. It's a means to an end. And if you don't know what that end is, you're in trouble, and yes, you're what's wrong with the current system. Of course you don't have to be 100% sure, but you should have some idea that you'd be reasonably satisfied doing one of the jobs for which a postdoc is a prerequisite.
Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like in the days when postdocs got paid even less than we make now. Granted, there's the whole classist thing I don't like, where you have to be independently wealthy to be able to afford a non-paying job or science as a hobby. But there was one benefit, as one psycho postdoc used to say: "Keepin' 'em poor and keepin' 'em hungry." If you knew you'd be poor, and always secretly wanted to be a starving artist, why not do that instead? The only people who wanted to do research for no money were the people who really wanted to do research.
Maybe we've made it too easy to not know. You don't see too many kids going to med school because they can't figure out what else to do. And those that do are not likely to graduate. But it seems like just about anybody can get a PhD these days, just because they've been in school for 6 years and most universities want to keep their average graduation time down for appearance purposes.
And as for social darwinism, whatever that is, I've never been a fan of the intro classes for weeding people out of the major. But I do think it's fair to say, you shouldn't go to grad school just because you don't know what else to do, and the same goes for a postdoc. And I certainly hope that, if you didn't know that going in, after the grad school experience, it's more than obvious!
Insecurity seems to be overtaking all of science. I don't know if it was always like this, but I'm tired of the backstabbing, passive-aggressive bullshit I see around me all the time. I've heard stories that some fields are so open about disagreements that they still frequently stand up and argue in front of an audience at meetings. I'd greatly prefer that kind of open debate to what we have now, at least in my field.
I'm not convinced we should coddle people who, by the time they reach the postdoc level, are so insecure they won't even apply for the jobs they actually want. Moreover, if you don't know yourself well enough to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, and you're in your late 20s or somewhere in your 30s, you're not just insecure, you're immature on top of it. Maybe we should force people to take a year off after grad school to find themselves and figure out what they really want to do with all that training we've wasted on them.
I mean, think about these insecure people. How are they ever going to cope with the grant review process? There's a lot of rejection in science. Our current system is very Darwinian, or as some people might say, very capitalist. Are we really doing anyone any favors by saying, '"Oh poor you, you think you're not good enough. Here, do an endless postdoc." ?