Old vs. new
Been enjoying this discussion over at Drugmonkey.
The gist of it is that a 70-year-old professor suddenly found out he was losing half his funding, and now has to fire several people, including several postdocs.
It's interesting to read the discussion, because some of us came down on the side of he's had long enough and some were very concerned about the trainees and what would happen to them. And several other valid points about how we evaluate productivity, how funding is distributed and maintained via things like endowments, and so on.
All of which got me thinking about something that has seriously colored my impression of old vs. new labs, and the different styles of departments.
I've worked in campus departments vs. medical schools, and these places can be wildly different. I've also worked for tenured professors vs. soft-money professors, and the difference is really quite striking.
Everything is different. The pace of research; the types of people doing it; the lab spaces; the age and functionality of equipment; attitudes of PIs toward mentoring vs. climbing over everyone to get to the top. And so on.
I used to think there was room in science for both kinds, but lately I'm wondering if the people who are just starting their campus labs are going to end up anything like the tenured professors in these departments now?
Will the new crop have a hard time getting tenure? Will tenure exist anymore? If they get tenure, will they eventually be as relaxed and happy as the tenured professors are now?
I mean, these are the happiest people with no retirement savings on the planet. They were already planning to work until they drop, and we know how much "work" most of them are doing. Aside from funding, what do they really need to worry about?
Case in point: for some of these senior professors, their biggest pain in life is having to teach, maybe as little as 1 class a year, but they still whine about it. It makes me wonder if I'm just completely clueless about teaching, or if they really have it so easy that teaching is as bad as their stress ever gets? Maybe both?
I guess I'm thinking about this because, even if I'm not going to be doing science myself, I'm curious to see how these things end up. I know some of these people getting hired now. And they would be my colleagues. So I'm not sure if I'd be missing that much. I'm pretty sure I would have been good at it. But as one friend put it to me a few years ago, I'm not sure the job I thought I wanted even exists anymore.
These people I admired as role models had a completely different time "coming up", as it were. I can't really admire them so much when I think how they all did a maximum of 2 years as a postdoc.
And I tend to block out this one fact: I have as much experience now as they had when they got tenure.
I chewed on that math for a while, and I realized something: maybe I've already had all the "career" I'm going to get. This many years, maybe it's enough?