Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alternative career biographies.

Saw a link to Uncertain Principles over at FSP in the comments recently (posted by Dr. Pion).

Check out several posts tagged PNAS: since many of them are about science-related careers that do not require a PhD, and they are in all different areas (geophysics, astronomy, enzymes, high-throughput drug screening, etc.).

Note that in almost every case, the inteviewees mention that sometime during graduate school, they realized they did not want to stay in academia.


As an aside, for those of us who did not make that decision deliberately or early on, I wonder if Chad will find anyone willing to say on the record that they ended up doing something different as a backup plan after wanting to stay in academia? Seems unlikely, but it must happen to postdocs quite frequently nowadays?

Maybe everyone just rationalizes it so they don't look at it that way?

I'm thinking of examples like my friend who wanted to be a professor, but ultimately took a job in industry to support his family, so his kids could continue going to the same schools and wouldn't have to move. He was forced to make a choice, because he knew he wouldn't have many options about location, and the salary of a PI wasn't going to be enough to support his two kids.

I'm thinking of search committees who complain that they "can't find anyone good".

I wonder if search committees have caught on to realizing how bad it is that we're losing really good people who can't rationalize becoming faculty for these kinds of life-quality reasons?

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At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the people who are in their backup plan career aren't really the ones who are willing to speak up about alternate careers. I think the people willing to be interviewed make it seem as if "everyone" decided early on to choose an alternate career.

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue that is missed is that, institutionally, they don't care. Yeah, search committees are pissed that they did a lot of work, but they don't want to hire anyone if they can get away with it. There are too many competing interests in most departments. And they don't want to piss anyone off.

Or they'd rather keep the opening on the books and unfilled to either get lucky and snag a superstar or so they can get some political capital within the university by making it available as a spousal slot.

In reality all they want to do is hire the lowest risk people - people with money and tenure already. In today's economy, why should they take a risk on anyone unproven? It's all about the Benjamins.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Diaphoresis said...

I am a career-changer who went from academia to medical publishing. No regrets. There is an oversupply of hignly-qualified post-docs looking, no, begging for faculty my current position I see the fruits of my labor more immediately...& despite what ppl say about the corporate world, there is more team spirit in companies, everbody ultimately has 1 goal-to increase profit, there is no my lab/space/grant. Also one focuses on what one's real job is rather than writing/rewriting grants. Not that there aren't conflicts in companies, but it is easier to tolerate.
Also as a cancer survivor, I started realizing how little of basic research affected real health problems, while technical advances have greatly benefited medicine, few new findings ever leave the lab to ultimately become useful drugs. So, no second thoughts in that regard, either. In fact, I now have far more respect for 'applied' research, even if it less exciting in a knowledge sense, & much of that rese arch is either done by industry & by MD-PhD groups.

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When people are forced out of a career after having invested many years and a lot of money, there is a sense of failure. Thus, they are not likely to want to talk about it. Or if they do, there is a natural tendency to try and put a more positive spin on it by saying "I decided to leave" rather than "I was forced to leave". They may even come to believe it themselves. I know - I'm one of them.

At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jorge Cham, author of the comic PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper) about the travails of graduate school, wanted to be an academic but didn't get a job. He says so very straightforwardly in an interview with Science published recently.

At 7:05 AM, Blogger Field Notes said...

I definitely wanted to be a professor, but ultimately took a job in industry to support my family, and so we could continue to live where I wanted to live. I applied for academic jobs but I was very picky about where I was willing to live and what kind of college I was willing to work at. I interviewed at a few but realized once there that none was a good fit for what I wanted for quality of life. I realized I could either have the job I wanted but hate life there or enjoy life but accept a lesser job. I chose the latter, and although sometimes I feel like a failure for not 'getting' an ideal academic job, I don't regret my decision. I've never been happier.

At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

some of us haven't even made it to a backup career plan, but are still doing the same odd jobs we did when 14 years old. except now, we are trying to pay rent instead of saving it to pay tuition!

it is utterly, totally, completely depressing to fail at what we love and have invested our entire lives into, and to be left doing worthless tasks that we hate just to barely survive in total poverty.

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