Response to several comments on last post
yolio- That's exactly the point of this post. NOBODY told me that you should choose your adviser rather than your research topic! It's actually kind of irrational, don't you think?
Perhaps relevant to our readers- Who told you? A faculty member? Friend from school? Friend of the family?
Anon- What if you're not working on XYZ and you have no interest in XYZ but the only "good" advisers work on XYZ? Might I be just as well off being bored making bagels as working on XYZ if I don't give a shit about it?
I think the big picture is that many people are NOT doing interesting science! Most people are doing "me too" science! Or "fund me please I'll do whatever is in style!" science!
And I really find disgusting the notion that I should have to work on something else just because the climate is foul and the mentoring missing in my field.
I mean, just think about that for a moment.
To me, this is the tragedy. Science could be making SO MUCH MORE PROGRESS if it weren't so supremely fucked up. We could have cured any number of diseases if it weren't for this "I gotta protect myself by finding a friendly mentor" limit on choosing a research topic, and the assumption that it's not just the ONLY but the "best" way to become a scientist. It may be nothing more than the best way to get a degree in how to do irrelevant science, as far as I can tell!
It's like that parable about the person who drops their keys on a dark street, but they keep looking around under the lamp. When someone asks why they're looking near the lamp they say, "But it's so dark where I actually dropped them!"
labrat- It has been suggested to me repeatedly that I should consider working for free. PIs already know it can be gotten under the right circumstances from desperate people.
It would be one thing if my adviser were a good mentor who had really tried to help me up to this point and failed due to outside circumstances and if I knew it would be temporary and I were guaranteed to get a job after a short period of volunteering. Unfortunately, that is NOT the case.
Anon @4:28 said:
Postdocs do rotations, but they are one or two years long. That's the beauty of a post-doc: since you already have your degree, if the situation sucks, you can walk away.
This is LUDICROUS. And perhaps most importantly, while it may be kind of true, apparently nobody has told any of the funding agencies. If you want to get, or already have a fellowship, you CANNOT do this.
And who the hell goes into their postdoc assuming they will switch at least twice before they find the right one? WTF is that?
But I totally agree about the "didn't get tenure" advisor generally being the one who actually was a good mentor.
Toni- I think the point is that most of us have tried lowering our expectations, but sometimes you can end up selling yourself short and getting stuck (see case in point: this blog).
But I agree that in the current climate, even more people are feeling pressured to take really shitty situations they would never have considered otherwise.
Anon- @ 9:29- thanks, will check out those links on mentoring.
Anon @12:08 wrote:
I agree that the chances of having an advisor and lab that meets all the ideal criteria are extremely slim. But is it necessary for all those criteria to be fulfilled in order to be successful? I think as long as a couple of those criteria are met, then surely things should be OK?
That's what I thought, but look where it got me!
I think the point is, you can't have everything. You might muddle through and publish a paper or a few, even if the mentoring is lacking.
But my point is that at the endgame, if the critical things are missing, you also CAN'T GET AN ACADEMIC JOB.
The "system" as it currently exists assumes that everyone behaves ideally (like an oversimplified college-level physics problem). Unfortunately, very few people even try to be the best mentors they can be.
And since we're all human, very few actually succeed at being the ideal mentor even when they have good intentions.
We need to deliberately design a system where mentoring is a bonus, not a pre-requisite. Perhaps if we had more objective criteria, bidirectionally anonymous review, and a variety of other improvements, this is something we could actually do.
The current half-assedness that passes for being systematic is wasting a lot of talent, effort, and taxpayer money. Not to mention time for people who are sick and need our help.