Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nuke the system: response to Hope

If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you know I think that science is currently trapped in a system that assumes mentoring is the best of all possible worlds, which tells us that doing a long postdoc is a privilege, where even while data fraud goes unreported and unpunished, we keep having to reinvent the wheel because what we used to know is quickly forgotten, where publishing is governed by unspoken rules and and fraught with corruption not to mention sexism and hiring is dependent on funding which is also completely misguided and broken not to mention publishing requirements that have never been shown to correlate with future success. There also seems to be a general trend of preference for hiring foreign men over American women.

There are some potential things that could force change. These include crazy things like a nationwide postdoc strike .

And I have made numerous suggestions for how we could reform science, if universities and funding agencies actually wanted to get together and do it.

I have also proposed repeatedly that it's bad for science that we have too much turnover among young scientists who are forced to leave or shut down their labs. We waste money training scientists who can't put the training to work.

incentives to regulate turnover of senior scientists because some of us as senior postdocs already have as much experience as the old guys had when they got tenure.

And yeah, the whole dual-career couple hiring thing is a problem, both for those searching and for those doing the searches. But do I think it's the most important problem? Not even close. Would I feel differently if I were in a dual-career job search? Maybe.

I think you're kidding yourselves. It's like saying sexism is the only thing wrong with science. It's not the only thing, and it's not the worst thing. Do I write about it a lot? Yes. Because I think it's important and under-discussed. Should it be our top priority? No.

I think we have much bigger fish to fry first.

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At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Cherish said...

I am curious what your solution to the fundamental issue is: how can you convince a system to overhaul itself when the people who are in charge would, in essence, be handing over their power? Those in charge are quite content to tell those who don't like the system to just leave rather than overhaul the system that has obviously worked for them. I don't feel there is really a good way to force anyone's hand on this issue.

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


My feeling is that it has to be like any other revolution. You have to stage a coup and forcibly take them down; impeach the president; whatever the analogy is when you're talking about essentially overthrowing a government.

You'd have to get enough people together who want to stand as a large enough group to take the power and say, "No, we're not leaving, YOU ARE."

I don't know how to do that. But historically, I'm told, it has worked.

Maybe things have to progress even further, the atrocities have to be sufficiently egregious, before enough people want to do it. Maybe the appropriately charming leader has to emerge and point the crowd in the direction of the castle - and the guillotine.

At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have proposed repeatedly that younger scientists should be given more credit and resources for working independently. "

If only. this is what is supposed to be happening now under the supposed label of "postdoctoral training." But in reality it will never happen because this would jeopardize/hurt the big fat rich PIs who got and stay that way through the underpaid labor of the young scientists they misleadingly claim to be "training" the whole time.

yes I agree that it's absurd that the current system supports the "training" of young scientists but then denies them the means to put all that "training" to work, for real. We are career trainees.

At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Female post-doc said...

Thanks for the post of links, some of which I have read and some of which I need to go back to read. Status quo and stalemates aren't going to help the science profession advance. I was in one department where they approached older faculty to give up their lab space to recruit new faculty and they did. My past two departments, it is not clear that this has worked. My new department had a job candidates husband interview after offering her (and two other women!!!) jobs!

At 11:04 AM, Blogger yolio said...

I just think you are going to see an increasing devaluation of academia as an institution. It isn't showing any signs of being capable of fixing itself, so it is just going to slowly lose social capital until it has used it all up.

In the meantime, the best and the brightest are going to flee to other institutions and taxpayers are going to be less and less willing to invest in a permanent faculty. We already see this with the reduction in the proportion of faculty in tenure track positions and the growth of online college. Also the growth of the private sector research, especially consulting.

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with yolio. There's an overall devaluation of college education, with online certification and "training" programs replacing graduate degrees. Tuition is too high, especially for such shitty job prospects. Women will continue to outnumber the men in grad degrees for alot of the sciences (especially public health), but men will continue to backlash against the "over"educated women for jobs. Men will continue to make more $ doing the same job as women.

There's not going to be much of a middle ground between good universities (that don't have skyrocketing tuition) and online degree programs. Short-term degree programs for specific jobs are the way to go now: two year nursing degree, 18 month MBA program, etc. I have been telling my students for YEARS not to pay for grad education. If 100% (or close to it) isn't paid for by the school, PI's grant, program, whatever, then it's not worth it to go into the hole for a degree that may not help in getting a job, UNLESS the degree GUARANTEES upward movement into a job (many online programs have scammed students already with promises of a job). And sadly, many students took out wayyyyy too much loan for their undergrad degrees. They are gonna be saddled for a long time.

"Higher" education is a ponzi scheme in many places, with admin salaries going up and up (and coaching salaries), and poorly-paid adjuncts doing the heavy lifting of intro courses and degree requirements. Like we are seeing elem schools shutting their doors, there will soon be empty buildings on college campuses. The system is on its last legs.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Therapeutic Ramblings said...

If only senior faculty could be put out to pasture when young scientists are poised to make meaningful contributions....

As for Anon and the education creep and over-abundance of online is a plague on academia. Think about what it takes to complete a research based/thesis driven MS compared to an online MBA that can be completed in 18 months in your pajamas. Both people end with Masters, so they are equal...right?


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