Monday, March 28, 2011

Same shit, different day.

Over the weekend I had another one of these unpleasant conversations with a guy I already knew I didn't like. This one went like this:

Guy: So, what do you do?

Me: Well, I'm unemployed right now. So, nothing.

Guy: What did you do before?

Me: Science.

Guy: Biosciences?

Me: Yeah.

Guy: What kind of job were you looking for?

Me: Well, I really wanted to be a professor. I did x # of years of postdoc.

Guy: You really don't look old enough to have done all that.

Me: Yeah, uh, thanks. Actually, I think that might be part of why I've had so much trouble getting a job. Nobody seems to think I look like I could be a professor.

Guy: Well, you could always go back to school for nursing.

Me: Uh, yeah, because I'm so nurturing and I really want to go back to school. Great idea, thanks.


I realized later that in that short conversation, he managed to reveal that he clearly thought that my most salient features are:

a) not credible
b) too young
c) very female

So naturally, I thought of my blog handle, and the subject of my last post about change. Some things really don't change as much as you'd think.


I had a conversation last week with an older woman who is not a scientist, but she has a friend who is married to a scientist. She seemed to think that because her friend's husband was able to get a job in a flyover red state, I should be able to get one if only I'd be willing to move to a remote, anti-choice anti-gay marriage location. And truthfully, I don't think I'd want to do that now. Up until last year, I would have done it. But not anymore.

Anyway, she seemed unwilling to believe that it's orders of magnitude easier for an older man to move to a new department after already being on the tenure-track than for a younger unemployed woman to get hired into an assistant professor position anywhere.

Because she had the authoritative dataset of (n=1).


Oh, and let's not forget the conversation with the woman whose teenage son wants to go into the biosciences. She said he's working in a lab at the university!

I said that's great, I did that when I was his age.

Her jaw dropped.

And I went on to get my PhD, I told her. And I did all this postdoctoral training. And I can't find a job.

Maybe all mothers are like this about their sons, I don't know. She seemed to think her son was like, exceptionally gifted or something. And maybe he is, but I suspect she has no idea how many equally smart people there are with similar aspirations.

I tried to explain that the job market is very crowded, and will probably stay that way, so he might be better off finding a different career path now, while he's still young and has the freedom to look around easily.

Of course she seemed to think I must be insane, or stupid, or both.

So what else is new.

- InsaneStupidYoungFemaleUnemployedScientist.

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At 3:09 PM, Anonymous chall said...

it's not only mothers and sons. It's the whole "my child is gifted and therefore they will get a job" when in fact that has nothing (or not as much as one would want) to do with it.... as we* all know.

there are plenty of us, and not as many jobs?!

I hope you can find something soon. It must be stressful being unemployed.

And yes, I get the "you don't loook like you are old enough to have that" when I state it's more than 6 years ago since i defended my PhD thesis... need more wrinkles?
*talented post docs with years of experience

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, my family especially my mom thinks I'm a complete failure in life because not only have my husband and I decided we don't want to have kids, but after getting my PhD in a physical science field so many years ago, I still don't have a 'real job.' since to my mom - and I suspect to a lot of parents who are not familiar with academia no matter how much you try to explain the system to them - having a Phd should mean that I am guaranteed a big fat paycheck and my pick of excellent jobs and the fact that I have low wages and zero job security and few viable job choices makes her think that something must be very wrong with ME. she never fails to wring her hands and lament where did she go wrong as a parent whenever she sees her neighbors or our extended family. So not only do I have to deal with my own academic career setbacks and frustrations, but I have to deal with my family's disappointment in me as well!

(note: I paid my own way through college and grad school, so it's not like my family paid for my education and thus feel cheated of their financial investment in me)

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Thinkerbell said...

Just a couple more months and I will join you as I too smack into the wall you hit a while ago.

Hard to believe that all those years of working my ass off, nice labmate, decent output, smarter-than-some is now buying me jack.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Kea said...

You're back! Oh, this has made my day. Sorry I missed the last few posts.

I have almost run out of academic job options here in NZ. Apparently, only young women are capable of being academics, or so I'm told. That lifetime of teaching myself everything against all odds and succeeding anyway; guess I must have imagined it all. There are jobs around here, too. One university up north just expanded their Physics dept by 30 percent. But then I was told that many young Europeans were keen to move to NZ, so there was a lot of competition. Of course, they would all be better scientists than I (being non male, non young, non European) would be, wouldn't they?

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my first postdoc ended last year I had to move to a flyover red state to get my current second postdoc position. After grad school I was adamant about not doing more than one postdoc and thought that I could continue to live in the east coast (I know I was naïve, but I was an ecologist that wanted to save the world). Turns out that I couldn’t compete with the permadocs in the job market applying for permanent positions (found out that the majority of candidates selected for interviews for the many positions I applied for had 5 years postdoc experience minimum) and took another postdoc instead. This second time around I wasn’t going to work for pocket change (I am still paying off those undergrad student loans) so I decided to take the postdoc in flyover red state because it was the only one I could get that paid a decent wage and that my spouse could also find a job. If after this I still can’t find a permanent position I’m out. I’m 34 and I feel I’ve put my life on hold for too long. I want to start a family and actually be able to buy things, maybe even brand new things. If I had to do it over I definitely wouldn’t have gone into science. I loved it as a kid and sometimes even now, but I should have kept it as hobby. It’s hard to talk about the life of science with my non-science friends and family. They don’t understand why a highly educated and motivated person working the hours that I do can’t make very much money and will move every few years for a new temporary job doing the same thing. Every time I visit I get the question of why I don’t settle down and get a job at local State U. Well, enough of my little rant. Thank you YFS for showing me I am not alone in my feelings (keep up the blog). We all live and learn; some of us the hard way.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I was kind of being sarcastic, because my parents were not like that. They always told me I had to work harder and nothing was guaranteed.

So if I didn't get anything, it meant I wasn't working hard enough.

Which basically translated into me getting the message that I was never good enough.

Anon, that sucks. I'm sorry that's happening to you.

I often wonder what my family says about me when I'm not there.


I know, right? I hope you have more luck than I did and that something might materialize in time to save you from feeling like it was a total waste.

Thanks Kea, I was never gone, just lurking.

The whole "only young women are capable of being academics" thing is total nonsense. I always think of that Fight Club scene where they tell the young guy he's too young, the old guy he's too old, the tall guy he's too tall. I had a conversation today with a hispanic friend who was told by two different schools that he was either too hispanic or not hispanic enough.


I feel exactly the same way. I put my life on hold to do this thing and the payoff doesn't exist.

Most people I meet can't understand why a highly educated and motivated person working long hours can't make very much money and will have to move around constantly for temporary positions.

And you know why? Because it doesn't make any sense!

Ugh. And it's really sad that it's news. The public has no idea that America's supposedly great scientific powerhouse runs on slave labor.

No, you're not alone. Feel free to come here and rant anytime. I will continue to post comments and sometimes comments inspire me to write a post.

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Quagmire said...

I would say scientists need a far more central approach to attacking the big scientific ponzi scam. This scam has loads of what looks like credibility from afar to the unsuspecting parents/students. I think a web site dedicated to people sharing their personal views is needed.

This article from inspired the idea:

Lots of chemists sharing their experience. However, I think a layer of credibility needs to be added. Such as comments need to originate from an email attached to an institution, but not publicly shown. The author may publicly post a pseudonym, experience level and institution to show they've put in some hard time behind the bench.

I think YFS and Andrei from would be the perfect people to regulate this activity. There can be PRO and CON sections so the PI's and ignorant people can have their PRO comments. I'm positive they will be outnumbered by the number of unemployed scientists shouting CON!

This seems harsh, but it's one way of attacking academia cheaply and doing some serious damage, hopefully without any legal crap. There could be nothing worse for a professor to be stuck with students who are too dumb to read such a website before dedicating their lives to science. At least before such a website, they would be likely to snag a hardworking, intelligent person, suck the life out of them before they wised up.

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sewa Mobil is a spam site, delete it.

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous FrauTech said...

So glad you're back.

And yes I'm pretty tired of the overpoud parents. Even mine have a tendency to that, and I hate it when it's just in front of me so can't stand to hear it in front of anyone else. They've finally realized after my years in corporate America that having a "smart" kid (who cares if I was even genius level?) plus an engineering degree does not equal success. My father who worked with engineers just never gets why I don't automatically get the perfect job and the perfect salary to go along with my education and work experience. I think they are finally getting that it is a different world and different job market now, but plenty of people are still ignorant.

I notice whenever I am asked and tell people that I am an engineer I tend to get supportive comments if it is a woman ("oh I could never do that, you must be so smart, what's it like, do you like what you do") and a lot of blank looks from guys followed by weird questions or statements that lead me to believe they are now competing with me. Sounds like that was the guy's motivation for telling you you could be a nurse, it was his way of putting you in your place by implying your skill level is *almost* equal to that of a person who *could* embark on a two year vocational program. Also I like how he just tells you straight away what you could do (clearly he knows best for you) rather than asking you questions about what you'd want to do or being curious about who you are at all.

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Because she had the authoritative dataset of (n=1)."

I definitely laughed at this part. Because it is so hilarious and true.

I found a faculty position, but just like you said - it is in a red, fly over state. Kansas. Which sucks. But, Kansas City, which doesn't suck. When I came out for my interview and spent the entire weekend here just to see if I could live here. And I could. So when they offered me the position I accepted.

Honestly, I was surprised (coming from San Diego) how much of what I expect Kansas to be was misconception on my part. At least for Kansas City - I can't speak for rural Kansas. =)

Anyway, while I was hesitant about Kansas, best decision ever.

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are one tiresome woman. My sympathies to the poor folks that try to make polite conversation with you.

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Michael Adams said...

Came across your blog via , so at least people know you're out there. Pox on the guy that said nursing: the people I know who are or have trained for that are nowhere near PHD level of education, and a love of Humans that few possess.

Spend some time on Reddit: r/science & r/iwantout maybe?

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Grace V said...

can't believe somebody has a very similar experience! i don't have anybody to talk to about this perception issue. so glad to have found this blog.

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi MsPHD, loved reading your posts-truly heartwarming (while neurotic at times), and always wonderful. I was wondering if you I have this honor of getting you to publish a guest post on my maths blog? I am a Singaporean tutor by the way. It would be awesome to introduce my readers to you. I can be reached at if you are interested to discuss further. Thanks and god bless.

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Hm...Reading this made me think that I'd be better off taking a potential job in industry for a few years before going to graduate school. Why did you mention in this entry that you would've taken some time to work before graduate school?

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 1:23 AM,

Glad you like the blog, although calling me neurotic probably not the best way to get me to want to interact with you further.


I would've taken a year to work in a company before grad school if I had known how much it would help me get a job in the long run. The people I know who did 2-3 years as technicians before grad school all have good industry positions now, because they had relevant connections, lines on the CV, and a better idea of what they wanted to do in the context of a company.

And maybe I would have chosen a different grad school, different advisor, different thesis project? Especially if I had set my sights on going back to industry, I would have chosen differently.

And I think I would have had a better idea about whether I would ever be happy in Real Job or if I should hold out for a faculty position at all costs (or die trying).

At 12:45 AM, Blogger Cindy said...

Dude. Do us all a favor.

1. Go into politics
2. Champion the need for funding and scientific advancement, and how fucked we are if science stays at it is today
3. Become international rock-star
4. ???
5. Profit!!

At 2:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But then again, if you had worked in industry before grad school, you might not have even gone back to grad school. You might have become enmeshed in and focused on chasing other goals within industry and then years later get burnt out or laid off and think you're now too old to go back to school and you should have just gone straight to grad school....

(but even if that happened you would at least have more money at the end of the day from being in a real job rather than being a grad student and can never have too much money because if one feels they have "too much" money they can always become philanthrophists)

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I love this. Extra points for South Park reference!

I have thought about doing policy somehow, but I don't think I could handle the stress and I don't want to live in DC. I just get too upset with stupid people, and I'm not persuasive enough.

When I was a kid I always wanted to be class president, etc. but I never won any elections in my life. I'm not that likable.


Absolutely. But I didn't say everyone should stay in industry forever, and I'm pretty sure I would have wanted to go back to school so I could move up the ladder. I'm too independent and leadership-oriented, I suck at following and I have a very hard time respecting "superiors" who aren't. I'm pretty sure I would have said, as I did in academia, "Hey, I can do that!" (to quote Chorus Line).

And maybe I would have made ALL the same mistakes anyway, but having that one line of industry experience on my CV might have made all the difference. Can't go back and do the experiment, so we'll never know.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe I'm naive, but is there a reason you can't go into industry now? Why is this a ship that has already sailed?

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Gotta lol at the standard Biosciences question. Like, because, obviously a woman would be doing Easy Science, right? And everyone knows Biosciences are easy, not like the Man Sciences.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@Anon, there just aren't a lot of jobs.
@Kea, yeah, I wasn't sure if he had heard me mention something about it before, or just because there's generally more people in biosciences, or what. Of all the stuff he said, though, I would have let that slide without the nursing comment! Still not sure if that was just a badly-delivered attempt at a joke.

Yesterday I was talking to a girl who wants to go back for a PhD in Sociology (I told her not to expect to be able to get a job afterwards), and she referred to my field as a "hard science". It's all relative!

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms PhD,
your field is a "hard science" because of all the pricks!

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Oh, well I find this kind of comment quite common; complete strangers who are quite determined that I must not be qualified in Physics ... because, like, they were into that geeky stuff when they were a nerd at high school and you couldn't possibly know more about it than they do.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

jc, that's true.

But also, it does incorporate more of the "hard" sciences than many other "bio" sciences, at least the way I do it.

I've also been told that I can't possibly succeed because my field is "too hard". This from a guy who is now a lower-eukaryote genetics professor, who confessed that he attempted to work in my field when he was a postdoc.

I just love that. To me, that's the height of arrogance. "It's too hard for me, therefore it will be too hard for you!"

At 1:38 AM, Blogger r-a said...

thanks for the blog. i'm a phd-student in biosciences and lots of posts in your blog are like "omg, the same shit" or smth.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger quill7111 said...

I'm finishing a PhD in the humanities *GASP* and while certain aspects of the career paths are different, times are certainly tough all around. Jobs are definitely scarce for us too, and I have often encountered similarly surprised reactions from family and friends when I tell them that my PhD in german lit won't guarantee me immense amounts of cash and the adoration of millions of fans. My favorite response from people from my hometown to this conversation is the suggestion that I should try to get a job at the new Volkswagen plant that just opened in town.

In terms of gender difficulties for young women, it has always been very noticeable to me that as a young but bearded (and thus obviously professorial :-) man I have been accorded instant respect in a variety of academic contexts whereas young-looking female colleagues of mine are often disregarded without reference to their expertise.

All this leading to my growing commitment to my plan to ditch academia after the dissertation and start a brewery with a mechanical engineering PhD buddy of mine.

At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to take everything as some sort of personal insult, when in reality the guy was probably just making polite conversation and trying to give you some practical advice.


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