Friday, March 13, 2009

The Broken Career Path, or "What She Said"....

A great post this week over at Women in Astronomy on what the current "Decadal Review" process in the US Astronomy Community ought to be addressing with regard to the career path in Astronomy. I especially relate to the quote:
Considering how I feel about being a postdoc right now, I'm not really looking forward to the future, if this is as good as it gets.
I said a couple of weeks ago (in this post) that I was starting to see the good side of postdoc life - but actually I think what I was starting to see is how much worse it will get if I ever manage to become faculty. Is that really what I want in life..... I'm starting to think not.

Hannah says:
it's a wonder that much astronomy gets done in the winter.
- I think it's a wonder any gets done by any postdoc! Perhaps this is the advantage Australian astronomers have and why there seem to be so many of them relative to the population of Australia (can't explain Holland though...).
Sometimes I think that the ones who get the jobs are the ones who are stubborn enough to just keep applying rather than the ones who are the best scientists.
This could have come right out of my mouth. So reassuring to know I'm not the only one thinking this!

Hannah goes on to suggest some solutions to the problem including:
to simply decrease the number of PhDs being produced to match the number of jobs. And now I hear all the department chairs out there laughing. Given that the number of students a department attracts is a measure of its success, I don't see that happening any time soon.

This I don't think is the answer at all anyway. I think Hannah's next point is much more important. My friend at the Visible Universe (who is too busy being a big TV researcher now to blog) put it very well in response to one of my very first posts here:
I don't believe that money is wasted if a student doesn't pursue a research career. There are many fields where individuals with real, hands-on science experience are desperately needed--science policy, science journalism, education--and having scientifically trained people in those positions can only be a good thing for the field.

I now firmly believe that the more science PhDs there are out in the world the better. But they need to be educated in such a way as to see the value of their training outside the narrow limits of academic research. There ought to be stipulations on funding for graduate students that they spend a certain about of time being educated about all the fun, exciting and worthwhile things they can do after graduate school. And the research faculty either need to be trained to do this, or forced to involve non-academic astronomers in the process. I shouldn't be sitting here today, a relatively successful scientist, with a PhD and lots of great skills wondering if I could get any job at all if I decide to "give up" on Astronomy. Who killed my confidence? I know it died in the last couple of years of graduate school.... was that my fault, or do I claim to be a victim of a broken system....

Hannah says again:
Now I hear all the professors grumbling, "why should we bother investing our time and energy to train graduate students in astronomy if they aren't going to continue in astronomy?" To which I can only say, "why are you training them for jobs that don't exist?"

Couldn't put it better myself.

Sorry for a slightly down post on a Friday. It's been one of those weeks.

2 comments:

Astronomum said...

A great follow on post over at "Women in Astronomy" about how we could all get a pep talk by learning all the other options there are out there to use our Astronomy degrees "for good in the world".

Mrs. CH said...

There ought to be stipulations on funding for graduate students that they spend a certain about of time being educated about all the fun, exciting and worthwhile things they can do after graduate school.

I posted recently about something similar. Funny enough, a former labmate of mine commented that, in fact, the undergrads had such seminars in our department...but not the grad students. Why not?

Who killed my confidence? I know it died in the last couple of years of graduate school...

That's when it happened to me too! I think that's just the point where you start thinking seriously about your next step in life. Once I realized just a little bit that it wasn't for me, it was all (down?) hill from there!