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(Science Magazine)   Science grad schools: "We don't want your kind around here, Mr. I-have-hobbies-and-a-life"   (sciencecareers.sciencemag.org) divider line 12
    More: Sad, graduate schools, ecology and evolutionary biology, molecular biology, mendelian, Changing the Game, Case Western Reserve University, postdocs, beakers  
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6815 clicks; posted to Geek » on 26 Dec 2012 at 4:34 PM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2012-12-26 04:49:36 PM
2 votes:
Dear Mr. Feynmann,

We received your application and we are impressed with your history of accomplishment. However, your interest in "drumming" makes us conclude that you are not properly focused on science, and we have decided to give the scholarship to a geek drone who won't come up with any creative solutions.
2012-12-27 03:31:20 PM
1 votes:

Braindeath: I think doing those two majors would make you as serious about math as humanly possible.

Often not from the point of view of a Mathematician. Physics isn't "pure" math.
2012-12-26 10:03:24 PM
1 votes:

Doc Daneeka: Oh, I knew full-well what the future would have held had I stayed in academia. Postdoc after postdoc after postdoc, working like a dog for slave wages in pursuit of the small percentage chance of landing a tenure-track position somewhere, and then if that lucky, spending every waking hour for several years fighting to publish enough and win enough grants (a ridiculous chunk of which the university skims of the top) to gain tenure. And do all that while fulfilling the onerous teaching obligations universities like to drop on junior faculty. A life of solitude, sleep-deprivation, tunnel-vision, and paranoia. I've seen it, and it isn't a pretty picture.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

I'm a postdoc and I make $80,000 a year. My full-coverage insurance with no deductible is $100 a month. I get 20 days of paid vacation per year and I'm REQUIRED to take them. My boss doesn't even care if I come in to work (I do computational chemistry so I can do 90% of it from home) so long as I'm getting results.

I'm not saying this to brag or anything. I didn't do anything special to get this job, and I didn't know it was going to be this good before I came here. I'm just saying that America could probably learn a thing or two from the rest of the world about how to do research. I can't help but wonder if more and more Americans are going to leave America for other countries where they can still do good science, but not have to work themselves to death to do it.

It's not worth it.
2012-12-26 08:20:49 PM
1 votes:

uknowzit: nekulor: By the way, since this thread seems to be filled with scientists, grad school or try to go straight into industry? I ultimately want to work in biotech.

Unless you are going to do research you don't need a Ph.D. to make decent money. Get your undergrad in Biology and then get an MBA. You can end up running biotech companies.

Yeah. A PhD isn't strictly necessary unless you want to do research. That said, I'd recommend getting more than just a bachelor's. I got a job as a lab tech straight out of my undergraduate degree and it was mind-numbingly boring. For me. I quit after 5 months to go do a PhD. Great experience though.

trotsky: Let me add to this: go to the wrong school, have the wrong advisor, get a job at the wrong place... you're fried. Done. Third tier, grade Z. It's absolutely pathetic. I've known a few people who know their shiat but are shafted because of pedigree. Yes, myself included. It's extraordinarily depressing (yes, actual, real depression) to know that no matter what you do, no matter how good your stuff is, you will never get a job anywhere decent because you went to the wrong grad school and your first job was at the wrong location.

nekulor, you should also probably pay some attention to this. Depending on what exactly you want to do, going to the right school and working for the right supervisor is critical. Not quite so important if you go into industry, but it can matter a lot if you decide to stay in academia.

I went to a state school for my undergraduate degree and got a B.S. in chemistry. For my PhD I went to England, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I went to a mid-level school and worked for a low-level supervisor. I only got one paper out of my PhD--in a mid-level journal--and when it came to applying for postdocs I was flat-out rejected for many and didn't even bother applying for many more.

I ended up doing a postdoc in China. The money was shiat and I was the only non-Chinese person in the entire place, but it was the top biological institute in China, and in a little over a year I got 2 papers and 2 book chapters. Now I'm on my second postdoc at a mid-level university in Australia and I'm on track to publish 4-6 papers a year, and one or two of those may even end up in Nature or a Nature-associate journal, like Nature materials. I've been here for a year, and plan to stay another 2. By 2015 my resume should be good enough to get me an associate professor job at a mid-level university in America.
end CSB

The reason I'm sharing my story is just to point out that it is very important that you choose your schools and professors wisely--depending on what you want to do. If you want to be the top guy in your field and get a Nobel Prize, you do have to go to the right schools and work for the right people. But if you just want a decent job and an unmemorable career, it's not so important. I think is is possible to claw your way back up to a respectable level if you get off to a bad start like I did, but if you take the path I took you will never be at the top of your field.

On the other hand, I played sports and rock climbed all over the world throughout my studies, and I wouldn't have been able to do that, I don't think, if I'd worked for the top guys. And I have no regrets.

Those are my thoughts, anyway. You can take them for what they're worth. Which isn't much, really.
2012-12-26 07:49:52 PM
1 votes:

nekulor: By the way, since this thread seems to be filled with scientists, grad school or try to go straight into industry? I ultimately want to work in biotech.

Some things to consider:

1. How much control do you need to have over projects to be happy? Going into industry with a BS will likely mean having to work your way up over several years. If you're doing bench work, you're likely to spend months doing repetitive, maybe boring tasks. In this case, my advice would be to be patient, and show initiative, and learn as many things you can put on your resume as you can. This could help you at that employer, and give you more control over your next position.

2. Johns Hopkins offers a Masters in Biotechnology. Maybe not the best example, because it's expensive as hell, but they seem to have gotten some things right. Namely, that some people want a degree focused towards industry. You may want to see what's available in your area. Even better, if you find a job at a solid company with your BS, you might want to look into whether they'll pay for a degree like this.

3. In biotech, I think a doctorate will price you out of the market. Had I realized this, I just might have quit my program early for a Masters. Once you get your PhD, the assumption is that you will want to run your own lab, so you'll have a very tough time applying for technician positions. There is a glut of postdocs right now, and very very few positions for them to advance into. I realize it's only an anecdote, but I have a friend from grad school that applied for a technician position, and was competing with people ranging from BS degrees to former principle investigators. That's ridiculous. (And he studies MRSA for God's sake--and he can't find work?). If the job market looked like it would get better, I might recommend the PhD and working through a postdoc or two...but that was my plan, and things haven't turned around yet.

4. If there are specific companies you are interested in, do research into them, and find out as much as you can about what they're looking for. If you are lucky, they may have someone you can contact for advice. If your school has career services, use them as much as you can to find receptive contacts, information about prospective employers, etc.

5. Take whatever opportunities you can to get lab experience while you are an undergrad. This cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to enter the workforce right after school. You'll be able to show an employer you can do something they expect you to do, and you can probably get a great recommendation from someone that knows you personally from the work you do.

Just my 2 cents. Good luck.
2012-12-26 07:29:19 PM
1 votes:

scumbucket: It's been said here already, but it used to be that to be considered a "Man of Science" you HAD to be well rounded. This usually took the form of fooling around ("experimenting") with whatever the latest fad was, but regardless, those folks got results.

For example: In the years immediately preceding the 19th century, all respectable scientific minds were "experimenting" with unmanned hot air balloons. One young man, a medical doctor who had gained entrance to the Royal Society for a treatise on the common cuckoo, managed to land his balloon and start a small fire in a garden belonging to the father of the hottest girl in town, and in retrieving his balloon, finagled an introduction to the girl, eventually marrying her. As a doctor he greatly advanced medical understanding of angina pectoris, and also brought vaccination against smallpox into widespread use. This was, of course, Edward Jenner, and his work in vaccination has been opposed and vilified by Jenny McCarthy types ever since.

I think scientists should still be reasonably well-rounded, and most I know are. My supervisor loved to travel, loves music, good food, good wine, good booze, etc. He had plenty of interests outside of work and would be worried about trainees who spent too much time at the lab. His supervisor has a huge interest in art, photography, and philosophy of science and talked regularly with us about all three if you cared to. Many profs who were on my committee, in my department, or worked in the same group of labs had plenty of outside interests that they did. SCA, woodworking, sports, hiking, camping, etc.

Of course on the intellectual pursuit side it is far more difficult to be THAT knowledgeable today on a broad array of subjects. We know so much more, in so much more detail, it is very difficult to be a polymath to any sort of depth. There are a rare few but overall I think we should be encouraged to be as well-read and learned as possible. I consider my scientific interests and pursuits fairly broad.
2012-12-26 07:24:28 PM
1 votes:

nekulor: By the way, since this thread seems to be filled with scientists, grad school or try to go straight into industry? I ultimately want to work in biotech.

If you want to work in Biotech and want to be at peak employability in terms of the number of positions you will neither be under- or overqualified for, get a Master's degree and stop there. With a bachelors you won't be qualified for most jobs that have progression potential. With a PhD there will be fewer jobs available at that level.
2012-12-26 07:08:33 PM
1 votes:
I didn't realize that this was meant to be a documentary:

2012-12-26 05:28:59 PM
1 votes:

No Such Agency: SnakeLee: Millennium: There's a certain myth of a "pure" scientist out there: someone for whom the pursuit of scientific knowledge, not necessarily to do anything with it but simply to know, is life's highest and ultimate calling, to be pursued with quasi-monastic zeal. This myth is what institutions like the ones mentioned in TFA are pursuing.

I know people like that, but they are rare.  They also have lots of grant money, but I don't know why anyone would live that way by their own choosing.

.. and they're frequently raging, raging ASSHOLES, because things like "I can't do that experiment tomorrow, my mother is dying" are not considered valid excuses from their students. Oddly enough they're usually smart enough to be nice to people with more power than them. Their labs have all the esprit de corps of a North Koreean gulag, but they do tend to publish regularly in high-impact journals.

My problem with academia is that they pretend they're not a business like any other. They pretend they're still some "ivory tower of intellectualism" and discovery, while they ignore the realities of their business model, and shirk their responsibilities to properly train their students.

I have no problems with the rules of science as a business--publish often, publish well, and publish first. There are no prizes for second place. That is how the world works. But universities have been very reluctant--almost embarrassed--to openly address the reality that the pipeline of tenure-track careers is an utterly broken system. I think this results in a pool of graduate students, soon to be postdocs, that are woefully ill-equipped and poorly trained for the skill sets they need to be successful in the job market. For them to act as if the system works in any way like it did 20-30 years ago is totally irresponsible.

Scientists today need a great deal more practice writing grants--entire courses devoted to it--if they intend to make it at the bench. And since less than 50% of life science graduates actually remain at the bench, universities need to take a much more proactive role in preparing their graduates for applying their "translatable skills", and encouraging them, rather than ridicule them, for looking for jobs away from the bench.
2012-12-26 02:09:20 PM
1 votes:
This is where Chinese students make great grad students - they're machines.  They simply toil, hour after hour and day after day.  Most I knew would work 7 days/week, 12-18 hours/day, for years.  Fark that.

/PhD biochemist
//Likes beer and sports more than the lab
2012-12-26 01:20:41 PM
1 votes:
'zebrafish nematodes xenopus" - Spreading yourself a little thin there, in the opinion of The Committee.
2012-12-26 01:02:22 PM
1 votes:
There's a certain myth of a "pure" scientist out there: someone for whom the pursuit of scientific knowledge, not necessarily to do anything with it but simply to know, is life's highest and ultimate calling, to be pursued with quasi-monastic zeal. This myth is what institutions like the ones mentioned in TFA are pursuing.
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