12 September 2013

“Academia or bust?” should not be a new question

Nature’s Lauren Morello covers the cold water that is finally waking up American scientists to a situation that has been brewing for years. Federal funding for sciences has changed, probably irrecoverably. Nobody seems to have contingency plans.

The piece ends with this revealing quote from Laura Niedernhofer:

Although (Niedernhofer) is continuing her ageing research with her three postdocs, she has a new standard question she asks before hiring them: will they consider only academic research as a job? “I can’t guarantee that they will get that,” she says, “and I don’t want to be the one to break their hearts.”

There is just so many presumptions built into that statement.

First, there’s the presumption that academia is the One True Career Path. There’s the implication that anything else is a failure. Why else would it be viewed as “heartbreaking” to not get an academic job?

Second, there’s the presumption that somehow, having trouble getting an academic career is a new thing, when the stats have shown for years that most people who get doctoral degrees don’t go into academia. Academia is the “alternative career,” and has been for a long time. This situation didn’t start with sequestration, and won’t end if every federal science funding agency got a 10% budget increase. It won’t end if every federal science funding agency had its budget double.

It’s always good to ask people you’re hiring about their career aspirations. But if this is a good question today, it would have been even better if people had started asking it ten years ago or more.

Additional, 13 September 2013: See Scicurious’s take on the pressures of “academia or bust.”

External links

More cuts loom for U.S. science
Renaming alternatives

1 comment:

jebyrnes said...

I still waffle on putting this into my advice for prospective students. But as time goes by, I become more and more inclined to do so...