20 March 2024

The precarious nature of scientific careers (inspired by Sydney Sweeney)

I recently read this article on actress Sydney Sweeney:


(I liked you in Madame Web, Sydney, don’t let the haters hate.)

I did not expect that a story riffing off the career of a successful Hollywood actress would resonate so much.

Because the article was pointing out that “success” has been so eroded that it is almost meaningless now. Sweeney is doing well for herself, but she dare not stop grinding.

Academia looks like this to me. Even if you achieve “success” — landing one of those increasingly rare tenure track faculty jobs — the grinding not only does not stop, it probably intensifies. Just like Sweeney doesn’t feel she can stop taking ads for Instagram posts or take off a few months to have a kid, how many researchers are subjecting themselves to long hours to write grant proposals and publish papers because they are told that if they stop swimming, they’ll drown?

Actors and scientists are far from alone in this predicament. It’s widespread. But I think it’s worth asking, “What does success look like?” And now, it looks like “success” has razor thin margins of error.

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