Thursday, January 06, 2005


Still I remain an undergrad for some personal reasons (most are stupid reasons)... but that doesn't hinder me to learn, by my own(in my own meager-poor ways), some of the fields in science that I'm interested most. As always has been, I'm a risk taker ( not to mention that most often a stupid risk taker) but my failures in some other aspects of my life don't shy me out from
getting myself involved( trying) in a scientific endeavor that only grad studes here in the Philippines are ought to be doing... and I'm just too happy and grateful so far that I'm not being marginalized out from participating in any scientific conference regardless that I am still an undergrad... no prejudice about it so far... doing science(physics) is fun, tiresome, sometimes sickens the mind but no nutcase ever... !

So, I may find some points from here saying... "GO ON...." I may tire some day and it may end up nothing but one thing I can assure myself is that Im lucky enough to have myself not having to have illussioned grand dreams of sort... as buddhist may say, selfish desires can only lead to frustration, pain and suffering leading to anger and hatred... someday I might say, "well, it was worth trying anyway..." SCIENCE IS FUN!SCIENCE IS FUN!SCIENCE IS FUN!

That must be depressing to read for a young person who is considering embarking on the long and difficult road to becoming a professional scientist. A brief perusal of his web page reveals that Professor Katz is something of a nutcake, with other essays like In Defense of Homophobia and Diversity is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel. Nevertheless, is there anything to his career advice?

The facts of the case are not in dispute: there are many more people who would like to become scientists, even among those who have made it as far as graduate school, than there are jobs for them as professional scientists. (Really here we are thinking of jobs as professors at universities, not working for industry, and the problem is equal or worse in other areas of academia.) The numbers will depend sensitively on how you define the problem, but I've heard that perhaps one in four people who get a Ph.D. will eventually become a professor, and that seems plausible.

Why would anyone go through years of extremely hard work (four years of undergrad, perhaps five of grad school, about four or five of postdoc on average, not to mention another six before you come up for tenure) just to have such a small chance of winning what appears to be a somewhat modest prize? It's like aiming to become a professional athlete, except without the lavish riches, celebrity status, or the esteem of the opposite sex. One must conclude that people only embark on this path because they care deeply about doing science. Should we really be telling those people that they should hang it up, their efforts are a waste of time?

No. Of course we should tell them the truth -- there aren't many positions available, even for people with doctorates from prestigious graduate schools. But in my experience that is hardly a secret -- the lesson is driven home again and again, in conversations with other students as well as with faculty. Maybe I'm wrong, but I haven't heard any professors spinning tales of how easy it is to get a faculty job. There is some tension, of course, because we do try to recruit students to come to our own schools, or to join our groups rather than some other one. But as far as I can tell, such a student would have to live in an especially well-sealed cave to achieve a Ph.D. without having heard about how bad the job market is. And if they do understand how difficult it is, and want to try anyway, then more power to them.

In the face of an unfortunate situation, it's nice to be able to blame somebody. Who can we blame for the fact that there are fewer jobs than people who get Ph.D.'s? Perhaps there should be more jobs. That would be great, but runs into the fairly prosaic problem of how to pay for it. Double college tuitions? The number of faculty positions is slowly growing, but I don't see any way to make it grow so fast that it outstrips the number of people who would like to have one.

Maybe we can blame graduate schools, for accepting all of these students even though there aren't guaranteed jobs waiting for them? I've actually heard people express this view in all seriousness. But let's think about it. What is actually being suggested is to simply accept far fewer applicants to grad school, i.e. to reject half or more of the students we currently take. And this is supposed to benefit these students? "Yes, we understand that you wanted to go to graduate school, but for your own good we've decided not to let you get a Ph.D. It's true, you might have been one of the fortunate ones to get a job, or you might have led a fulfilling life outside of academia, but in our judgment the odds are against you. Someday you'll thank us."

It's hard to get a job as a science professor, or just about any other kind of professor. And it's heartbreaking to go through years of effort and not achieve that goal. But not letting people try is not the answer. Nor is discouraging anyone who might want to pursue the dream of being a scientist. We should be relentlessly honest -- it's a hard road, and many will ultimately not succeed. But in my experience, this fact is pretty obvious, not at all hidden. And if someone understands this and wants to try anyway, they should be encouraged as much as possible. I have the best job in the world, and it wouldn't be right to tell someone else they shouldn't pursue the same path if that's where their passion leads them.
- Sean Carroll

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I may feel like a YOUNG(not so young anymore but still young)GUN (song JON BON JOVI)