Monday, February 07, 2005
Science Graduate School: a Trap for Smart Idealists
Why do I say graduate school is a trap? Because it is like a siren song for idealists that are seeking knowledge and want to dedicate their lives to learning. I found out, very late, that postdoctoral positions are really a glass ceiling for most people in pursuit of knowledge: only a very lucky few will get through to a rewarding research and teaching career. So only the elite-of-the-elite-of-the-elite can make it through: believe me, even being a postdoctoral researcher in a top school makes little difference! I just need to warn everybody about this because I made this mistake, and I do not want other people to fall into the same trap! Postdoctoral positions did not exist until recent years, and they are simply a mechanism to get fresh inexperienced researchers to do work that professors themselves do not want to do, and need someone to do it for very little money. Case in point, let me tell you that a postdoctoral researcher makes: $30,000 to $48,000, the median being in the high 30's. You are probably thinking I am a materialist, but nothing could be further from the truth! I am an idealist, otherwise I would not be a researcher. My point is that you will get paid very little money for several years after your Ph.D. is completed, and then you will get nothing! I was just talking to a researcher/recruiter from a prestigious institute, and he point blank told me that to get a tenure-track position I needed to a) Have won a fellowship or prize(s), b) Have about six years of postdoctoral experience! So here is the official career track: 4 years of college + 7 years of Ph.D. + 6 years of postdoctoral work + 6 years of tenure-track work. That means roughly 23 years of university work is the median time needed to get a tenured professorship. If you think that is attractive, go ahead!