Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Academia creates personal-life nightmares for scientists
Are you a scientist? Well, of course you must be some bizarro nerd that never dates, does not have any stable friends, never had or will have any long-lasting relationships, could not possibly marry, and God forbid, could not ever have any kids or family. No, this is not some stereotypical picture out of a Hollywood movie. This appears to be what universities and the federal research agencies are expecting of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, the sorry sweatshop workers of Science. More and more are raising their voices in various scientific journals, including Nature, to complain that one or two-year temporary jobs ("postdocs"), with salaries worthy of a high-school dropout, and the demands to move as often as once a year are breaking apart personal lives and families across the U.S. You think I exaggerate? Read an article entitled "The familial balancing act", published recently in Nature 433, p.552. There, you will find out how freshly minted Ph.D.s have been practically forced to live apart from their families and wives (husbands) for years.You can add me to that list, I lived apart from my girlfriend for more than one year, just to find out that postdocs are a dead-end career path. People have been raising this so-called "two-body problem" for decades now, so good luck, the system is not going to change any time soon. And the journal Nature is not helping. Rather, the journal is patronizing the cruelty of the postdoc system. After describing how difficult it was for academic couples to stay together during their postdoc years, and how awful it was for the couples to be separated for years, Nature goes on to mention two success stories, and ends up stating that postdocs are a "worthwhile sacrifice" and "worth it in the end". Anyone aware of the job market and considerate about people's emotional well-being would know that this is rubbish!! That is the stupidest advice I have ever heard. What Nature will not tell you, is the myriad of horror stories about postdocs not being able to find any academic positions, and the troubling personal life problems of young scientists caused by academia, including divorce and psychological damage. In my office alone, there are several postdocs that are/will be separated from their significant others, and few are finding stable jobs. How are two success stories out of an unspecified number of horror stories supposed to convince a scientific mind?? In one "success" story, the postdoc writes 65 applications for tenure-track positions and interviews in 13 places, before finding a place where both people can get jobs. I am not kidding. This is the best "success" story that Nature could find! How shameful. It is obvious that Nature serves the interest of a greedy academic establishment that is hungry for cheap labor, so young scientists beware of their nasty trap! The best advice I can give you is never to give up living near your significant other for a lousy job in Science, such as graduate school or a postdoc.