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Odds of a Career in Science in Academia

  • #26
Pythagorean
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I disagree with you there. Maybe higher education in general is a luxury, but national technical capabilities are central to our modern economy. We've set up an unsustainable system where people who move paper around are rewarded and respected to an extent far greater than those who extend our technical capabilities. I think that's a sign of misplaced priorities.
That's fair enough; I just meant that cutting back funding in higher education during economic downturn is not itself misplaced priorities. In these times, we want infrastructure and social programs to make our core strong. We don't need education like we need power, housing, water, food, and all their supporting systems. I'm not exactly sure who you refer to by moving papers.
 
  • #27
analogdesign
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That's fair enough; I just meant that cutting back funding in higher education during economic downturn is not itself misplaced priorities. In these times, we want infrastructure and social programs to make our core strong. We don't need education like we need power, housing, water, food, and all their supporting systems. I'm not exactly sure who you refer to by moving papers.
I mostly agree with you there, although I think maintaining and increasing our technical capabilities should be considered infrastructure.

The sad thing is infrastructure is currently being neglected when this is exactly the time we need it since interest rates are so cheap.

By moving paper I meant that resources are increasingly aggregating at the top and in the finance industry. Finance performs a vital function but as a share of the economy it is been growing fast the last couple of decades while wages for workers and engineers have been more-or-less stagnant. It's a cultural issue more than anything.
 
  • #28
Pythagorean
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Ah, yes. The financial sector is kind of beast currently. I think that's an emergent effect of capitalism.

I think maintaining/increasing our technical capabilities is infrastructure too, but we've really been spoiled in that regard for a lot of this last century. The DOD, for instance, was just kind of flinging seed money around aimlessly for a while there (it funded my master's degree). It's not like we're killing the programs off, we just kind of popped a bubble, so there's much more supply than demand in terms of intellectual labor force.
 
  • #29
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Anecdotal facts: From my program, no one who graduated since 2001 is in an academic position. It's about 50 students total. About 1/3-1/2 of any given class ends up at one of the national labs, most of the others are in staff scientist positions at universities as full time researchers. A few are in industry.

Andy, your post is particularly illuminating to me. Just to add to his bit, here's what the other side looks like: I live 20 mins from CSU. I saw some of those postings but didn't apply. 'PhD in physics or closely related field, demonstrated teaching experience' - My graduate program didn't allow TAing and I didn't get much teaching experience as a postdoc other than subbing in for a few sessions and team-teaching one seminar. Further more, many departments have a limited enough research focus that if you don't complement it, you are probably wasting your time applying. Plasma physics ≠ medical physics.

After chasing the teaching career for several years and seeing the results, I'm probably not going to get "at least one person to stand up and argue on your behalf" due to my lack of real teaching experience or due to my research specialty. I could send in an application for these opening, but I'm going to get tossed in the 'didn't meet minimum requirements' pile.
 
  • #30
Andy Resnick
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In your experience, does it cause any harm that they worked in industry between now and their last postdoc? Say I apply for tenure track positions, but work in industry in the meantime for a year or two, assuming the industry is partially relevant to the academic position they'd be fulfilling.
In my experience, industry experience is precisely what enabled me to differentiate myself from other applicants. To be sure, there are pitfalls (maintaining a publication record can be difficult in industry), but from my perspective, industrial experience is hugely beneficial for a career in academia. Some benefits include: broad exposure to state-of-the-art R&D, disciplined approaches to completing a project on time and under budget, working in a diverse atmosphere, gaining a sense of what undergraduates need in order to get a job after graduation, and more.
 
  • #31
Andy Resnick
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Anecdotal facts: From my program, no one who graduated since 2001 is in an academic position. It's about 50 students total. About 1/3-1/2 of any given class ends up at one of the national labs, most of the others are in staff scientist positions at universities as full time researchers. A few are in industry.

Andy, your post is particularly illuminating to me. Just to add to his bit, here's what the other side looks like: I live 20 mins from CSU. I saw some of those postings but didn't apply. 'PhD in physics or closely related field, demonstrated teaching experience' - My graduate program didn't allow TAing and I didn't get much teaching experience as a postdoc other than subbing in for a few sessions and team-teaching one seminar. Further more, many departments have a limited enough research focus that if you don't complement it, you are probably wasting your time applying. Plasma physics ≠ medical physics.

After chasing the teaching career for several years and seeing the results, I'm probably not going to get "at least one person to stand up and argue on your behalf" due to my lack of real teaching experience or due to my research specialty. I could send in an application for these opening, but I'm going to get tossed in the 'didn't meet minimum requirements' pile.
I'm not sure how to respond. A program that results in 100% employment for the graduates is an extremely successful program.

I don't want to comment on your particulars other than to remind you that nobody owes you a job doing precisely what you want to do.
 
  • #32
182
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I don't want to comment on your particulars other than to remind you that nobody owes you a job doing precisely what you want to do.
Haha. Thanks for the advice. The 'dream' of doing precisely what I want to do left so long ago I don't remember what it's like to have it.

I was just offering a view on the other side, not making a value judgement on your department's hiring practices. It's easy for the young job seeker to interpret "doesn't meet minimum qualifications" as someone who doesn't have a degree, or has it in the wrong field, or any number of other things. It can come down to the exact definition of 'demonstrable teaching experience' or exactly how your research specialty does or does not relate to the department's.

Grad students are taught to think RAs are better than TAs, and if you happen to be 'lucky' enough to get an RA upon entry in graduate school, you might be doing yourself a disservice down the road when it comes time to apply for prof jobs.
 
  • #33
Pythagorean
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Grad students are taught to think RAs are better than TAs
That's not my experience at all. In my experience, most grad students naturally prefer RAs to TAs because they don't want to deal with people, and our advisors encourage us to get teaching experience.

In my current school, you're always on RA and you have to do 3 TA assignments a year.

In my last school, first years do TA's, then you start doing more RA's and no TAs during thesis completion (ideally, your RA and your thesis are under the same roof or at least highly reinforcing of each other).
 
  • #34
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That's not my experience at all. In my experience, most grad students naturally prefer RAs to TAs because they don't want to deal with people, and our advisors encourage us to get teaching experience.

In my current school, you're always on RA and you have to do 3 TA assignments a year.

In my last school, first years do TA's, then you start doing more RA's and no TAs during thesis completion (ideally, your RA and your thesis are under the same roof or at least highly reinforcing of each other).
Maybe I should restate what I meant - TAs are often viewed as a distraction by graduate students.

Every program is different. In mine, we were heavily advised NOT to do a TA.
 
  • #35
Pythagorean
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Probably depends on adviser, too. Some might be selfish and just want to you to put more hours into grinding out the tedious aspects of their own research.
 
  • #36
Pythagorean
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Counting the last year of grad school, this is a paper every 4 months. That's not crazy. To ensure these papers are not just fluff, they want to see that they are cited, and are looking for about 1000 cites -- 50 per paper on average.

!?!?

That's not crazy? I can't imagine writing good quality publications once every four months without a team of graduate students. To do the experimental research can take a year sometimes!
 
  • #37
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How are you counting papers? Lead author-only, or just being included on papers by groups of what size? Three lead-author / year sounds completely insane.
 
  • #38
Vanadium 50
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I'm counting total papers, but that's not as huge a number as people seem to think. This is not an easy job - you're always scrambling to put papers together, grant proposals together, referee reports together, lectures together...
 
  • #39
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Sounds like what the post-doc in my lab did, 4+ a year. Not all as first author. He did have a group of students under him, but he also worked his *** off. We were an experimental group that was able to put out papers faster than most groups though, due to the nature of our research.
 
  • #40
105
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I know many students who publish 5+ papers a year in prestigious journals (from Phys Rev to Nature), never mind postdocs (who often publish 10+ or even 15+ a year).

50 citations per paper is a much harder part, and seems to be mostly luck based. I actually don't know any scientists (either postdocs or professors) who have 50 citations per paper on average.

But then it all may be different in different subfields. Maybe in some areas it takes longer to prepare a paper, but you are more likely to get more citations...
 
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