Some general academia rant

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Aug 01, 2012 5:59 pm UTC

I just assume part of my lost wagers are made up in gained education and the fact that the university covers my health insurance pretty decently. I'm getting a degree which (purportedly!) will improve my future prospects and employment potential (siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh), and I'm not paying for it. So, I dunno. At this point in time there's a couple non-immediately obvious factors that are contributing to my decision to stay; namely, I enjoy setting my own schedule, I enjoy the research I'm doing, and I'm learning a lot under my PI. It's hard to place a monetary value on that. There's also a bit of an ego thing; I set a challenge for myself that I decided I could undertake, and I want to see it completed.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Wed Aug 01, 2012 6:48 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:I actually find this thinking odd. Higher education is just more specialization. If specialization isn't job training, what is? Perhaps this is because I come from engineering and our university (yes, it's a university) is pretty much 100% engineering and focuses on teaching students so they can be productive in their jobs almost immediately.

Engineering and other professional schools (med & law) are an exception, but in general, what you learn in university is not applicable to a single job - not in the way that learning carpentry in college, for example, trains you for a job.

Spoiler:
KestrelLowing wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:5) Anyone who thinks grad students are cheap labour is either oblivious or insane. They are the most expensive form of labour as they are untrained and therefore consume 2-3x their wages in training costs and lost productivity. I budget ~$70,000/yr for a grad student, 1/3rd of that is wage, the remainder is the cost of having them in-lab. I pay my tech, including benefits, a little over $55k, and she's worth 3 or 4 grad students in terms of productivity. You're being paid to get an education - count yourself lucky.

I find this troubling. Grad students don't get paid a competitive wage for the work they actually do. Yes, they have to be trained, but so does every single employee ever. That's the cost of having someone do work for you.

Sorry, but this is plain wrong. When I hire someone in my biotech company, they come with a set of refined and usable skills - bench skills, for example. They do require a degree of additional training, but by-and-large that training is minimal and not overly costly; a few thousand bucks and a month or so usually gets the job done. Grad students are a whole other beast - if I'm lucky they join the lab having a summer or two of lab experience and a honours project - meaning they have familiarity with one or two assays. It typically takes a year before they are competent on enough assays to move their project forward, two years to become productive, and its 3+ years until they reach the bare minimum competence we'd expect in my startup for a new employee. Nor are the productivity and competency's expectations equivalent - if an employee in my startup took a week to run a mass-spec assay and then blew it (at a cost of ~5K), I'd fire them. No second chance, straight out the door. I expect a grad student in my lab learning the same technique to fail at least 4 times - at a cost of $20K or more. And I'd expect them to take a week each time, instead of 1 or 2 days. Grad students are learning - they are going to be slower, and they're going to fail - its why they are in my lab. If they are hired into my company to do that for a job, they'd better damned well know how to do it, and they better do it quickly and without error.

The two are not comparable, not equivalent, and certainty do not deserve the same degree of compensation.

KestrelLowing wrote:If you were trying to get the same work done in industry, it'd be a heck of a lot more expensive as you'd have to pay a better wage and still have the training.

You forget - I am industry (and academia). And you are wrong - its a hell of a lot cheaper to do equivalent work in industry, with the difference being training costs and productivity. Employees in industry don't take classes, don't have committees or journal clubs, etc. They start their position pre-trained in the basic methodologies they need, and are experienced enough in impelmenting those procedures as to be able to run multiple ones in parallel. Grad students rarely achieve that degree of productivity and competency until the final year of a 5+ year PhD. Even in academia, the rule holds true - my most senior student currently in the lab is about 1/2 as productive as my tech, in terms of experiments completed per week.

KestrelLowing wrote: The only reason the tech is any good is because she had training before.

EXACTLY.

So why do you think the untrained and less productive student should be paid the same?

KestrelLowing wrote:In industry, that would mean her salary would be higher.

Unlikely. It doesn't matter whether you work in academia or industry - if you want skilled people, you have to pay a competitive wage, or they'll go elsewhere. She has a MSc, and $55k is pretty average in biotech for someone of that training and experience. Project management, in industry, typically falls on the shoulders of PhDs, so they get paid a lot more. I'd love to have a PhD-trained tech in my uni lab, but I simply cannot afford one.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Aug 01, 2012 10:59 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:So why do you think the untrained and less productive student should be paid the same?

Having been on both sides of it now, I think techs are more productive in the short run, while students are more productive beyond 3 years. I don't know many techs who stay on longer than 3 years anyway, and a graduate student, while annoying to train I'm sure, puts out more work in 5 years than a tech likely will.

Besides, the work expectations of me as a graduate student are strikingly higher than as a tech, and I was kept on as a tech precisely because my boss wanted to train me to be like a grad student.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Aug 02, 2012 3:41 am UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:1) University is not job training. ... If you want job-specific training, go to college.

In the US, a university is made up of colleges. For example, I attend the College of Engineering within the University of California. It sounds like you're referring to what we would call a technical college (4-year degrees) or junior college (2-year degrees). Just FYI.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Thu Aug 02, 2012 11:44 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:So why do you think the untrained and less productive student should be paid the same?

Having been on both sides of it now, I think techs are more productive in the short run, while students are more productive beyond 3 years.

My experience is the exact opposite, I've had a few students do 5-6 year PhD's, and at best, they were slightly less productive in their final year as my tech. And don't forget - those senior students still loose lab time due to the various student things the have to do, at that point, they've got a 3-4 year "deficit" running upto that point.

Izawwlgood wrote: I don't know many techs who stay on longer than 3 years anyway, and a graduate student, while annoying to train I'm sure, puts out more work in 5 years than a tech likely will.

You're in a weird institution then. In the lab where I did my PhD, the three techs had been with my supervisor since he started the lab; about 10 years at the point I joined. In my post-doc lab, one tech had been there 30 years, the other for over 10. Even here, my own tech's been with me since I started, most in the union have 10+ years experience. With techs, they either last a few months, or they tend to stay until the grant money's gone.

Izawwlgood wrote:Besides, the work expectations of me as a graduate student are strikingly higher than as a tech, and I was kept on as a tech precisely because my boss wanted to train me to be like a grad student.

Then your boss is weird, and an exception to pretty much every lab I've ever been in, worked in, or visited. We hire techs and RAs for a reason - they are productive, they don't loose time to student-required activities, and they are experienced. Hiring an inexperience person as a tech, to get them ready to be a student, is ass-backwards.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Aug 02, 2012 12:33 pm UTC

What are 5th year student activities? At my university, after the second year, your 'student responsibilities' are 'give one talk a year'.

As for techs, I know there are some who stay on for longer than a couple of years, but by in large it's a transient position. many PIs treat it as such, and intentionally hire techs that will be leaving after a couple years for bigger and better things; as I mentioned, my old boss explicitly stated she wouldn't have hired me had I not said I planned to go onto graduate school.

I guess it depends on your lab; an established lab will benefit more from a permanent tech, someone whose full time job is making solutions and injecting larvae or making constructs. A newer lab is going to have more dynamic requirements, so a techs responsibilities are less settled.

Incidentally, I've never heard of a tech union.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Sun Aug 05, 2012 2:44 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:What are 5th year student activities? At my university, after the second year, your 'student responsibilities' are 'give one talk a year'.

Journal clubs, thesis writing, paper writing, student-run courses, etc.

If you're not doing those, I'd be questioning the value of the education you receive...

Izawwlgood wrote:I guess it depends on your lab; an established lab will benefit more from a permanent tech, someone whose full time job is making solutions and injecting larvae or making constructs. A newer lab is going to have more dynamic requirements, so a techs responsibilities are less settled.

No, one of the most beneficial things a new lab needs is a stable tech - (s)he takes a huge burden off of the PI in terms of lab management, student instruction, product ordering, etc. Over time, the tech becomes a reservoir of knowledge that is irreparable. Sadly, s a PI, you don't spend much time in the lab as you'd like (grants, papers, teaching, etc, get in the way). Over time, the PI's value (ie. my value) in bench-training becomes less and less - a tech is your insurance against that inevitability.

Izawwlgood wrote:Incidentally, I've never heard of a tech union.

Most uni's have them - there's a good chance your own techs are unionized, at least they are after a number of years service.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Aug 05, 2012 3:04 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:Journal clubs, thesis writing, paper writing, student-run courses, etc.

If you're not doing those, I'd be questioning the value of the education you receive...

Like I said, we dont' have to teach anything beyond our second year, but can choose to do so for additional pay.
As for journal clubs and lab meetings, that is something that our techs are also responsible for (albeit to a lesser degree)
And yes, thesis and paper writing is something we do. Are you suggesting the techs that you hold in such high regard for their productivity do no paper writing? They're just data collecting machines?
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Aug 07, 2012 2:34 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:Journal clubs, thesis writing, paper writing, student-run courses, etc.

If you're not doing those, I'd be questioning the value of the education you receive...

Like I said, we dont' have to teach anything beyond our second year, but can choose to do so for additional pay.

I never said anything about teaching - although, if your plan is to continue on in academia, seeking out as much teaching experience as you can get is pretty important. Building a teaching dossier now will help you greatly in the future (even if its 'just' TAing).

As a grad student, I taught a few undergrad lectures; as a post-doc I taught one undergrad and a handful of grad lectures each year - if you can swing that (and academia is your end-goal), you should push hard for the opportunity - to find a junior applicant with that sort of teaching experience is rare, and can often be the deciding factor in choosing between two otherwise equivalent applicants.

Izawwlgood wrote:As for journal clubs and lab meetings, that is something that our techs are also responsible for (albeit to a lesser degree)

Your tech runs your JC? Again, if academia is your end goal, you should be pushing to organize/run things like JCs, student run courses, even student-run conferences yourself. Activities like those are what quite often separate those who get academic positions from those who do not - it shows a dedication to higher and continued learning.

Izawwlgood wrote:And yes, thesis and paper writing is something we do. Are you suggesting the techs that you hold in such high regard for their productivity do no paper writing? They're just data collecting machines?

Try reading what I wrote about techs before, you've obviously skipped or ignored it. Writing is a key part of a grad students training, its the main job of a PI (whether we want it or not), but it is also time consuming and not the best use of a tech. Techs fill several important roles - discussed previously. Writing is typically not one of them.

The only common exception to that is when the PIs first language is not English. Then, a tech whose job is writing/editing makes sense. But given the cost of a tech, its otherwise not an effective use of your resources.

Bryan

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Aug 07, 2012 2:49 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote: never said anything about teaching

Er... you said 'student run courses'. Is that something aside from teaching?
ImagingGeek wrote:Your tech runs your JC?

No, the tech doesn't 'run' our journal club, they participate. When I was a tech, I also participated. That includes giving lab meetings or journal clubs, albeit with a lower expectation of understanding/quality.

ImagingGeek wrote:Try reading what I wrote about techs before, you've obviously skipped or ignored it. Writing is a key part of a grad students training, its the main job of a PI (whether we want it or not), but it is also time consuming and not the best use of a tech. Techs fill several important roles - discussed previously. Writing is typically not one of them.

Yes, that's why I'm asking if you treat your techs as data collecting machines. If I was a tech for 5+ years, I'd be horribly depressed with the position if I wasn't getting my name on papers or getting a hand in writing them. As it was, when I teched for 3 years I got my name on two papers and participated in writing one of them.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:05 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote: never said anything about teaching

Er... you said 'student run courses'. Is that something aside from teaching?

Yes, well, sortof. The ones I've seen/been involved in/organized are typically structured like a JC - students get together, and take turns presenting stuff. The difference being that instead of presenting a paper, you teach a topic. So they are more course-like than JC-like, but being student-run, generally don't qualify as a class.

If I were on a committee hiring someone who ran something like this, I would consider it teaching experience, though-be-it, teaching experience far inferior to teaching a "real" course.

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:Your tech runs your JC?

No, the tech doesn't 'run' our journal club, they participate. When I was a tech, I also participated. That includes giving lab meetings or journal clubs, albeit with a lower expectation of understanding/quality.

Ahhh, I mis-understood.

My tech has the choice to attend JC (lab meetings are mandatory, JC's over her designated lunch break). JC is student run and only trainees (students/post-docs) present, although all are welcome.

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:Try reading what I wrote about techs before, you've obviously skipped or ignored it. Writing is a key part of a grad students training, its the main job of a PI (whether we want it or not), but it is also time consuming and not the best use of a tech. Techs fill several important roles - discussed previously. Writing is typically not one of them.

Yes, that's why I'm asking if you treat your techs as data collecting machines. If I was a tech for 5+ years, I'd be horribly depressed with the position if I wasn't getting my name on papers or getting a hand in writing them. As it was, when I teched for 3 years I got my name on two papers and participated in writing one of them.

Firstly, lets not forget that your tech position was some odd way of getting you into grad school (assuming I'm not mis-remembering your previous posts). Your experience is atypical, to say the least.

Regardless, my tech is a data generating machine - generally she is as productive as any two grad students. Its why she was hired, and its why she gets paid more than students. But why would you expect that to exclude her from publication? Indeed, her contract, the rules attached to my grants, and (I think) the law guarantee co-authorship of papers to which she provides data. Her name has appeared on every paper coming out of my lab but one - the one we published while she was on mat-leave (which up here lasts a year). As for depression, AFAIK she's fine (her personality is 'bubbly', for lack of a better term), but its illegal for me to ask...

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:27 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:Firstly, lets not forget that your tech position was some odd way of getting you into grad school (assuming I'm not mis-remembering your previous posts). Your experience is atypical, to say the least.

I... cannot disagree with you enough on this. Of the 10 people in my graduate school cohort, only two of them came directly from undergrad; everyone else either tech'd or tech'd and attended a Masters program (I'm not talking about 'working in a lab as an undergrad', everyone of us did that). Students who applied straight from undergrad are the minority in every biological science grad program I've been exposed to.

You're in Canada right? Our Canadian post doc just informed me that coming straight from undergrad, or, feeding through a Masters program before heading to graduate school was more common in her experience.

ImagingGeek wrote:Regardless, my tech is a data generating machine

Cool. Like I said, when I applied to my previous teching position at UChicago, and the PI asked what my plans were, responding with "I would like to goto graduate school" is what got me the job. Her words were something to the effect of "I'm not interested in a data monkey, I want people who are passionate and interested in science". She later hired a full time 'research scientist', someone whose sole job is creating constructs and managing various administrative functions within the lab, but even that individuals role is still largely project focused.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Aug 07, 2012 5:15 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:Firstly, lets not forget that your tech position was some odd way of getting you into grad school (assuming I'm not mis-remembering your previous posts). Your experience is atypical, to say the least.

I... cannot disagree with you enough on this. Of the 10 people in my graduate school cohort, only two of them came directly from undergrad; everyone else either tech'd or tech'd and attended a Masters program (I'm not talking about 'working in a lab as an undergrad', everyone of us did that). Students who applied straight from undergrad are the minority in every biological science grad program I've been exposed to.

You're in Canada right? Our Canadian post doc just informed me that coming straight from undergrad, or, feeding through a Masters program before heading to graduate school was more common in her experience.

I did part of my education in the US (one post-doc, plus a bit of time at UCSF as a visiting PhD student). I did a short sabbatical in the US, attended several US unis as a PhD examiner or visiting speaker, hired students coming out of the US system as post-docs and for my company; I've even acted as an external reviewer for two US grad programs. I've seen your system from east coast to west coast, from ivy league through to the smallest of state unis - so I've had a great deal of experience with the US system (far more than you, I'd expect). I cannot recall a single case even close to what you describe.

And, FWIW, I've been to UChicago where I helped poach one of your (now former) profs to my own uni - his lab didn't even have a tech; and in our discussions since he's always talked about how he used to recruit undergrads to his lab in Chicago (apparently, he didn't have access to them like we do here). I've been doing this for a long time - what you describe is a bizarre exception to how things usually run.

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:Regardless, my tech is a data generating machine

Cool. Like I said, when I applied to my previous teching position at UChicago, and the PI asked what my plans were, responding with "I would like to goto graduate school" is what got me the job. Her words were something to the effect of "I'm not interested in a data monkey, I want people who are passionate and interested in science". She later hired a full time 'research scientist', someone whose sole job is creating constructs and managing various administrative functions within the lab, but even that individuals role is still largely project focused.
[/quote]
You continue to seriously underestimate techs - mine is far from a data monkey; she is the brains that keep the lab running. She's been to grad school - she chose to continue on in science. If she wasn't dedicated and passionate about science, why would she have come? Even an entry-level sales position (which are more common then tech positions) would have paid better.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Aug 07, 2012 5:23 pm UTC

I guess it's your experiences vs mine.

ImagingGeek wrote:And, FWIW, I've been to UChicago where I helped poach one of your (now former) profs to my own uni

I can't tell if you're trying to suggest your university is superior to UChicago or not, but, in any case, you poaching a prof from the university I teched at is... neat? Potentially a cool story? Not terribly relevant to the conversation about whether or not teching is common, and techs are worth more or less than graduate students?
ImagingGeek wrote:You continue to seriously underestimate techs - mine is far from a data monkey; she is the brains that keep the lab running. She's been to grad school - she chose to continue on in science. If she wasn't dedicated and passionate about science, why would she have come? Even an entry-level sales position (which are more common then tech positions) would have paid better.

I don't underestimate techs at all; having been one, I consider us/them to be the unsung heroes of science. I think you underestimate grad students.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby screen317 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 6:55 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:I... cannot disagree with you enough on this. Of the 10 people in my graduate school cohort, only two of them came directly from undergrad; everyone else either tech'd or tech'd and attended a Masters program (I'm not talking about 'working in a lab as an undergrad', everyone of us did that). Students who applied straight from undergrad are the minority in every biological science grad program I've been exposed to.

You're in Canada right? Our Canadian post doc just informed me that coming straight from undergrad, or, feeding through a Masters program before heading to graduate school was more common in her experience.

I did part of my education in the US (one post-doc, plus a bit of time at UCSF as a visiting PhD student). I did a short sabbatical in the US, attended several US unis as a PhD examiner or visiting speaker, hired students coming out of the US system as post-docs and for my company; I've even acted as an external reviewer for two US grad programs. I've seen your system from east coast to west coast, from ivy league through to the smallest of state unis - so I've had a great deal of experience with the US system (far more than you, I'd expect). I cannot recall a single case even close to what you describe.

And, FWIW, I've been to UChicago where I helped poach one of your (now former) profs to my own uni - his lab didn't even have a tech; and in our discussions since he's always talked about how he used to recruit undergrads to his lab in Chicago (apparently, he didn't have access to them like we do here). I've been doing this for a long time - what you describe is a bizarre exception to how things usually run.

Bryan
How long ago was this??

I'm with Izawwlgood on this one. I just started a Ph.D. program in Immunology at Yale, and I went directly from my undergrad. I am in the great minority in my class of ~10 (I'm pretty sure the only one, actually).

I'm seeing indirect contradictions in how you are describing the role of your lab techs.

The tech in the lab I am currently in does about as much work as the post-docs do. The amount of work I do isn't far off. I had 4 years of 'training' in my undergraduate work. I am an author on a paper from that work, and am both incredibly efficient and productive with my current work.

To say about your lab tech: "If she wasn't dedicated and passionate about science, why would she have come?" indirectly contradicts not being involved in the active writing of publications. You say " the law guarantee co-authorship of papers to which she provides data." which is great for her, but doesn't mean she's involved with writing anything or being more than a data provider...

Izawwlgood's experience most certainly isn't the exception, from what I have seen in my limited experience.

Regards,

Chris

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Sat Aug 18, 2012 5:51 am UTC

gorcee wrote:Maybe in some disciplines this is the case (classics, for instance), but in engineering, which is the whole point of this thread, such is far from the truth.

Ahahahaha. No. Having lived in the same department as classicists, and being in a similar field, no. There is money in your field, and money going into your field. Well, for those of us in the humanities, there is no money going in, too little an amount already in for the number of people in the field, and money being taken away by faculty-level staff who don't see the need to keep on unprofitable sections of the university.

Sorry if that sounds bitter. It is. The idea of complaining because money flows into your field, and people actively want to pay for people with PhDs in your field outside of it is, for me, bizarre to the point of insanity.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 8:47 am UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:\1) University is not job training. You come to university to receive a detailed knowledge base, and the intellectual skills (research, synthesis, etc) to apply that knowledge to a broad range of careers. From my own lab, students have gone into biotech/pharma, government work, business, law, medical school, investment banking, and one is even on-route to academia. Those are the kinds of opportunities university education offers you.


I disagree heartily, and I am another ivory tower academic. A phd program IS job training of a very, very specific kind. My students come in knowing a whole lot of physics and math, and I train them in grant writing, paper writing and a very specialized sub-set of research skills. I am training them to do my job in a very direct, very traditional master-apprentice relationship.

Undergrad degrees are often highly general- so you get a nice broad base and knowledge to apply to a broad range of careers. Phds, not nearly as much- I don't impart many general skills, everything is job training to be specific type of academic. Now, some of the skills might be transferable, but so are some of the skills from HVAC training colleges, and we don't pretend trade schools are broad education.

2) In regards to the OP's "papers for papers sake" comment, lets just say I'm dismayed. Science is advanced by incrementalism - those "papers for papers sake" represent the small steps forward that drive scientific advancement. If they didn't exist, science would end.


I don't know about your field, but in mine the pressure to publish is tremendous and sometimes (often) a promising looking project fails. This has created a situation where postdocs and untenured academics generally have a few easy, low-impact projects running alongside what they are interested in. The ultimate result is an avalanche of pretty-much-worthless research. At a recent conference a colleague told me that he estimates 70% of the papers published in the 20 highest impact journals in our field will never have even a single citation and that this gets worse every year since he started tracking- thats not incrementally advancing science. Its burying the papers that do advance science in their small way under a tidal wave of noise.

5) Anyone who thinks grad students are cheap labour is either oblivious or insane. They are the most expensive form of labour as they are untrained and therefore consume 2-3x their wages in training costs and lost productivity. I budget ~$70,000/yr for a grad student, 1/3rd of that is wage, the remainder is the cost of having them in-lab. I pay my tech, including benefits, a little over $55k, and she's worth 3 or 4 grad students in terms of productivity. You're being paid to get an education - count yourself lucky.


You might budget 70k a year for a first and maybe second year grad student, but by years 5-7 I'm willing to bet your grad students are nearly as productive as your tech and are working for a third of the cost. There is a professor in my department who has become notorious for holding his best students extra years so he can get by with fewer postdocs. Also, this is highly field dependent. I budget 5k a year for my graduate students. The university needs the theory students to TA the upper level physics courses (field theory,etc), so they cover everything except summer salary and the occasional computer upgrade. A postdoc costs me about 50k a year (about 2/3 salary, 1/3 benefits).

...6) PhD's are not communism - the job still goes to the best candidate. Do a sub-par PhD, expect a sub-par job afterwards


I disagree strongly with the sentiment- in my experience lots and lots of VERY great candidates never land that science job. The issue is that its hard to define the 'best' candidate- it often comes down to very, very specific requirements of the university at a given time. We have hired less well-published phds because we wanted an expert in subfield A instead of subfield B,etc. I tell my students that you have to put the time and get the papers, but even the best candidates will need a fair amount of luck to land that quality position. There are enough excellent candidates that our job searches can become very, very specific- great for us, terrible for the ten or twenty really amazing scientists we can't hire.

academia isn't responsible for PhD's poor life decisions. If you have a PhD and cannot get that science job you want, and remain stuck in a poor-paying position as a result - its YOUR fault. There are a lot of jobs outside of science for PhDs, many going unfilled.


Sure, everyone has to take personal responsibility for their own life choices, but keep in mind that we (and here I mean culture in general) sold them a false bill of goods. Most of my American students grew up hearing the mantra that we need more Americans going into math and science, and most were given horrible advice along the way by whoever they relied upon to mentor them. I am routinely disabusing naive, idealistic notions of the prospects of a scientific career. A significant fraction of entering science graduate students seem to have no idea what a postdoc is (most seem to come from liberal arts schools).

Instead of whining about your poor pay, move to a job you're more qualified for (the non-academic ones generally pay much better).


Most of the people I know who left physics were MUCH more qualified to be physics professors then they were to be financial quants, patent attorney, etc. Its not really about qualifications, its about opportunity. For awhile there was so much opportunity in the financial sector that they'd hire anyone who tracked as 'smart' and they'd train them. A friend of mine suggest big data currently has a similar boom underway. Sometimes you have to tell well-published, talented scientists that its time to give up on the job you trained your whole life for and follow the money. A decade of training to be a scientist does NOT make you qualified to be anything other than a scientist BUT- lots of fields have so much opportunity they'll take someone with less qualifications and polish them up a bit. However, there is some serious personal anguish for people in that position. I would guess nearly everyone I know who left the field would take a 50% paycut to be a tenure track professor somewhere where they could do research- academia's hooks get in there deep.

And part of it is sunk cost biases. If someone spends a decade or so (phd+postdoc) working for sub-market wages in order to become a scientist its really hard to walk away. If you hadn't landed your tenure track position when you did, would you have left science? Or would you have tried for one more postdoc? How about after that? Where do you draw the line?

7) Being a prof doesn't pay all that well, compared to most other positions you can get into with a PhD.


Hell, being a prof doesn't pay all that well compared to positions you can get with a bachelors :)

10) ... But the perks (IMO) far outweigh the not-industry-huge payout; its exciting seeing students mature, and good students will challenge you and keep you intellectually stimulated - there is rarely a boring moment. And where else can you pursue the things that interest you - and get paid for it?


I personally temper this sort of advice- I love my job, and the high points are incredible. However, seeing incredibly talented colleagues (many of whom were gifted enough to have made important contributions) forced out of the field by the lack of opportunity has made me incredibly cynical, which I consider a negative. Also, my colleagues who have left are always reminding me that they are still pursuing things that interest them, but they also get to drive new cars, own modest houses and send their kids to private schools :)

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby engr » Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:45 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:1) University is not job training. You come to university to receive a detailed knowledge base, and the intellectual skills (research, synthesis, etc) to apply that knowledge to a broad range of careers. From my own lab, students have gone into biotech/pharma, government work, business, law, medical school, investment banking, and one is even on-route to academia. Those are the kinds of opportunities university education offers you.


I would say it depends on the field. From what I heard from colleagues (MechE), if your PhD thesis, say, revolves around heat transfer and you want to have a job in industry after getting your PhD, then a mechatronics-oriented company will probably not hire you. Why should they pay PhD's salary to someone who will have to be trained from scratch, like a young college kid with a fresh BSc diploma? Sure, he would have some general research and technical writing skills, but for the most part it will make more sense to either hire a BSc and pay him like a BSc, or to hire a PhD with experience in control theory.


To extend the OPs wheel example - only one person gets to invent the wheel. But that first wheel is a piece of shit - an off-round log held onto a wood axle with a bit of spit and wire. Turning it into something useful - a car tire, a train wheel, a cog in a machine - takes the incremental work so readily dismissed by the OP and many others here.


...and these improvements will most likely not be done by the guys in academia. The issue here is not that the steps are incremental, it's what direction they're in.

3) The complaints about most research not having an obvious application come, I hope, from people who've never done research before. Applications of science are rarely obvious when research is first undertaken. And even when applications appear obvious, they are rarely achieved (as your actual findings rarely match up with predictions). Our modern technological world is almost entirely a product of blue-sky "application-less" research - the laser, when invented, was derided as an "answer in search of a problem". Transistors, antibiotics, plastics, and x-rays were all inventions based on science, which at the time it was undertaken, had no apparent use.


Again, fundamental science pretty much has to be done in academia, precisely because you will never know what you'll come up with, if anything. It's the situation with applied research that kills me. If R&D work in industry is successful, it's normal, otherwise the company will go bankrupt. If applied research in academic yields something useful, it's almost by accident.

The rest of what you said about grad students being way less cost-effective than techs in running experiments, is true.
That being said, I have seen engineers in industry do lab techs' or machinists' work with less efficiency and more pay, so it's not limited to academia.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby modularblues » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

I trade cold hard cash with the pretentious sense of intellectual curiosity of working with something so unexplored that no one quite understands what's going on.

Academia all feels like painting an abstract artwork. Doesn't make much sense on first glance, but with lots of compelling oratory and persuasive narrative, it could be presented as anything as far as the mileage of one's imagination.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

I've been away for a while; a few quick replies:

Izawwlgood wrote:I can't tell if you're trying to suggest your university is superior to UChicago or not

Hardly; the point was simply that I've been to your university - recently - and know from first-hand experience that, at least on the bio/medicasci end of things, it operates as I described. We didn't poach him because your uni is inferior; we poached him because he excelled at your uni, but for reasons unclear to everyone involved, your uni stopped supporting him. Good ol' politics...

Izawwlgood wrote:I think you underestimate grad students.

Hardly; they are the lifeblood of most labs. But I also acknowledge their limitations, and their purpose in the lab. The are being trained; their skills & capabilities are less than that of someone whose already completed the training. On their last day they have an equivalent amount of training & experience as a tech on their first day, and are paid accordingly.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I disagree heartily, and I am another ivory tower academic. A phd program IS job training of a very, very specific kind. My students come in knowing a whole lot of physics and math, and I train them in grant writing, paper writing and a very specialized sub-set of research skills

I think you're doing yourself a great disservice here, and are vastly underestimating the value of the education you provide your students. Just look at your list of skills - technical writing & mathmatics are applicable to innumerable numbers of positions. The skills that come along with science training - knowing how to find/generate knowledge, how to apply rational objective analyses to data, etc, are also skills applicable to a broad range of careers. Even if we hive off grant-writing from technical writing, its a skill of great use outside of academic work - any job involving contracts with the government, working within the government, or businesses that take advantage of government R&D loans (something common up here), will make direct use of those skill sets. Indeed, the only thing in your list that is "research-only" are lab-based techniques. Like I said in earlier posts, I've seen my students go off to a huge range of careers, and while none of them use all of the skills learned in my lab, their jobs still make use of (and are dependent on) a large portion of the skills they did learn.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I don't know about your field, but in mine the pressure to publish is tremendous and sometimes (often) a promising looking project fails. This has created a situation where postdocs and untenured academics generally have a few easy, low-impact projects running alongside what they are interested in. The ultimate result is an avalanche of pretty-much-worthless research.

Our fields are similar in the pressures, although your low citation-ness is concerning. But again, I'd point out that nothing you said runs counter to what I wrote - most science is incremental in nature, most papers represent modest steps forward, huge breakthroughs are rare. We don't advance our fields through breakthrough-after-breakthrough, but rather through a huge bulk of minor works - hopefully with the odd breakthrough thrown i now and then. It sucks from a personal point-of-view - i.e. a lot of work for not much gain - but en mass, all those minor papers amount to large progress in a field.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:You might budget 70k a year for a first and maybe second year grad student, but by years 5-7 I'm willing to bet your grad students are nearly as productive as your tech and are working for a third of the cost.

No. I am a firm believer that students are in my lab to be trained, and I insist that they continue to learn or develop new methodologies (ideally, one vastly different method per year). As such, the non-wage costs remain the same (although productivity does increase). I've been fortunate, that many of my students have attracted their own scholarships/studentships. I save a bit of money when that occurs - but I also top-up their wage when that occurs, so my savings are minimal ($10K-ish).

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I disagree strongly with the sentiment- in my experience lots and lots of VERY great candidates never land that science job. The issue is that its hard to define the 'best' candidate- it often comes down to very, very specific requirements of the university at a given time

Fair enough - upon re-reading my statement, it was harsher than intended. But I'd "counter" by pointing out that there are far more poorly-qualified PhD's out there than well-qualified. In our last faculty recruitment, we had over 200 applicants, of which 2/3rds didn't meet our minimal standards in terms of publication record and teaching experience. Of the 1/3rd that were left about half were applying to a job unrelated to their research fields, leaving us with a very short list of viable candidates. We were looking for a virologist, so our "very specific requirements" were not all that specific.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:Sure, everyone has to take personal responsibility for their own life choices, but keep in mind that we (and here I mean culture in general) sold them a false bill of goods

This does happen, but many make an effort not to do this. Before taking on any student, I always have a discussion about what their post-graduation job prospects are. My first words are "its unlikely you'll ever have a faculty position". I've noticed that recent applicants seem to have much less of the pie-in-the-sky view of academic jobs prospects that was common just 5 or 6 years ago.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:And part of it is sunk cost biases. If someone spends a decade or so (phd+postdoc) working for sub-market wages in order to become a scientist its really hard to walk away. If you hadn't landed your tenure track position when you did, would you have left science? Or would you have tried for one more postdoc? How about after that? Where do you draw the line?

I had a plan - in fact, I never planned to get a faculty position (it was a pleasant surprise). As I've mentioned before, I've started up a few companies of my own - the first while a grad student. My plan was simple - start my own, or work for one. The faculty positions is, and continues to be, a pleasant and unexpected deviation from that plan. Most students today in the bio/medical sciences have a similar outlook - they may aim for academia, but most know they are likely headed elsewhere.

modularblues wrote:I trade cold hard cash with the pretentious sense of intellectual curiosity of working with something so unexplored that no one quite understands what's going on.

Good for you. But just because you value $$$ over instinctual pursuits is no reason to denigrate those whose values lie elsewhere.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:34 pm UTC

engr wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:1) University is not job training. You come to university to receive a detailed knowledge base, and the intellectual skills (research, synthesis, etc) to apply that knowledge to a broad range of careers. From my own lab, students have gone into biotech/pharma, government work, business, law, medical school, investment banking, and one is even on-route to academia. Those are the kinds of opportunities university education offers you.


I would say it depends on the field. From what I heard from colleagues (MechE), if your PhD thesis, say, revolves around heat transfer and you want to have a job in industry after getting your PhD, then a mechatronics-oriented company will probably not hire you. Why should they pay PhD's salary to someone who will have to be trained from scratch, like a young college kid with a fresh BSc diploma? Sure, he would have some general research and technical writing skills, but for the most part it will make more sense to either hire a BSc and pay him like a BSc, or to hire a PhD with experience in control theory.

Oops, meant to reply to this too.

I think you've mis-understood what I meant when I wrote "university is not job training". Like I've stated before, many of the skills you've learned are applicable to a huge range of jobs - writing, mathematics, rational analyses, data collection, etc, are skills of use in a broad range of fields. My own (former) students have used those skills to enter jobs of every sort - from finance, to biotech/pharma, to business, to teaching. AFAIK, there would be no restriction in a PhD in your field from using his/her skills to enter a similar range of fields. I.E. the skills are broadly applicable, and valuable to many different companies.

Your specific example is something that, in my experience, is an 'exception'. In this case you are staying within your research field, but just happen to be pursuing your former area of research in a commercial environment. In that case the training is more 1:1, but at least in my field (and given what you read about jobs in the sciences in general, I suspect in your field as well), that sort of direct-training remains a rarity, rather than being the norm. In my own company, we hire lab staff with an eye towards the specific set of lab-skills they have - but even in my company, those individuals remain the exception. Most scientists we hire are hired not for R&D, but for other purposes, and outside of R&D its all of those other skills we're interested in.

Bryan

PS: I hope I haven't dissuaded anyone from pursuing an academic career. Just be aware 1) its a hard route to travel, and 2) you have a lot of other options post-graduation
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Sun Sep 09, 2012 5:51 pm UTC

I think you're doing yourself a great disservice here, and are vastly underestimating the value of the education you provide your students.


I don't think I am- but I think I'm approaching the question a little differently. I want to look at what my training gives my students that five years in any other job wouldn't. If you work at a financial or engineering firm right out of college, you'll learn technical writing, you'll learn many of the broad skills you're listing. I'm not saying the transferable skills don't exist- I'm suggesting they are so broad you'll learn them doing most jobs.

Also- I think you agree that a phd is not like an undergrad degree. The latter is a broad assortment of classes, the former is job training in the very traditional sense (master-apprentice).

But again, I'd point out that nothing you said runs counter to what I wrote - most science is incremental in nature, most papers represent modest steps forward, huge breakthroughs are rare.


I wasn't trying to disagree that science is incremental. I just happen to think that in my field the combination of more postdocs and less funding has lead to a large volume of papers that are simply treading water- not even tiny steps forward. I once saw a talk by Goodstein where he argued that peer review is a great way to vet research, but an awful way to allocate scarce resources and that the strain of the latter is starting to distort the system.

. But I'd "counter" by pointing out that there are far more poorly-qualified PhD's out there than well-qualified


I agree that there are a lot of less-qualified phds out there (though in my darker moments I wonder how many potentially great scientists have careers destroyed by bad advising and bad luck), generally we find it pretty easy to narrow the pool down from a few hundred to about 20 or 30, but at that point getting to the shortlist is basically flipping coins. One colleague jokingly suggested that even if we only hired people who had been successful as postdocs at Princeton our short-list would still be 3 times too big.

I've noticed that recent applicants seem to have much less of the pie-in-the-sky view of academic jobs prospects that was common just 5 or 6 years ago... Most students today in the bio/medical sciences have a similar outlook - they may aim for academia, but most know they are likely headed elsewhere.


This change has started happening in my field, but very, very slowly. This strange idea that everyone was going to retire between 95 and 2000 (and then between 2000-2005) gave lots of otherwise rational people irrational expectations. The bigger problem in physics is that you aren't likely to get a job doing science ANYWHERE. Biomed might be a better field in that respect, I have no idea. Students seem to think "industry" means "industrial science" but really, mostly "industry" means finance and insurance. Unfortunately, most professors, at least at my institution, don't seem to realize it either, and so they implicitly give some rather bad advice.

I always tell students the majority of the department's graduates ended up outside science all together usually in jobs that don't require a phd (in insurance, IT, programming,etc.) and that it would be smart to take a few finance classes or data mining classes or whatever to get a feel for what material you need for those fields. They generally don't believe me, or say things like "well, I don't want to sell-out." And then five years later they feel hurt and betrayed that there aren't any science jobs waiting for them.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Sep 09, 2012 10:09 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote: Unfortunately, most professors, at least at my institution, don't seem to realize it either, and so they implicitly give some rather bad advice.

All things aside for a moment, I cannot underline this point more. Talking to professors in just about every department I've ever encountered, the notion of NOT going into academia, of NOT following in their footsteps, is tantamount to spitting in their face. Every single graduate student I've spoken to about post-defense plans starts talking about various labs they're interviewing with for post-docs, then looks over their shoulders, and in a hushed whisper, talks of going to work for industry, or publishing, or whatever.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:11 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote: I don't think I am- but I think I'm approaching the question a little differently. I want to look at what my training gives my students that five years in any other job wouldn't. If you work at a financial or engineering firm right out of college, you'll learn technical writing, you'll learn many of the broad skills you're listing. I'm not saying the transferable skills don't exist- I'm suggesting they are so broad you'll learn them doing most jobs.

The difference though is when you learn them - being proficient at technical writing when starting a job is generally going to serve you better (at least, in getting noticed/advanced) then is learning it once there. Granted, a PhD is a long-about way of learning that skill...

...that said, my point hasn't been that PhD's are the only way to learn those things, only that a PhD gives you those broadly applicable skills.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I wasn't trying to disagree that science is incremental. I just happen to think that in my field the combination of more postdocs and less funding has lead to a large volume of papers that are simply treading water- not even tiny steps forward. I once saw a talk by Goodstein where he argued that peer review is a great way to vet research, but an awful way to allocate scarce resources and that the strain of the latter is starting to distort the system.

That may be a field-specific thing; I don't see much "treading water" in my field - to the contrary, it moves so fast its hard to keep up. I'd agree that there are a lot of problems with peer-review, but I don't understand the "allocating resources" it - at least in my field, we review papers for "free".

SU3SU2U1 wrote:The bigger problem in physics is that you aren't likely to get a job doing science ANYWHERE. Biomed might be a better field in that respect, I have no idea. Students seem to think "industry" means "industrial science" but really, mostly "industry" means finance and insurance. Unfortunately, most professors, at least at my institution, don't seem to realize it either, and so they implicitly give some rather bad advice.

That's too bad. I know here in Canada, biomed receives more funding than any area of science, so your chance of doing 'real' science post-PhD is better than in other fields. That said, I collaborate with a physicist (soft-materials guy, we do biophysics of biological membrane stuff together), and a good proportion of his students still move onto 'real' science jobs in academia or industry - probably a larger portion than my students.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:They generally don't believe me, or say things like "well, I don't want to sell-out." And then five years later they feel hurt and betrayed that there aren't any science jobs waiting for them.

But you cannot be held responsible if they do not listen. Granted, they'll blame us anyways, but to paraphrase the simpsons - we professors are not responsible for the poor life-decisions of grad students...

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:18 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:All things aside for a moment, I cannot underline this point more. Talking to professors in just about every department I've ever encountered, the notion of NOT going into academia, of NOT following in their footsteps, is tantamount to spitting in their face. Every single graduate student I've spoken to about post-defense plans starts talking about various labs they're interviewing with for post-docs, then looks over their shoulders, and in a hushed whisper, talks of going to work for industry, or publishing, or whatever.

This attitude is quite common in the 'old guard', many of whom who haven't realized that it isn't the 1960's anymore, and there no longer is a deficiency in qualified professors. My departments undergone a lot of turn-over, so we're (finally) free of those guys. Your department obviously has a long ways to go.

But that said, there is no lack of articles, appearing everywhere from books on careers, to career-advice webpages, to the pages of high-impact science journals, pointing out the reality of the scientific job market. The information is out there, and ultimately it is you who is responsible for your career. Blaming profs who give bad advice (or refuse to give it) is simply displacing the blame from where it belongs - on the shoulders of the person who didn't investigate their career prospects.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:59 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:This attitude is quite common in the 'old guard', many of whom who haven't realized that it isn't the 1960's anymore, and there no longer is a deficiency in qualified professors. My departments undergone a lot of turn-over, so we're (finally) free of those guys. Your department obviously has a long ways to go

You know, I'm sure you're a really awesome guy and everything, but for some reason, every post you've made in this thread makes me want to ignore most of what you have to say.

Again, the statement you just made, that that attitude is primarily found in the older crowd, those from the 1960's, is the opposite of true in my experience. Younger faculty are convinced that their path was the right one, older faculty have seen enough people move onto non-academic things and find successful and happiness to recognize it as a viable plan.

ImagingGeek wrote: The information is out there, and ultimately it is you who is responsible for your career. Blaming profs who give bad advice (or refuse to give it) is simply displacing the blame from where it belongs - on the shoulders of the person who didn't investigate their career prospects.

I'm not blaming anyone for anything; I'm saying I wish professors, i.e., my boss and my bosses peers, were more supportive of not following in their footsteps. That I wish they recognized more lifeplans has no bearing on the life plan I want to pursue.
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:34 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:This attitude is quite common in the 'old guard', many of whom who haven't realized that it isn't the 1960's anymore, and there no longer is a deficiency in qualified professors. My departments undergone a lot of turn-over, so we're (finally) free of those guys. Your department obviously has a long ways to go

You know, I'm sure you're a really awesome guy and everything, but for some reason, every post you've made in this thread makes me want to ignore most of what you have to say.

LOL, if you're going to judge the veracity of a persons statements based on how well they align with your preconceptions, you're going to have a hard run in life. Then again, you also need to work on your reading comprehension...I never stated it was a mentality exclusive to older profs, I only stated it is a mentality common among them. Nothing in that statement excludes the possibility of it in others, although, IME, it is far rarer in younger profs than older ones. YMMV.

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm not blaming anyone for anything; I'm saying I wish professors, i.e., my boss and my bosses peers, were more supportive of not following in their footsteps. That I wish they recognized more lifeplans has no bearing on the life plan I want to pursue.

Not knowing your profs or what you mean by 'more supportive', its hard to comment. But, are you sure they're in a position to intelligently be more supportive? Contact with, and experience in, commercial enterprises is uncommon in many faculties. It may not be that they are not supportive, it may be that they are unknowledgeable of your options, or feel that their knowledge about 'alternative' careers is too deficient to allow them to offer advice. You'd be surprised how often I (and, I imagine, most profs) get asked questions about all sort of obscure (to us) career paths and choices. Personally, I'd rather say "I have no idea" or "talk to someone else" than give potentially bad advice based on my minimal understanding of a field.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Sun Sep 16, 2012 7:40 am UTC

...that said, my point hasn't been that PhD's are the only way to learn those things, only that a PhD gives you those broadly applicable skills.


But you are making the claim that a phd is DIFFERENT from on the job training. You are saying it is an education. I'm asserting that most of the broad skills are SO broad that almost anyone would pick them up on the job, and the remaining skills you learn in a phd are directly relevant to being an academic scientist. You always have to compare the decision to get a phd to the decision to work 5-7 years in a technical job. Opportunity cost is a real thing.

That may be a field-specific thing; I don't see much "treading water" in my field - to the contrary, it moves so fast its hard to keep up.


I fear I'm miscommunicating what I'm trying to get at. Are there 'bad' papers in your field? Whole tiers of journal that you simply don't read? That don't really further your field much? Or maybe were just sloppy? Maybe a non-interesting, non-result gets printed in a low-tier journal nobody reads so that a postdoc can squeeze a publication out of a failed experiment? My point was simply that the publish at all costs mentality is increasing the ratio of 'bad' papers to 'good' papers. The field as a whole moves quickly, but the effort required to weed through the avalanche of crap grows.

I would suggest one of the most important skills I try to instill in students is how to navigate the literature (which is mostly learning a lot of rules of thumb for how to quickly recognize worthless papers).

I'd agree that there are a lot of problems with peer-review, but I don't understand the "allocating resources" it - at least in my field, we review papers for "free".


I think I'm miscommunicating here again. The scarce resources I'm talking about are jobs and funding. In my field, no one reads journals, everyone reads preprints (takes too long to get to journals). HOWEVER, funding and jobs are handed out to people who publish. The incentive I was hinting at is that, as a reviewer is to prevent rivals from publication. When publication isn't just used to disseminate research, its also used to 'keep score' for jobs and funding, the system gets distorted.

But you cannot be held responsible if they do not listen. Granted, they'll blame us anyways, but to paraphrase the simpsons - we professors are not responsible for the poor life-decisions of grad students...


But aren't we complicit? I'll tell a few stories here, that I claim outline a pattern.
1. Every department I've ever worked in has the APS numbers for "physicist starting salary" both posted on the wall, and in the information they give people who are thinking of declaring a physics major. These numbers are misleading to the point of dishonesty- unless you get a phd in physics you probably won't be working as a physicist. When you compare our numbers to the same numbers the other engineering programs give out, its comparing physics PHDS to engineering bachelors. Also, physics degrees do not lead to physics employment with the same certainty that engineering degrees lead to engineering employment, its wrong to implicitly suggest otherwise. I've pointed this out, everyone agrees its misleading, we keep handing it out because it helps get people into the department.

2. A liberal arts college I worked at uses how many of its students go on to get phds in STEM fields as a selling point in its recruitment literature. When I was a member of the physics department there, a lower than average percentage of my academic advisees applied to phds. This was the only feedback I was given from the department- convince more people to get phds! Especially the students who could get in to top programs!

3. My first year at this institution I was responsible for advising some of the first-year incoming grad students without research advisers. At the time, a collaboration had gotten a large grant that would allowed new grad students to avoid having to TA, so I steered people in that direction if they seemed a decent match. When it was discovered that none of my advisees had even attempted to join the theory effort I'm loosely a part of, an older professor chastised at me in front of colleagues. "Everyone uses these advising rolls to steer people into THEIR research effort!" and all that. He was worried we were missing out on good students.

4. I firmly believe going into my field is a bad career move for anyone, and I've believed it for years. Because of the drawn out LHC timeline, the fermilab shutdown, and the economic crisis, theory will be glutted for years. I warn prospective students BUT I STILL TAKE STUDENTS. I know that I care more about my career than I care about my student's overall well-being- its my revealed preference.

Physics departments work very hard to sell the major to perspective students AND WE DON'T CARE IF ITS TRUE, we work very hard to sell the idea that people should get a phd AND WE DON'T CARE IF ITS TRUE, and we work hard to sell the idea that OUR research is where the best student should go, and WE DON'T CARE IF ITS TRUE. Physics departments care about the health of the department, not the students involved (that doesn't mean individual people don't care, its an institution thing- the institution needs students, especially at liberal arts colleges where without students it can't justify its existence. Researchers want the best students because they want/need to get quality research out, etc).

But when our sales job is successful and some student buys it hook line and sinker, and then after 5 or 6 years studying physics (undergrad+masters) someone says 'slow down, there are a lot of terrible things about this career' should we be surprised the student has trouble believing it? After all, lots of people he/she looked up to have spent a lot of time and effort convincing him/her that physics was the correct path! We (being the whole institution) ARE at least somewhat responsible- just as a parent is somewhat responsible for their child's decisions. We shaped and molded this person, instilled certain values, etc, and the student trusted it we only had their best interest at heart...

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Mon Sep 17, 2012 12:25 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
...that said, my point hasn't been that PhD's are the only way to learn those things, only that a PhD gives you those broadly applicable skills.


But you are making the claim that a phd is DIFFERENT from on the job training. You are saying it is an education. I'm asserting that most of the broad skills are SO broad that almost anyone would pick them up on the job, and the remaining skills you learn in a phd are directly relevant to being an academic scientist.

I never said a thing about on-the-job training, although a PhD is different from that (no job I'm aware of would train the same cohort of skills). But you claim that any skill - including bench skills - can be learned on the job. I don't disagree with that claim - but remember, I am in industry as well - if we have a choice between teaching someone a skill in-house, that takes years to acquire, versus a candidate who already has those skills, we'll take the later every time. No company is going to waste money on training (which is not cheap), if they can hire someone with those skills pre-developed (i.e. a PhD student). People go to trade schools, undergrad, etc, for the same reason - a PhD is no different.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I fear I'm miscommunicating what I'm trying to get at. Are there 'bad' papers in your field? Whole tiers of journal that you simply don't read? That don't really further your field much? Or maybe were just sloppy?. . . non-result

In order: yes, no, yes, yes and no. Bad papers happen - although just as often in good journals as in bad. I tend to consider papers based on content rather than journal - good stuff (and bad stuff) seems to make it into journals of every stripe. Sloppyness and minor advancements are common, but investigators producing the former don't seem to last long, and the later retain some merit. The non-result thing is almost unheard of in biomed - it is notoriously difficult to publish negative results in my field; something which I actually consider to be a huge problem - sometimes knowing what doesn't work is as important as knowing what does - especially if you're trying to push that part of the field forwards.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I would suggest one of the most important skills I try to instill in students is how to navigate the literature (which is mostly learning a lot of rules of thumb for how to quickly recognize worthless papers).

I would agree - if they are headed towards an academic/research based career. But I would include that in a broader range of skills (mentioned earlier), that being how to research/generate new knowledge. And those same skills that let us rapidly assess scientific publications is equally applicable to assessing technical reports, project proposals, etc, that would be encountered in various companies.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I think I'm miscommunicating here again. The scarce resources I'm talking about are jobs and funding. In my field, no one reads journals, everyone reads preprints (takes too long to get to journals). HOWEVER, funding and jobs are handed out to people who publish. The incentive I was hinting at is that, as a reviewer is to prevent rivals from publication. When publication isn't just used to disseminate research, its also used to 'keep score' for jobs and funding, the system gets distorted.

Ahh, I see. Pre-prints are not common in biomed - aside from journals "electronic releases", which generally precede printed copy by a month or so. A lot of that reviewer crap does go on in biomed reviews - trying to delay publication, etc - but thankfully its the exception rather than the rule (uncomfortably, incompetent reviews are also the norm). I've had the whole process (first submission, revision, resubmission and publication) complete in less than 3 months, and others take over a year.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:But aren't we complicit?

I don't think I am, YMMV...
SU3SU2U1 wrote:1. Every department I've ever worked in has the APS numbers for "physicist starting salary" both posted on the wall, and in the information they give people who are thinking of declaring a physics major.

I've never seen the equivalent in any department I've been a part of or reviewed. Nor, in my weekly visits to our physics/surface science department here, have I seen it. I agree, it is hugely mis-leading (although, maybe not as bad as the expectation among our undergrads that they all are going to med school).

SU3SU2U1 wrote:2. A liberal arts college I worked at uses how many of its students go on to get phds in STEM fields as a selling point in its recruitment literature.

We follow as many of our grad students as we can, and use those numbers (in vauge terms - no names - i.e. industry, position, etc) as a recruitment tool. But it is honest - we state as much as we can without violating privacy how many grads we've had, and what they are doing now. I've never seen number of PhD slots used as a recruitment tool - but again, if truthful, how is it misleading? If your goal is grad school, and a uni's undergrad program has a good success rate at getting them in, I fail to see the issue with advertising that.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:3. My first year at this institution I was responsible for advising some of the first-year incoming grad students without research advisers. At the time, a collaboration had gotten a large grant that would allowed new grad students to avoid having to TA, so I steered people in that direction if they seemed a decent match. When it was discovered that none of my advisees had even attempted to join the theory effort I'm loosely a part of, an older professor chastised at me in front of colleagues. "Everyone uses these advising rolls to steer people into THEIR research effort!" and all that. He was worried we were missing out on good students.

You lost me on this one - he was mad you moved students towards a well-matched project rather than him, or he was mad that you 'poached' all the good ones? In either case (assuming one or the other is right), I don't think this speaks towards a problem in mis-leading recruitment, but rather speaks towards issues within your faculty. It is uncommon in biomed to have new students without supervisors (indeed, in every department I've been in, enrolment is contingent on finding a supervisor), so I cannot relate to this much.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:4. I firmly believe going into my field is a bad career move for anyone, and I've believed it for years. Because of the drawn out LHC timeline, the fermilab shutdown, and the economic crisis, theory will be glutted for years.

It sounds like your field has more current problems than most, but don't forget that at the moment, every career path is dicey. Every field - academic or industry - is hurting now. Few are hiring; even fewer are hiring new grads. But I'd point out (again) that you're only considering the academic job market, while ignoring industry. Yes, academic jobs are in short supply (and by the looks of it, in your field, may remain that way for a while), but that doesn't mean the same is reflected in industry jobs.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:Physics departments work very hard to sell the major to perspective students AND WE DON'T CARE IF ITS TRUE
[/quote]
I don't think this is physics in general - I collaborate with a physicist, spend a day or so each week in their department, even share a student with them, and have never heard anything along these lines. Sounds to me like your department needs to do a bit of soul-searching.

We (biomed departments I used to be in) were a lot like your department seems to be - over-hyping PhD's and academic careers. This has changed a lot over the years - maybe its because many of our undergrads go into med school, so we have competition for good students, but being more forthright about all of the job options (not just the academic ones) and pointing out the benefits of MSc vs PhD in those alternative careers, has been key in maintaining a good cohort of grad students.

Bryan
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:30 pm UTC

But you claim that any skill - including bench skills - can be learned on the job


No, I didn't make that claim. I'd divide the skills you learn in a phd into two categories, one being the broad transferable skills, and the other being narrow specialized skills. Technical writing is broad, specific bench skills are clearly narrow. For most people in physics, the narrow specialized skills never get used again after their phd, so they are left with technical writing, etc which they would learn anywhere. The exceptions are probably physicists who sit near other disciplines (biophysics/soft condensed matter, material science,etc).

My point was simply that a phd is not actually a broad education, nor is it meant to be, and its much more like a trade school than an undergrad degree. We seem to have resolved this disagreement.

I've never seen number of PhD slots used as a recruitment tool - but again, if truthful, how is it misleading?


Even if I thought graduate school was wrong for a student, I was supposed to push them into it, especially if the student had a shot at getting into a top school. I'm not suggesting its misleading, I'm suggesting that institutions care more about their numbers than they do about their students, and it creates a situation where we implicitly tell students that physics (in my case) is a great career choice.

And its not simply my department, its every department I've ever been involved in. Including undergrad, gradschool, two postdocs, a liberal arts faculty position and my current job, its a fair number. The institutional economics would suggest that at the margin, the department is always going to push people towards physics (or whatever) even if its a bad decision, because they need students. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that students come to the department for advice as if its advice is objective and disinterested. They don't realize they are going to a car salesman for advice about whether or not they need a new car.

But I'd point out (again) that you're only considering the academic job market, while ignoring industry. Yes, academic jobs are in short supply (and by the looks of it, in your field, may remain that way for a while), but that doesn't mean the same is reflected in industry jobs.


The industry jobs that high energy physicists go into almost exclusively are finance, insurance, programming and IT. Only former students in finance jobs consistently say they need a phd to do their current work. These aren't jobs that most grad students are interested in initially, they are jobs they fall into when they graduate and can't find anything else. As such, if you are choosing between a high energy physics phd and any other physics phd, high energy is an absolutely awful career move- assuming of course that you want either an academic job or some job where knowing physics is a benefit.

being more forthright about all of the job options (not just the academic ones) and pointing out the benefits of MSc vs PhD in those alternative careers, has been key in maintaining a good cohort of grad students.


This is probably the key difference between our fields, right here. Biomed still has a decent industry path, many types of physics simply don't. For us, we tend to put our heads in the sand when it comes to outcomes, because if we told students they were really training for a finance job, they'd do something else. To maintain a good cohort, we have to sell, and when we have sold someone its hard to walk it back and get them to be realistic.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 18, 2012 5:18 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
But you claim that any skill - including bench skills - can be learned on the job


No, I didn't make that claim.

I wasn't trying to say you did - I was saying that (bad wording, my bad). The point is the same - any skill can be learned in a job environment. But non-academic employers are not interested in training people unless we absolutely have to - that costs $, and $ is "god". They/we want people with these skills pre-developed. And some skills - like rational, objective analysis, data gathering, research, etc, take so long to master that we'd leave those positions empty rather than fill them with someone who'd take years to master those skills.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:I'd divide the skills you learn in a phd into two categories, one being the broad transferable skills, and the other being narrow specialized skills. Technical writing is broad, specific bench skills are clearly narrow. For most people in physics, the narrow specialized skills never get used again after their phd, so they are left with technical writing, etc which they would learn anywhere. The exceptions are probably physicists who sit near other disciplines (biophysics/soft condensed matter, material science,etc).

But that is true of most PhD's. I do academic research (and commercialize it), and even there, most of the specific protocols I learned in my PhD are irrelevant. However, learning those technical skills also gave me the "knowledge" (not the right word) to quickly learn other bench skills, to troubleshoot, etc.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:My point was simply that a phd is not actually a broad education, nor is it meant to be, and its much more like a trade school than an undergrad degree. We seem to have resolved this disagreement.

I think I'd argue a PhD is broader training than you would, but we are agreed that a BSc is much, much broader.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
I've never seen number of PhD slots used as a recruitment tool - but again, if truthful, how is it misleading?


Even if I thought graduate school was wrong for a student, I was supposed to push them into it, especially if the student had a shot at getting into a top school. I'm not suggesting its misleading, I'm suggesting that institutions care more about their numbers than they do about their students

That may be true of some, but not all. In our case, we have far more applicants than slots; i.e. we have the opposite problem - too many students, not enough spaces (or want for more students at the level of the faculty).

SU3SU2U1 wrote:And its not simply my department, its every department I've ever been involved in. Including undergrad, gradschool, two postdocs, a liberal arts faculty position and my current job, its a fair number. The institutional economics would suggest that at the margin, the department is always going to push people towards physics (or whatever) even if its a bad decision, because they need students.

My experience has been much more varied; both here and in the US I've seen the "take everyone" model and the "less-is-more" approach. YMMV.

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
But I'd point out (again) that you're only considering the academic job market, while ignoring industry. Yes, academic jobs are in short supply (and by the looks of it, in your field, may remain that way for a while), but that doesn't mean the same is reflected in industry jobs.


The industry jobs that high energy physicists go into almost exclusively are finance, insurance, programming and IT. Only former students in finance jobs consistently say they need a phd to do their current work. These aren't jobs that most grad students are interested in initially, they are jobs they fall into when they graduate and can't find anything else. As such, if you are choosing between a high energy physics phd and any other physics phd, high energy is an absolutely awful career move- assuming of course that you want either an academic job or some job where knowing physics is a benefit.

My counter-argument remains the same:
1) Their training qualifies them for the position, in many cases, more so than an "industry specific" BSc.
2) Those are largely good jobs, and not something we should be "ashamed" of our students entering, and
3) We should (and many of us are, including you by the looks of it) forward to students about the existence of these other opportunities, and how their MSc/PhD qualifies them for it

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
being more forthright about all of the job options (not just the academic ones) and pointing out the benefits of MSc vs PhD in those alternative careers, has been key in maintaining a good cohort of grad students.


This is probably the key difference between our fields, right here. Biomed still has a decent industry path, many types of physics simply don't. For us, we tend to put our heads in the sand when it comes to outcomes, because if we told students they were really training for a finance job, they'd do something else. To maintain a good cohort, we have to sell, and when we have sold someone its hard to walk it back and get them to be realistic.
[/quote]
Wow, too many levels of quotes. Not being too familiar with the physics side of things I cannot intelligently comment here - other than to say, the grads of my physics collaborator (soft-materials physics, FWIW) students seem to find quality employment without huge issues - largely in industry. I don't know if that's a sub-field thing, a different-country thing, or what.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Tue Sep 18, 2012 6:17 pm UTC

Wow, too many levels of quotes. Not being too familiar with the physics side of things I cannot intelligently comment here - other than to say, the grads of my physics collaborator (soft-materials physics, FWIW) students seem to find quality employment without huge issues - largely in industry. I don't know if that's a sub-field thing, a different-country thing, or what.


Its probably the cross-discipline thing. His students can be competitive for biomed type industry jobs if they collaborate with biomed groups.

In our department, no one tracks outcomes past the first postdoc, but my count of the high energy group graduates has >60% totally out of science within 4 years of graduation.

Combining BLS and APS numbers, there are about 15k physicists (industry+academia) working in the US, and nationally we graduate 1500 or so phds a year. So with growth and retirements, its about 600 new hires in physics a year, for 1500 graduates. I'm sure immigration changes that a bit (some people get hired from outside the US, some people leave the US to find employment).

A recruiter for an investment bank I spoke to (I'm setting up an "alternative careers" colloquium series next semester) made the claim that investment banking is now the largest sector of employment for physicists, followed by semi-conductors, followed by programming. I have no idea where he got his numbers, but no one in the department seems surprised that 2 out of 3 of the largest sectors for physicists might be outside of science.

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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:05 pm UTC

SU3SU2U1 wrote:
Wow, too many levels of quotes. Not being too familiar with the physics side of things I cannot intelligently comment here - other than to say, the grads of my physics collaborator (soft-materials physics, FWIW) students seem to find quality employment without huge issues - largely in industry. I don't know if that's a sub-field thing, a different-country thing, or what.


Its probably the cross-discipline thing. His students can be competitive for biomed type industry jobs if they collaborate with biomed groups.

In our department, no one tracks outcomes past the first postdoc, but my count of the high energy group graduates has >60% totally out of science within 4 years of graduation.

Combining BLS and APS numbers, there are about 15k physicists (industry+academia) working in the US, and nationally we graduate 1500 or so phds a year. So with growth and retirements, its about 600 new hires in physics a year, for 1500 graduates. I'm sure immigration changes that a bit (some people get hired from outside the US, some people leave the US to find employment).

A recruiter for an investment bank I spoke to (I'm setting up an "alternative careers" colloquium series next semester) made the claim that investment banking is now the largest sector of employment for physicists, followed by semi-conductors, followed by programming. I have no idea where he got his numbers, but no one in the department seems surprised that 2 out of 3 of the largest sectors for physicists might be outside of science.

I'd expect the numbers (in terms of fraction of grads in/out of field; not absolute numbers) is quite similar for biomed - while it is a growing area, at least recently the number of new hires and growth has been very slow. Most recent grads from our department end up in non-biomed jobs, such as investment. Although we try to track past that point, our data is spotty, but paints the same picture - i.e. those who are in academia tend to stay, those who are out, stay out.

Bryan
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Re: Some general academia rant

Postby ImagingGeek » Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:05 pm UTC

duplicate post removed
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Some general academia rant

Postby queldorei » Tue Jun 11, 2013 8:36 am UTC

thanks.

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