Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I am the 80%.

My decision to leave the bench has not been an easy one.  

I have been applying for jobs, and I found myself writing this sentence for my cover letter.  This seems like such a simple sentence.  It feels rather cliché.  It is definitely an understatement.  In reality, the past year has been wrought with tears and anxiety. 

The reason the sentence feels cliché is that it likely is.  The academic bottleneck is a reality that many post docs in science will have to face.  The likelihood of a post doc in the biological sciences landing a job as a PI is pretty low.  In the seventies, 55% of PhD's would have a tenure-track job; in the past decade the number is closer to 20%.   (More cogent articles have addressed this issue, e.g., The PhD problem and The PhD Factory, so I will not belabor the point here.)  Nonetheless, lots and lots of post docs brave the odds and join a lab. What drives PhD's to keep making the leap of faith?  Judging by the behavior of my lab mates, who tirelessly toil away for 60-70 hours a week, it is somewhere between passion and madness.  I recently heard one lab mate, upon being asked what she would do if she weren’t a scientist, reply simply and without a trace of drama, “I would die.”  Is it this simple?  Like an artist or a writer, some people are just called to do this and could not consider an alternative. 

Goodbye bench.
In my case, I feel I was lucky to stumble upon this job in the first place.  As my project comes to a close, I find myself questioning why I ever spent all that time in the lab.  Of course, I was like the others: driven by the pursuit of the answer to my question, in search of the perfect experiment to make the paper that much better.  No matter how sad I get about the fizzle of my project, I try to recall the days when I knew that I could beat the odds and get my own lab and do some really great science.  I am still jealous of those that are living the dream, and I hope that they can make it work.  

For me, I am embarking on a new stage as a science editor and writer. I will be sure to keep this blog updated as I progress.   

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