[personal profile] willowroot
If you're at all interested, intrigued, amused, or worried about "America's deficit in STEM fields" (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math), careers in academia, or education in general, I highly recommend you read "The Real Science Gap" by Beryl Lieff Benderly. It's a little long to be light reading, but I'll wait.

I've personally known this problem for 10-12 years now, although I've only been able to articulate it as clearly as this article in the last 4 or 5. This problem is why I left graduate school at Chicago. Ironically, a cousin to this problem is also why I restarted grad school, here at Michigan.

At the U of Chicago, graduate work in the sciences was the entry to a great and storied career in the Ivory Tower of Academe (especially if your successes reflected greater glories back upon UC). Successful advancement upon this high road however, demanded you sacrifice personal freedoms, frequently any relationships with people outside the school, often sleep, and sometimes your health. But if you mentioned you were considering any career other than academic research faculty, you received numerous cold shoulders from professors and the institution.*

I'll admit, I pondered my boss' life as young faculty, I looked that career right in the eye, and I blinked. I didn't want the $30-50K/year for 70-hour work weeks for 10 years while starting a family and living a life and attempting to get a career up and running. I knew that I was not a sufficiently driven scientist to let the job be its own reward. I walked away. Yet here I am, coming perilously close to that potential Gate of Horn anyway, hoping that I can land a postdoc fellowship and find a good position at a small college after I defend.

Now that I have found a far more satisfying path in the sciences, as a research-educator excited to see my students excited, who looks to use my scientific expertise as a tool to enhance teaching, I wonder what I am doing for, or to, the next generation of scientists, those 'kids' that I'm getting all hopped-up on the thrill of discovery, that I'm teaching and training to enjoy science, and to consider it a career.

I can only hope that with my awareness of the inherent flaws in this system, I can do some work within the system to help students find other paths, ways to let them use their great intellects, and amazing depths of curiosity, to find fulfilling careers. Just not necessarily in The Sciences. Barring a major revolution in how academia operates, how the entire Research Enterprise is structured, there won't be any jobs except for the ever-more select few.

* I acknowledge the possibility that UC life sciences has changed since I left. However, I was sufficiently embittered by my time there I have not bothered to investigate to see if anything has improved.

Date: 2010-06-15 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] voidampersand.livejournal.com
There used to be a lot of good, relatively high-paying jobs for scientists and engineers. They went away with the end of the cold war. The growth of civilian industries has not been enough to replace all those lost defense jobs. Even if you count all the jobs gained in the .com boom and don't count the losses in the ensuing bust, it's not been enough. It didn't help that the latest boom was in finance and construction instead of industry. Some science and math types went to Wall Street as quants, and they made a huge amount of money, but that was not sustainable. My hope now is that our society will choose to innovate its way out of the global warming and fossil fuel crisis. There could be a lot of good jobs, for people at all levels of skill and education.

Date: 2010-06-15 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sorcycat.livejournal.com
It's still happening now with looming cuts to NASA going to slash that workforce and drive a lot of talent to other industries or careers.

Date: 2010-06-15 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] georgmi.livejournal.com
If I felt at all bad about my decision to get out after my Bachelor's and enter the private sector, I would feel less bad about that decision now, having read that article.

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July 2011

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