An absolutely brilliantly expressed observation on a recent post reminded me of a point that I cannot make frequently enough, whilst we are rambling on about publishing as highly as possible, impact factors and the like. We were discussing the implications of always submitting your manuscripts to journals in which you have high confidence of successful acceptance versus frequent submission to journals of higher repute but less likely acceptance. Coturnix dragged the discussion back around to reality in a comment:
Remember that CNS Disease afflicts a relatively small (but loud and prominent) subset of scientists - those working in biomedical fields, molecular biology, immunology, cancer, etc. and want to get tenure-track jobs at hyper-competitive Ivy League schools.
Most scientists do not do that, do not even consider submitting to CNS, have no wish to ever work at Harvard, laugh at the super-competitive crowd, publish in society journals and have their students nicely employed in nice departments in nice schools around the world.
First of all this is a true observation. Despite the salience of general science journals such as Nature and Science, and the majority-rules domination of journals which cater to large sub-fields, the enterprise of biological science (very, very broadly defined) is peopled with numerous published scientists who will never publish in such journals of the highest repute.
Despite the hype of people who operate in the GlamourMag environment, there are plenty of scientists who have perfectly viable research careers publishing in a more pedestrian fashion. My failure to highlight this fact even more than I already do is a failing of my mission here. So bad on me. I am doing a disservice to those who operate in a more-typical environment and think that there is no future since they do not anticipate being a CNS scientist, ever. I am also missing my opportunity to reach the poor suckers in one of those "Teh Hawt and Only Teh Hawt" labs who cannot see beyond the limits of their current environment which does not appear to be a career path of interest.
It is easy to assuage the fears of the first population since they are most likely already in fields which contain many people who have viable careers without GlamourPubs. As I frequently mention, most of the drug abuse world could be so described although most of the big figures do hit a Nature or Science once in awhile (Cell is rare, IME) and we have a handful of GlamourLabs. All the low-profile-postdoc population needs to assess this in their own fields is to conduct some judicious PubMedding for names and then go CRISP searching for these individual's grant support. The first thing you will notice is that there are plenty of well-funded or long-term funded investigators who have published at the society journal level for most of their careers. The second thing you may notice is "Holy Crap! How does that guy keep/get his grants????". The point is not to answer such questions today but merely to point to the less-salient evidence. Grant funding from the NIH is not the only source of support of course, but it is important to realize that even this career touchstone is hardly the exclusive province of GlamourScience.
Assessing the population of new-hires in a given subfield is a little more difficult because it is impossible to get a bead on populations such as all the Asst Profs hired in your subfield for the past three years in your own country or especially, worldwide. Absent prepared data, you might look around at your subfield specific conference at some point and take special note of those who have been recently hired. In drug abuse, for example, the two dozen people achieving independence in the recent past that I think of are not exactly CNS type scientists. Similarly, walk through your big meeting and really think on this issue. For example, the population of big-name neuroscience groups is substantial, but not really all that large. A population that you can very easily see is tiny in the context of all the labgroups on display at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.
Now, my friends that are already in "Teh Hawt" career paths have a fairly consistent response to this line of discourse; namely "Who in the hell are these people?". Expressed with both condescension and resentment that such clearly inferior scientists have 1) independent jobs and 2) grant funding, whilst said snob is under the impression that s/he will never ever have a shot at independence as a grant wielding PI. This is where I get on one of my soapboxes which is that of "Do you want a career in science or not?"
And this is where coming to a fuller appreciation for the truth of Coturnix's observation will help. There are a LOT of ways to have an independent, productive, well-funded science research careers that do not require you to publish in GlamourMags. If you cannot imagine how this can possibly be so, you have some homework to do regarding the breadth of the biological sciences.
Update 08/21/08: River Tam has some related thoughts. Update 08/22/08: Prof in Training has done what I frequently recommend to postdocs in highly competitive (usuallly quite basic) fields. Take your skill set and approaches into some relative backwater field where they will think you are the second coming.