Repost: The pyramid scheme

One of the posts which generated the most commentary on the old blog discussed the hierarchical nature of the modern academic bioscience labororatory. I probably was more inflammatory than accurate in calling it a "scheme" rather than a "structure" but the points are still reasonable as a start to a discussion. Is this structure inevitable? If not, what can we do to improve things? This was posted Sep 17, 2007 at the old blog.


A recent comment on the post that generated some heat bemoans the pyramid scheme that is modern bioscience. The more general critique boils down to the fact that the PI or lab head is generally given the lion's share, if not all, of the credit for scientific papers, findings and the like. The assignment of credit takes a number of forms including the habit most of us have of referring to findings and /or bodies of work as the product of "Dr. Greybeard's laboratory" or "Prof. Bluehair and her colleagues". Yes, even the grad students and postdocs who are resentful of the lack of crediting of their efforts are guilty of using this shorthand with respect to other research groups! This is also despite the fact that many (most?) PIs end their scientific presentations with a recitation of all of the people who did the actual work including technicians, graduate students and postdoctoral trainees suggesting that they understand quite well who is really responsible. Remember your Marx/Engels Reader from the general distribution class you took in college?


I don't remember it too well, I'll admit. Nevertheless the general outlines remain and it is pretty clear that the modern bioscience laboratory fits into the capitalist mold pretty well. The techs and trainees are, of course, the proletariat with the PIs standing as the owners of the means of production. I don't want to belabor this point too much. Not really my field. Those more steeped might want to chime in on the question of why this is a common human sociological pattern and the relative power of such an arrangement to succeed and to be productive. I only recognize that it is so. That the most productive and the most well-funded labs operate on certain principles. I think there are lessons here for the young investigator thinking about how to shape career.
One stereotype of the new Assistant Professor trying to make it is that they spend the day at the bench and the night hours until midnight writing grants and papers. You've heard it I imagine and may even have observed it. I think this is a fool's game. My advice to newly independent Investigators is as follows:
Your job as a PI is not to generate primary data. Your job is to manage the lab, train new scientists, direct the research, make sure the results get published and above all, keep it funded.
The first thing you need to do is get / train an excellent technician who can be the essential hands to generate a data stream of your most bread-and-butter basic work. [I recognize that in some fields the roles of the tech can vary from support to essentially doing the experiments. If you have to be doing "bench work" or equivalent, there is always something a tech can be taught to make your work more efficient and easier.]
There are many motivations in science. From just liking to putter at the bench, run rats or whatever to a desire for winning the Nobel Prize. Many of us have motivations all along the scale. My advice is that as PI if you hew to closely to benchwork you are sunk. There are simply too many other things that require your attention.
For me, I conceptualize the career path as a continuing process of influencing the conduct of more and more science. From directing the efforts of one part-time tech, to an undergraduate intern, onward and upward to running your own lab, growing your research group and establishing collaborations, well one of the reasons for doing this is having an effect on a broader sweep of science. One might also view the peer review process in a similar way. Why DO you review papers? The grant review process should be even more obviously rewarded by this "benefit" to your ego.
This process has to be reinforcing to you or otherwise, what on earth would you want to be a PI for? I happen to have come to this early when I recognized as a graduate student that my chosen model was a slow generator of data and that I wasn't "going to really get anywhere" on the labor of my own two hands. I don't care how hard you work, there are only so many hours in the day, people. This was a fortunate thing in some ways because when I was appointed, I kept the idea of a technician-generated data stream leading to my most bread-and-butter type of publications as a front and center goal. Not to say that one can get there overnight and not that everything in the lab can be devolved down the line. But these considerations should help to shape how you launch your research program.
The next step is, of course, exploitation of trainees. Techs are paid to do a job; no problem. Scientific trainees, however, have ideas about their roles in your laboratory. Some feel quite strongly that they are independent guests with loyalty mostly to themselves and the expectation that you mentor them in an almost parental sense of sacrifice and obligation. They feel, in a word, exploited by a PI who in any way views the trainee as simply a quasi independent generator of data for the PI's own purposes. When I was a trainee, I viewed this as a reciprocal relationship in which I was getting as good as I gave. As PI? I recognize the benefits of the arrangement for me, certainly, although I try my best to supply good mentoring. Do I exploit my trainees? Well in a certain capitalistic sense, yes.
Where's the problem? I mean, if the capitalistic framework fits, then how does academic bioscience differ from all our other professions in the US? Why are the middle and upper manager equivalents so resentful that they aren't CEOs? (To stretch the metaphor). Is it solely because we exist in a culture where everyone believes from the start (i.e., grad school) that they will/must become the CEO someday?
Or is it only about job security?

97 responses so far

  • dfasdf says:

    There is a strange parallel between succeeding in science (as a PI) and the drug dealer scheme described in Freakonomics. People at the bottom yearn to be at the top. There are only a few top spots and despite better job options, the drive to make it is enough for people to stay in the game.

  • Dave says:

    I agree with you, DM; there's not much difference between science and the rest of the world. The problem is that many science trainees have a hard time letting go the delusion that science is practiced in some sort of utopian bubble where real-world rules don't apply. As PIs, we have the difficult task of popping this fantasy without simultaneously turning people into bitter failures or cheats.
    ...or bloggers. I shudder at the thought. I need to go out right now and make sure no one in my lab is using the internet, just in case.

  • I need to go out right now and make sure no one in my lab is using the internet, just in case.

    OMFG! The blog post! It's coming from INSIDE THE LAB!! GET OUT NOW!11!!1!!11!!

  • Mad Hatter says:

    "Some feel quite strongly that they are independent guests with loyalty mostly to themselves and the expectation that you mentor them in an almost parental sense of sacrifice and obligation."
    I'm not of the opinion that the PI-trainee relationship should be a one-way thing, with the PI essentially spoon-feeding and nurturing a completely dependent trainee with no expectation of anything in return. But some of the terminology we use sort of predisposes n00b scientists-in-training to view it as such, right?. I mean, the words "mentor" and "advisor" do seem to promise more than a boss/employee, tit-for-tat relationship.
    I think the real problem is in the immensely one-sided balance of power. A trainee who doesn't return the PI's investment of "nurturing" by being productive can be fired, ignored, marginalized, and even blackballed by the PI. PIs therefore have several options in how they can terminate unproductive relationships and even punish such trainees.
    In contrast, there are relatively few repercussions for PIs who do not return a trainee's investment of time and effort with a good faith attempt to teach them the tricks of the trade. And while a trainee is still under the authority of such a PI, there is often very little the trainee can do about the situation that doesn't also carry the risk of backlash and self-damage.
    Being a grad student or a postdoc isn't like a normal job where you can simply look for a better offer, give two weeks' notice, and walk away from a bad situation. Even if one manages to extricate oneself from the bad situation, pissing off a PI can have long-term unpleasant consequences if one plans on remaining in the same academic field. So is it really that surprising or unreasonable that trainees who feel unfairly treated, but powerless to alter their situation, should be resentful and bitter?

  • DSKS says:

    "When I was a trainee, I viewed this as a reciprocal relationship in which I was getting as good as I gave."
    I think that's really the only way forward. And I suspect, as your commenter on the previous post conceded, that in many cases this generally is the nature of the relationship between mentor and trainee. Clearly, there are exceptions, and many grad students and postdocs have miserably lopsided relationships with their mentors. However, I'm not sure that top down regulation is a solution here.
    In this respect, the capitalist metaphor is appropriate. After all, as the same commenter stated, securing a postdoc is not difficult in the current environment: postdoc/staff level scientists are still in high demand, for good or ill, despite the arguably justified and inevitable bottleneck leading to faculty positions. Because of this, there is room for choice and negotiation when it comes to selecting mentors and defining the relationship with those mentors, and it is vital to exploit this advantage at the graduate and postdoc level in order to position oneself as well as possible for the moment when the odds swing strongly the other way.
    "Why are the middle and upper manager equivalents so resentful that they aren't CEOs?"
    I think that sense of entitlement might be waning among grad students and postdocs now. In the last couple of years serving on a society early careers committee, I've observed a fairly realistic worldview emerge among my colleagues at this level, with our alternative careers panels and whatnot often drawing far bigger crowds than our traditional faculty career path sessions. And I don't sense that this is simply out of frustration and despair; I'm meeting an increasing number of grad students particularly that have no desire to take the academic career path, and simply aim to better position themselves for employment in the private sector (where, as a recent speaker pointed out, the suffix "Ph.D" alone still carries a certain prestige and of course draws a much higher level of compensation).

  • becca says:

    "Those more steeped might want to chime in on the question of why this is a common human sociological pattern and the relative power of such an arrangement to succeed and to be productive. I only recognize that it is so."
    A common sociological pattern != the only possible one.
    If you really want capitalism, call up your institution's president and tell her you don't think you should use 501c(3) tax-exempt status for nonprofits. Let me know when she gets done laughing, or just locks you up for being completely batshit.
    Just because someday we might possibly do something useful for a pharma company, does not mean academic bioscience is the same as the pharma company (look, it's PharmaLite- always with lower paychecks!). Academic bioscience doesn't have to be the best of all possible careers (although I happen to think most folks that end up in it [myself notwithstanding] are really terribly clever and if they weren't so absorbed they could probably change the system rather radically). But academic bioscience should perhaps be different than corporate America.
    Even corporate America has a pretty wide spectrum of the way employees are viewed. I'm still waiting for Google to branch out into something I know how to do.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Your job as a PI is not to generate primary data. Your job is to manage the lab, train new scientists, direct the research, make sure the results get published and above all, keep it funded.

    Engineering Management 101: the surest way for a new manager to fail is to continue being an individual contributor. The principle is universal: the manager who is busy doing tech work is not managing, and hir department will suffer for it.
    The trouble is that doing IC work is a new manager's comfort zone -- and the path of least resistance leads downhill.

  • James Annan says:

    "Or is it only about job security?"
    Job security is just one part of the package of employment conditions that are massively worse than a similarly-talented person might reasonably expect in just about any other career path. Hairdressers and estate agents in the UK get paid a lot more than scientists, and as for doctors and lawyers...
    Science is increasingly a career path for immigrants, eccentrics and the independently wealthy. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that (I fit in pretty comfortably to all three categories), but I'm pretty sick of those who have climbed to the top of the greasy pole (which is generally more to do with having a famous mentor than through any real ability of their own, not that they would ever be honest enough to admit it) pretending that science is still a reasonable career choice for most normal people.

  • Dave says:

    Being a grad student or a postdoc isn't like a normal job where you can simply look for a better offer, give two weeks' notice, and walk away from a bad situation.

    Sure it is. I've done it. I've seen it done. Plenty of times.

    Even if one manages to extricate oneself from the bad situation, pissing off a PI can have long-term unpleasant consequences if one plans on remaining in the same academic field.

    Just like pissing off a senior person in any industry.
    Academia isn't like the real world. It is the real world. Why is this so hard to understand?

  • leeloo says:

    Dave, it's not hard to understand this if you are a trainee. You are indebted to your PI. If you change labs, you've lost all the time you spent in the first PI's lab. There are political ramifications (including stigma) that follow you throughout your training. Perhaps you are too far removed from your trainee days to remember this.
    Having worked in industry, I can say it is NOT the same. You can switch departments and stay in the same company. You can also switch companies. It's not that easy to switch schools or grad programs.

  • Anonymous says:

    There's another side to the professional progression that you describe. When a career path considered "upward" takes you away from doing the things you love and turns you into a person who watches OTHER people do the things you love, it's no wonder that so many people peel off into alternative directions. Examples: The PI who no longer has time for bench or field work, or the engineer who has to manage other people instead of actually designing and building things.
    I know that these can become straw-man arguments when taken to the extreme; at least most of the organismal biologists I know do make it into the field or lab regularly, and the management track does come with lots of perks, primarily financial. But it is a real issue for many of us who are in the process of making career-direction decisions.

  • sbalive says:

    It's really interesting seeing this post again within the context of everything that's happened in the financial crisis.
    What we're seeing over and over again in this crisis. For example, in the "BigLaw" structure of law firms, it's called leverage, and we're seeing the failure of those as the income drops - just as the BigScience groups are failing as funding dropped and grants started running out.
    In this view of the world, the stimulus funding at NIH/NSF is a temporary bailout designed to tide things over until "recovery". But, it doesn't change the basic fact that the system had reached a breaking point, and because of it was unsustainable, it broke. (When you think about it, so many moving parts were required - a steady supply of cheap postdocs from abroad, dangling faculty prospects before the top trainees that eventually got delayed, massive construction bubble at universities and research institutes, etc., etc.)
    I'm not really sure what will come next. Luckily, I was going to leave science before this all happened anyway. But, it's definitely going to be fun to watch how it evolves.

  • Mad Hatter says:

    @Dave:
    Oh, wait...you mean if I quit my job at Roche and go work at Amgen, my boss who's still at Roche can review my performance, critique my progress reports and influence how much money my new project gets allocated, just like former PIs can review my manuscripts and grants?
    And if I move from one company to another, I may have to "make up" some of the work I did at the first company just like a grad student who switches labs will have to restart a thesis project?
    Or I might have to negotiate with my boss at the first company to determine what I can work on at the second company just like postdocs negotiate what they can take with them when they start their own labs?
    I had no idea!
    "Academia isn't like the real world. It is the real world. Why is this so hard to understand?"
    Of course academia is the real world. That's not hard to understand at all. What's hard to understand is how someone can believe that the real world is made up of only his worldview and anyone who has a different opinion just doesn't get it.

  • GirlPostdoc says:

    I think that you've missed the point Drugmonkey. A pyramid scheme is NON-SUSTAINABLE. It collapses when money runs out and in the case of academia when too many of the lower echelons make it to the top, creating enormous competition for what now becomes relatively few research funds. This is why labs shut down, PI's lose money and in some cases universities close.
    Academia is a pyramid scheme. It perpetuates a myth. The lie that each new recruit (re grad student) are promised exponential returns. But what the biological system can actually sustain exponential growth. None. Exponential growth occurs for a short period of time after which the system *must* reach a carrying capacity. And if the new level is an equilibrium then competition causes many a death. If however, the resources are not there to sustain this level then the system starts to contract. Witness today's economic collapse. And MadHatter is right, we are at that breaking point where the education and research system must contract.
    The second problem is using the analogy of a business model for an education system. Education is a process NOT a fucking product. But because of this mentality there is a conflict around what it is we should trade in. We are expected to produce the currency of publications (very quickly) but at the same time practice mentorship (a longer process). This leads to the resentment of middle and upper manager equivalents.
    Further, when we as grad students and post-docs wake up to the fact that we were sold a lie, we get angry and frustrated. No-one openly says to classroom filled with 100 PhD students as often happens with med students,
    "Hey, how many of you want to be academics when you grow up? Well, look to your right and then to your left. Because these two people stand between you and a tenure-track position. Maybe 10 of you here today will find jobs as tenured faculty."
    That's because if they did, many more of us would abandon ship earlier and well, then who would be the monkeys that the PI farmed their work out to? This lie is also extended more subtly to undergraduates.
    It's fine if we want to make these types of analogies, as now I see and hear universities doing, but then let's be completely transparent. And let's also be fully aware that we risk changing the nature of science and education in the process.
    I've been blogging a lot about this over the last few months. If you're interested you can read the stuff at this link:
    http://girlpostdoc.blogspot.com/search/label/change%20in%20the%20academic%20landscape

  • Dave says:

    You know, when I was in first grade I thought I could be president. I'm still bitter that didn't happen. I just wish I could figure out who's to blame.

  • leeloo says:

    I just wish I could figure out who's to blame.
    Probably yourself. Did you bother running?

  • qaz says:

    The problem isn't the distribution of PIs, postdocs, and graduate students. These proportions are typical of any large human enterprise. Neither is the problem the mentor/mentee relationship. Of course it goes bad sometimes. So we try to fix it. Most of the time the mentor/mentee relationship is pretty damn good.
    The problem is that for some reason students who leave academia with a PhD and go do something else are labeled "failures". Worse than that, postdocs who leave and go do something else are labeled "failures". Worse than that, assistant professors who leave and go do something else are labeled "failures." (Anyone noticing a pattern here?) We need to get away from the concept that a PhD that leads to anything but a tenured faculty position is a failure.
    There are lots and lots of jobs that would really benefit from a PhD or even a postdoc. Wouldn't it be great if some of the best PhD and postdocs went into forensics? (See earlier post by DrugMonkey on the lack of science in forensics.) Or politics? (Can you imagine if every member of the US Congress had a PhD in science?) Or police work? Or teaching elementary school? These are not failures. The "pyramid scheme" only exists in the minds of arrogant NIH researchers who see themselves as the pinnacle of existence and everyone else as a failure. (And in the short-sightedness of NRSA study sections that define money spent on anyone not going into research as a waste.)
    We're teachers. So teach already!

  • JaneDoh says:

    Are the biosciences really so different from the physical sciences? When I was a student AT LEAST half of the people in my program (at a highly ranked R1 program in my field) came into the program not intending to have an academic career. Myself included (but I changed my mind later, 5-6 years after I got my PhD). There are many motivations for getting the PhD--becoming a professor is only one of them.
    It is true that there are far more applicants for TT positions than jobs. But that is also true for the top/glamor positions in most fields--there are far more lawyers than partners in firms, and far more athletes than spots on the pro rosters, for example. Yet there seems to be an extra bitterness for people who came in blind to do PhDs that doesn't exist in other fields. Before committing to 5-6 years in my program, I looked at my likely job prospects when I was done. Even as an idealistic 22 year old, I could see that a professorship at a research institution was a long shot, and I would need a Plan B if that was my goal. That some people never contemplated this is not the fault of the "system".

  • leigh says:

    am i the only one here who reads phdcomics?
    http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1144
    re: the mentor/mentee relationship. i once had a fantastically dysfunctional mentor, and left for a just fantastic one. (most of the time. some days i want to bang my head against the wall. and i'm sure that's mutual.) it's quite easy to perceive that you are being taken advantage of when your mentor isn't holding up their end of the deal. those of us with good mentors look up to them quite a bit.
    i refer to my mentor as my boss for a reason. we're becoming a little more like colleagues as i develop into a better trained scientist, but i still have a lot to learn. i also realize that i receive the benefit of the environment and experience around me, while generating data to get the next project funded and keep that environment afloat. i am quite open to that- there's plenty of altruism in the world, but most of the time relationships exist for a mutual benefit.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes it is about job security. basically no one other than tenured PIs have any semblance of job security or decent benefits commensurate with other (non science) professions.

  • Alex says:

    I want to echo what qaz and JaneDoh said, and add something to what qaz said:

    We need to get away from the concept that a PhD that leads to anything but a tenured faculty position at a research university is a failure.

    Fixed that.
    I teach at an undergraduate institution. I'm having fun, I'm doing some good research, I'm working with good students, and I'm helping a lot of people learn. But on my last day of my postdoc in a big research institute, another postdoc said that I am "leaving science." I wanted to punch him. Hard. But I didn't. And I know for a fact that my supervisor shared that attitude, although he didn't state it quite so bluntly.
    Best part: In my second year of my faculty position I got a paper accepted into a good journal (not CNS, but top in my subfield) that my postdoc supervisor had been rejected from multiple times. The paper was on work done entirely in my faculty job, not a carry-over from postdoc work.

  • social scientist says:

    To qaz: Yes.
    To Alex: Well done.
    Regarding giving credit to the already-more-famous person, see: Merton, R.K. (1968). The Matthew effect in science. Science 159 (3810), 56-63.

  • whimple says:

    Dave: You know, when I was in first grade I thought I could be president. I'm still bitter that didn't happen. I just wish I could figure out who's to blame.
    Did you spend 5 years getting an "advanced degree" at the School for Presidentiary Studies training to be president?

  • qaz says:

    JaneDoh #18 - One difference between biomedical sciences and the physical sciences is that NIH's mission is to "cure disease", while NSF's mission is to "improve science" (including education). So NIH spending money on a PhD student that goes on to teach elementary school students is seen as a failure because that's not "curing disease".
    and Alex #21 - well done. Several of my former graduate students are teaching at undergraduate institutions. They seem generally happy, and are continuing to do research. I still collaborate with them and look forward to seeing their work (and their students). But you are right that this anti-anything-but-professor attitude is very endemic in our scientific culture. A lot of times it is subtle and might be apparent even if your advisor did not actually feel that way.
    I first noticed this when a student of mine (who had gotten really sick of academia) complained that comments of mine made her feel like a failure for wanting to go into something else. I assured her it wasn't true, and after discussing it, realized that a lot of the language I used definitely suggested a difference between research-professor (success) and anything else (failure). Since then, I have endeavored to be very careful not to imply that. (BTW, she's working in a policy institute in DC, doing very well, and doing very important work, thank you very much.)

  • In relation to non-tenure-track goals, one of the things I really fail to understand is the whining and moaning of trainees that their tenure-track faculty mentors don't mentor them in non-tenure-track careers. What the fuck would we know about any of that shit?
    I would be committing malpractice if I were to attempt to advise my trainees about how to succeed in industry, SLACs, high school teaching, or anyfuckingthing other than the tenure track.

  • becca says:

    "No-one openly says to classroom filled with 100 PhD students..."
    Actually... yes. Somebody does. We invited a certain excellent neuroscientist who is also known for mentorship programs to speak at our graduate student research forum. Technically, he may have been using the numbers you'd get assuming you graduate (i.e. 20%) but he said "look to your left, your right, in front of you and behind you. One of you will get a faculty position doing research. And no, sitting on the end of a row doesn't give you a bonus."
    "Are the biosciences really so different from the physical sciences? " Physics, not so different. I think the % of chemistry PhD students wanting to do something other than academia has always been among the highest of any sort of PhD program. There's usually been a lot of industrial chemical research.
    "What the fuck would we know about any of that shit?
    I would be committing malpractice if I were to attempt to advise my trainees about how to succeed in industry, SLACs, high school teaching, or anyfuckingthing other than the tenure track."

    That old tired bullshit cop-out again???
    Maintain contacts from the people you trained with along the way. I'd go so far as to overdramatize in the other direction- you are committing malpractice if you don't have friends in industry, SLACs, and yes (perhaps) even high school teaching. Being aware of the broader cultural context of your science (beyond ranting about denialists and inserting "translational" buzzwords into your NIH applications) is part of your job. To do that, you need to know how most people engage with science- and you have to step out of the ivory tower (or at least know who to call up to ask about what things look like in the trenches).
    It's not "malpractice" for a hospital surgeon to advise medical students about private practice Oby/Gyn options- you admit the limits of your knowledge, but you can still provide some information (if nothing else, a view-from-the-outside from someone who has chosen a very different road).
    More importantly, maybe the almighty tt-research professors would actually not see other things as failures if they saw what an awesome time some of their old grad school buddies are having doing other things.
    "PIs therefore have several options in how they can terminate unproductive relationships and even punish such trainees."
    These options range from caring and compassionate to utterly sadisitic to totally batshit whackaloon. I've seen it all.
    I'm with Mad Hatter. Lack of easy-to-identify long-term career prospects (while annoying) just can't hold a candle to an abusive boss in terms of providing day-to-day misery.

  • microfool says:

    @ CPP #25
    I think I see where you are coming from, but one part of mentorship is making connections between your trainees and other successful people you know. Of course, it is easy to maintain a list of successful PIs and share that with your academia-focused trainees because the same knowledge base helps your career.
    PhD/Post-doc advisors who want to aid their trainees in the search for non-traditional PhD career tracks but feel they don't have the advice to give might instead:
    # Keep track of where your trainees who go on to non-traditional career paths, and keep the information on your website. Including the ones who don't complete the doctoral degree.
    # Help organize a life-science career day or seminar series for trainees. Ideally the speakers will be former trainees of your institution.
    # For otherwise productive trainees, provide flexiblity for the trainee to pursue developmental opportunities, such as training courses, 3 month industry or policy internships, or other short leaves of absence. Maybe even consider paying for it, in lieu of a research conference they would have attended. I can understand requiring a certain level of productivity before and after the event, to ensure some return on your investment in them.
    # Should you come across any information about various career paths, share them with your trainees and perhaps your entire department. Examples might include lobbying opportunities, web sites, and job announcements from professional societies, journals, other non-profits, funding institutions, etc.
    # Try not to scoff at non-tenure track focused trainees, and don't let the paths be called "leaving science" or "leaving the bench", since according to DM, even PIs should leave the bench.
    Like everyone else, PIs are busy, so these things wouldn't be their first thought and would take extra effort. But, for the PIs that honestly want the best for their otherwise productive trainees, these are some options.

  • Alex says:

    Comrade PhysioProf,
    You would indeed be committing malpractice if you tried to offer detailed advice on navigating the daily intricacies of, say, an undergraduate institution. OTOH, urging trainees with an interest in that path to continue working toward publications while also getting some teaching and mentoring experience with undergrads wouldn't be such a bad thing. Hell, urging ANY trainee to try some teaching on the side and try mentoring an undergrad in the lab isn't such a bad thing. The person with that experience plus some good publications has a CV that will help him/her apply to a wider range of institutions and check out more opportunities. FWIW, I built exactly that sort of CV, I applied to (and interviewed at) research universities and undergraduate institutions, and in the end I went where I went and I'm happy. A lot of people think you should only apply to one category or the other, that anything else shows a "lack of direction" or whatever. Me, I think that a smart and versatile person should be open to exploring a range of opportunities.
    This isn't like law, where every piece of advice has to be qualified with "This is not official legal advice" or whatever. Urging trainees to attend alternative career fairs and network with industry folks at conferences isn't rocket science. Urging a trainee to teach a bit may be helpful, and not just for the SLAC job market. Every time I teach an advanced course (or even some intro courses) I deepen my knowledge of things that I work on in my research.

  • Hap says:

    1) Graduate schools may have little internal support for students, so your advisor has almost total control over what you do. At a job, your boss has significant control over your performance and its evaluation, but you have others who also provide input, alternatives at the same company (if they're medium-sized or larger), and if the treatment is bad enough, you have potential protections both internally and externally. With graduate school, those protections don't exist, so if your advisor is evil, your recourse is limited and always costly (in sanity, time, or reputation, or all three). Oh, and you get paid substantially more at BS (degreed) jobs than in grad school (even factoring in the tuition for classes - not research - into the pay).
    2) Graduate school is viewed differently because that is what schools and professors desire. The payoffs (financial, future careers) don't appear to make sense, so other things have to be used to motivate. If the incentives for people to play a game are insufficient, and other reasons are used to motivate people to play. then if those reasons are in fact null and void, then people feel misled because they are left holding the bag for something that isn't worth what they paid for it. Kind of like homeowners, except homeowners do (or should have) an idea of what their financial risks are, why else they are buying a house, and thus are more likely to be mentally prepared for them.
    3) If professors can't train students to do anything else other than be professors, then maybe the training for most scientists ought to be elsewhere, because most of your students won't (can't) become professors. Since graduate schools is required for most careers in science, isn't there some presumption that the training ought to prepare students for some of those other jobs, not just professorships?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I would be committing malpractice if I were to attempt to advise my trainees about how to succeed in industry, SLACs, high school teaching, or anyfuckingthing other than the tenure track.
    Nope. I call bullshit PP. It isn't necessary that you be an expert in any of these things. It is, however, necessary that you 1) have a passing familiarity with such career options, 2) be able to detect in a broad sense when one of your trainees might be best suited or leaning in that direction and 3) do your best to point them in the right direction to get the expert advice.
    Number 3 is very general, yes, but at the least you can point them to web-based resources. It seems incredible to me that you could fail to have friends and colleagues who have gone in such directions...but I suppose it is possible for your academic circles to be sharply limited to R1 type institutions (really?). Nothing wrong with calling up ol' Bob or Jane from your grad school class (who you haven't seen in years) and asking for pointers to pass along.
    The point is to realize that as the person with the career at a more mature stage, you have more resources and confidence and less paralysis than does your trainee. Sometimes all it takes is a simple cc'd email "Hey I have this trainee who is thinking about BigPharma, ol' drinkin' buddy, can you give her a hand with some questions?".

  • Alex says:

    And even if you don't have extensive contacts outside R1 schools, you can still:
    1) Build a culture in your lab where people who do something other than TT at R1 schools are considered successful rather than "leaks from the pipeline" or "people who left science" or whatever.
    2) Recognize that even within academic science, there's more than just R1 schools.
    Just sending the message that there's more than one successful outcome would go a long way.

  • qaz says:

    CPP#26 writes

    In relation to non-tenure-track goals, one of the things I really fail to understand is the whining and moaning of trainees that their tenure-track faculty mentors don't mentor them in non-tenure-track careers. What the fuck would we know about any of that shit?

    Wow. Aren't you narrow. I assume you don't review anything that isn't 100% in your scientific expertise. And you don't think about the world outside your ivory tower. And you don't talk to anyone about why your science is important. What world do you live in?
    Mentoring is not about how you get tenure. Mentoring is about how to be a better scientist. Mentoring is about the scientific method. (The real one, not that hypothesis-driven drivel they teach in elementary school.) Mentoring is about learning to be a better person. Mentoring is about critical thinking. These all apply to lots and lots of jobs. The world would be a better place if a lot of the rest of the world (outside your narrow tower) actually had scientific training.
    You know, for the record, I have never heard a trainee complain to me that they didn't get mentoring about how to succeed at a non-R1-school-tenure track job. What I hear is trainees complaining that when thay say "I don't want to get tenure at an R1-research university", they are told that they are "failures" and "leaks in the pipeline". A change in attitude about the importance of other jobs would be a first step that would help a lot.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    In relation to non-tenure-track goals, one of the things I really fail to understand is the whining and moaning of trainees that their tenure-track faculty mentors don't mentor them in non-tenure-track careers.

    And this, from someone who teaches medical students.
    Hey, PP, how about the rest of the faculty blow off the med students who aren't pursuing a career in academic medicine? After all, who needs 'em?
    (dcs, who is in a field where the majority of the advances come from non-academic research.)

  • Alex says:

    So, here's something you can do that's good for your department and also good for trainees thinking of non-academic jobs:
    The next time you read a university announcement like "Fancy U alum Rich Morecash, Chairman of Morecash Medical Devices, donated $5 million for the new Life Sciences Center...." get on the phone with your university advancement office and ask them to put you in touch with Morecash Medical Devices. No, don't ask for money, just ask for contact info of people who would be willing to give seminars. And then invite them to give seminars through the usual channels. You'll get some good seminars from people doing important work, and your trainees will get a chance to network with people in some career path other than TT at an R1.
    Also, the next time you see a hot paper by somebody at a primarily undergraduate institution, invite that person to give a talk. You'll see some cool science in the seminar, and your students will get the chance to network with somebody who is doing academic science in a different type of institution. And if you develop a relationship with that PUI professor, then you can collaborate with that person on research or share some course materials or something and hence have a perfect "Broader Impact" statement for your next NSF grant. "This work will involve undergraduates at Small College, and research results will be incorporated into lessons used at Small College, helping students at a primarily undergraduate institution get exposed to cutting-edge research and prepare for graduate school." NSF eats that shit up.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPP-offspring: Daddy, I want to be a pilot when I'm a grown-up.
    CPP: What the fuck are you talking about, you fuckwit child?
    CPP-offspring: Mom told me I can be anything I want. If I want to be a pilot, what should I do?
    CPP: Listen, fuckwit kido, I can only help you if you want to be a tenure-track shitass scientist with an R01 NIH grant. Teaching you anything else will disqualify me as a responsible fucking parent. If you want to be a fucking pilot, you better ask your fucking mother piloting expert how to become one. She allows to teach fucking anything.
    CPP-offspring: Mommy, mommy, daddy said that, as a fucking woman, you are the one who should help me with my choice of becoming a fucking pilot.
    MommyCPP: Darling, go and tell your fucking daddy that if he won't stop bringing this workplace bullshit he sell to all his students and postdocs, I'll kick his ass so hard he won't be able to use it for a week.

  • Douchelington, you poor fuck, is there really nothing on the Internet that interests you besides me?
    BTW, that's not a bad start, but it really takes a lot of practice to be Comrade PhysioProf.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "I would be committing malpractice if I were to attempt to advise my trainees about how to succeed in industry, SLACs, high school teaching, or anyfuckingthing other than the tenure track."
    Committing malpractice!!! You are a bad excuse for a tenure track PI, CPP. BTW, you are the one who's stalking me everywhere I go on the internet.

  • BTW, you are the one who's stalking me everywhere I go on the internet.

    Smeglington, the only places I ever seem to encounter you are here, at my own fucking blog, and at Isis the Scientist, my close friend's blog. So who's stalking who, you creepy fucking weirdo?

  • Alex says:

    Well, now that S. Rivlin is here, there's no need to address the point made by several other commenters in this thread.

  • Maintain contacts from the people you trained with along the way. I'd go so far as to overdramatize in the other direction- you are committing malpractice if you don't have friends in industry, SLACs, and yes (perhaps) even high school teaching. Being aware of the broader cultural context of your science (beyond ranting about denialists and inserting "translational" buzzwords into your NIH applications) is part of your job. To do that, you need to know how most people engage with science- and you have to step out of the ivory tower (or at least know who to call up to ask about what things look like in the trenches).

    Now, now, now. I think we are all putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the PI. Dr. Isis has chosen the path she is on because 1) I enjoy it, 2) I'm reasonably good at it and 3) I am absolutely totally hot. That doesn't mean the path is for everyone, but it also doesn't mean I am an expert in every path.
    I had a PhD experience that was exactly the opposite of that described here. I trained in a department whose strength was training people to go in to industry. Coming from industry, I chose the department for that reason. However, part way through I realized I wanted a career in academia, and specifically biomedicine. I didn't try to squeeze blood from a stone and make my mentor, who was industrially funded, teach me to write an NRSA or an RO1. That would have been a waste of time for both of us. Instead, I utilized the resources of the university and sought subsequent mentoring with someone who had been very successful in obtaining independent research funding.
    Personally, I appreciate the good professor's honesty. He admits that his area of expertise is in training people for a tenure track-like career in the basic sciences. To attempt to train them to be surgeons, for example, when he is not an expert in this type of training modality would do them a disservice.
    He freely admits that he does not have the expertise to give his trainees career advice on pursuing an industrial career, for example. I think this highlights the fact that the responsibility for career development is on two people. A mentor has a responsibility to be honest about what he can offer a trainee and to train them accordingly. A trainee has a responsibility to seek out mentoring from someone who can meet his needs and seek out additional mentoring as needed.

  • Anonymous says:

    #25: "In relation to non-tenure-track goals, one of the things I really fail to understand is the whining and moaning of trainees that their tenure-track faculty mentors don't mentor them in non-tenure-track careers. What the fuck would we know about any of that shit?"
    Wow, so happy to shirk responsibility. I'm glad you were not my grad or postdoc advisor. and I pity those who you claim to mentor.

  • ....and at Isis the Scientist, my close friend's blog.

    PS: Awwwwwwwwwww! I adore you too, you wackaloon! Does that make us a clique?

  • whimple says:

    Personally, I appreciate the good professor's honesty. He admits that his area of expertise is in training people for a tenure track-like career in the basic sciences.
    Wrong. Has he placed people in tenure-track positions in the basic sciences? His expertise is in doing science and obtaining such a position for himself. He has no particular expertise in training, as his 5-year failed post-doc could attest.

  • Oh stop, whimple. Don't be dramatic.

  • Alex says:

    Is it a good idea for a university lab to be 100% devoted to training people to do research in universities? It seems unsustainable, and focusing on a single path rather than a range of possibilities seems to run counter to the purpose of the university. Universities are supposed to train people so that they will go forth and use and share their learning and enrich the greater world. The notion of universities as closed systems that only train people for universities, or as open systems that regard those leaving as "waste products" who are "leaving science" or "leaking from the pipeline" or "not using their degree" strikes me as abhorrent.

  • Dave says:

    You know how Amazon (and other places) have a system where people can rate how useful a comment/review is? I would love to see that here, so I could give gold stars to all of Alex's comments in this thread. I think his idea for inviting people in from industry to give seminars is brilliant, and I personally am going to try to make that happen where I am. I'm embarrassed that we don't do that already.
    A few years ago we did have the White house science advisor in for an informal seminar/discussion (with beer, as usual). She was totally awesome and inspirational. One of the things she emphasized was that academic careers are really only a small and relatively (the way she made it sound) unappealing subset of the useful things one can do after getting a Ph.D.
    I have several friends who went into industry. Without exception, they are all VERY happy with their careers. I also know many people in academia. On average, they are less happy. I have a hard time considering my industry friends 'failures'. Especially since my industry friends are also, on average, the most talented of my colleagues. Do you guys know anyone at Google or Genentech? I do, and every time I think about them and their jobs I feel like a total failure. I know for a fact that the guy I know at Genentech thinks I'm a moron for being in academia. For him and his colleagues, we academics are the 'failures'.
    I have been thinking about this thread a bit, and debating whether I believe the following: Anyone who really wants it and is qualified can get an academic faculty position.
    I honestly can't think of any evidence that it's not true. The key words/phrases are: 'who really wants it' and 'is qualified'. 'Who really wants it': I think many people who leave academia don't do so because they 'fail', but rather they simply don't want it. Which I think is fine. We get one shot at life and it seems stupid to have a career that makes you unhappy. 'Is qualified': I honestly think that many people in faculty positions are not qualified. It's really a tough job. You have to be a scientist, salesman, writer, artist, teacher, mechanic, manager, and sometimes psychotherapist. All to perfection, or you don't get published, get grants, get good teaching reviews, keep the equipment working, or have a happy lab. And any one of those things not working can sink you. It's hard. Very few people can do it, and extremely few people can do it well. They are wonders. I envy them.
    Anyway, I think qaz nailed it in #17. If you wipe the stupid idea that non-academics are failures from your mind, then the whole 'pyramid scheme' worry falls apart. There is no pyramid. There are only people who never manage to get out of school, and the majority who do. My grandpa used to think something was wrong with me because college was taking me so much longer than it seemed to take anyone else. He used to say "They're gonna have to burn that place down to get you out." This was a guy who dropped out of school at about 15 years old, borrowed a horse and cart, started hauling local farmer's milk to town, gradually built that into a trucking company, and retired young as a millionaire. Died a few years ago at age 93. Damn good life.

  • GirlPostdoc says:

    No one is asking for blood Isis. Besides CPP, himself made the suggestion that academia overlaps with industry.
    "Where's the problem? I mean, if the capitalistic framework fits, then how does academic bioscience differ from all our other professions in the US?"
    You can't use the capitalistic framework only when it SUITS YOU. If the bottom line is profit, then make it very clear and explicit to the incoming minions that you expect them to produce pubs for you. Every company or business has to be open, transparent AND ACCOUNTABLE.
    Don't pretend to care about teaching and process, CPP. Don't at all care about that mentorship bullshit. Forget about the fact that science actually has a role to play in society. Leave aside, knowledge and the pursuit of your own curiousity.
    Go full out with your business model of a university. But then don't get all whiny when the university presidents and provosts start pulling the plug, increasing class sizes, forcing you to pass students who don't deserve to pass simply because they want the tuition, or raiding your funding so they can light up the university. They are simply doing what you suggest, ie acting as the CEOs and managers of big fuckin' company.
    Make a choice CPP. You can't have it both ways.

  • DuWayne says:

    That doesn't mean the path is for everyone, but it also doesn't mean I am an expert in every path.
    But Isis, no one is talking about expecting an expert, just a little help. Like DM said, even an email or two, to old colleagues could be sufficient. We're not talking about holding every students hand and making sure they can manage through a different path - it's all about using the resources and networks you've developed along the way to help your students.
    That said...
    The lie that each new recruit (re grad student) are promised exponential returns.
    Are grad sutdents really that fucking stupid? I mean christ, how hard is it to grasp? There are a finite number of positions in research - I'm a fucking undergrad and I've figured that out. Yeah, I'm heading in that direction myself, but I accept that it just may not work. While I am busting my ass now, to make sure that I have a lot of options, I understand that the competition is fucking brutal. Quite honestly, I'm not entirely certain that I will be comfortable with that atmosphere and may choose to do clinical work and teach undergrads, instead of spending time in research. I can still develop theories and given that my goal is to develop addiction treatment protocols that help people, I could give a fuck if I get much recognition.
    Going into this with the notion that there is anything remotely resembling guarantees is just fucking stupid. I don't care who promised you what, if you actually believed going into this, that you should end up a PI someday and so would everyone else around you - you obviously have some issues with math.

  • whine in da house says:

    People, please refrain from attacking PP, especially when it comes to training advice. I do value his advice and it is more than I am getting from any of you individual fucks, with the exception of Isis and DM. I have not benefitted from any of Dave's comments from the beginning. Y'all remember that whole shit about some woman not giving a good talk and then a few months later suggesting that women and minorities are not as good at science as white males happen to be. That's some great mentorship right there. Yeesh.

  • Y'all remember that whole shit about some woman not giving a good talk and then a few months later suggesting that women and minorities are not as good at science as white males happen to be.

    Hear, hear. I sure as fuck do.
    For all his "abrasiveness", CPP has never once given me that, "Oh, my God, here I am being paternally condescended to again by a Clueless Privileged Heterosexual White Male" icky feeling. This is a giant-ass point in my aspiring minority female research scientist's book. He's also a brilliant writer whose vocabulary includes words like "pulchritude" as well as "motherfucker". (It's pretty damned obvious that CPP doesn't swear due to a paucity of language. But this part of my comment probably belongs on Dr. Isis's thread.)

    I didn't try to squeeze blood from a stone and make my mentor, who was industrially funded, teach me to write an NRSA or an RO1. That would have been a waste of time for both of us. Instead, I utilized the resources of the university and sought subsequent mentoring with someone who had been very successful in obtaining independent research funding.

    From my admittedly outsider's point of view, this is a reasonable and healthy attitude to embrace. Alex has great suggestions for PIs. However, if I decide as a graduate student to go into industry instead of academia, I won't rely on my mentor to take them. If she does, excellent. If she doesn't? That'll just mean I have to work harder on my own. Ultimately, you can't really rely on others to get what you want. Research science or no.
    Do I find the snotty attitude toward non-major-research-university scientists abhorrent? Of course. But large groups of people have unnecessarily snotty attitudes toward all kinds of professions. They're inexcusable. You still have to accept their prevalence in terms of planning for your future.
    I have friends and acquaintances from college who daily faced snotty attitudes from multiple quarters toward their decisions to pursue careers as creative writers and actors. (Some still do.) It's not that you don't deserve sympathy and indignation on your behalf if this kind of thing happens to you; it's just that you have no other choice but to ignore it. A handful of them mightily ignored it and kept at it and they now have commercially successful careers-- several of them on a large scale.

  • P.S. Dearest Dr. Isis, the word "utilize" is the bane of an English major's existence!! Just so you know.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Before there was pwned there was utilized! Juniper. Just so you know.

  • G.Marinov says:

    I have several friends who went into industry. Without exception, they are all VERY happy with their careers. I also know many people in academia. On average, they are less happy. I have a hard time considering my industry friends 'failures'. Especially since my industry friends are also, on average, the most talented of my colleagues. Do you guys know anyone at Google or Genentech? I do, and every time I think about them and their jobs I feel like a total failure. I know for a fact that the guy I know at Genentech thinks I'm a moron for being in academia. For him and his colleagues, we academics are the 'failures'.

    Anyway, I think qaz nailed it in #17. If you wipe the stupid idea that non-academics are failures from your mind, then the whole 'pyramid scheme' worry falls apart. There is no pyramid. There are only people who never manage to get out of school, and the majority who do. My grandpa used to think something was wrong with me because college was taking me so much longer than it seemed to take anyone else. He used to say "They're gonna have to burn that place down to get you out." This was a guy who dropped out of school at about 15 years old, borrowed a horse and cart, started hauling local farmer's milk to town, gradually built that into a trucking company, and retired young as a millionaire. Died a few years ago at age 93. Damn good life.

    That's all true but only if one's goal in life is to make money. However I would like to think that at least some of those in training aren't in it for the money but instead do it for some higher intellectual reasons. I am not that naive to think there are a lot of them, but for those who feel this way, working in BigPharma or biotech can never be considered success no matter how happy others are there. Because Genentech is a company, in the capitalist mold, and much more so than any academic lab will ever be, i.e. the intellectual part of the scientific practice their will always be secondary to profit maximizing.
    It absolutely does not matter whether your grandpa retired young as a millionaire or not, except for the effect of increasing his and the next one or two generations' Darwinian fitness (which in the grand scheme of things has a very slim chance of being a significant event). He still died at 93 and left nothing else but some numbers in a bank account.
    This does not sound attractive to me

  • Klem says:

    How the University Works, this book and website is mostly on the humanities, but it also applies to science.
    The US system is really exploitative of grad students and post-docs, denying credit for work, but more importantly by under-paying.
    It doesn't have to be this way. One solution is to organize a national trade union for all researchers, from graduate students to faculty. The union could lobby to double or triple the stipends for graduate students, lobby to increase funding for non-military research (NSF and NIH), save money for strikes, and provide legal representation for researchers in conflicts with their institutions and elsewhere. This union system is in place in European countries.

  • Klem says:

    Should the police academy also train students for "alternate careers"?

  • microfool says:

    Isis #40

    teach me to write an NRSA or an RO1.

    That is a strawman argument.
    In the comments on this post, no one asked for mentoring on this level.
    Perhaps CPP and glorious Isis hear this from their trainees or elsewhere, and I agree, they are in no position to train people for things outside research careers.
    I think "mentor" is the wrong term for the extreme pyramid model of biomedical science. The term we should all use is "research training supervisor" or maybe "trainer". They may at times mentor, but they have an ever present conflict of interest in that they are also the boss. So they want the best for their trainees, inasmuch as their trainees are benefitting the boss and work. Since beginning my non-traditional career, I have found boatloads more mentorship, even from supervisors. Supervisors who provide assistance to their employees at a cost to their own enterprise.
    CPPs and Isis's reluctance to engage on some of the more concrete examples from Becca, myself, Qaz, Mad Hatter, Alex and others suggest that they wish to abdicate responsiblity for mentorship, and instead simply train researchers.
    Becca said it on another post I think, but a PhD is not a professional degree. In most biomedical fields, it qualifies you for nothing except a post-doc.
    In my opinion, PhD trainers have a moral responsibility to do some of the low effort things we've suggested, with the sorts of limitations I also suggested (comment #25). After all, otherwise-productive PhD trainees are a net plus to your enterprise.

  • Don't pretend to care about teaching and process, CPP. Don't at all care about that mentorship bullshit.

    Pull your head out of your fucking ass. Almost everything I write about on this blog involves teaching, process, and mentorship.

  • But then don't get all whiny when the university presidents and provosts start pulling the plug, increasing class sizes, forcing you to pass students who don't deserve to pass simply because they want the tuition, or raiding your funding so they can light up the university.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! You really do have your head up your fucking ass, don't you? What about "PhysioProf is an NIH-funded basic science faculty member at a private medical school" do you not understand? Oh, right. I guess you don't understand jack fucking shit, do you?

  • microfool says:

    Almost everything I write about on this blog involves teaching, process, and mentorship.

    We know. That is why we are here. I have learned 100x more about research careers and what it takes to succeed from these blogs than from my PhD advisor, who was very supportive, but a sink-or-swim time when it came to research careerism.
    Those of us who are non-inflammatory are just asking you to engage with us in our suggestions to improve the training environment. If they are non-workable, how about some criticism of why they won't work. Or alternatively, are you just saying "It's not my fucking job"?

  • Dave says:

    I remember once apologizing to Juniper. I don't regret that.
    But I do now thank the white male patriarchal God that I am in a position to bounce whiney-ass people like her out of the system before the whole thing is poisoned too much with her sort of dysfunctional bitterness.
    Imagine any sort of organization you want...
    Job candidate: "Hi, I think you are a fucking pig and your whole company is a network of oppressive shitheads. Can I have a job?"
    Doesn't quite work, does it? Neither does this:
    Job candidate: "I know I haven't got any relevant skills for the job, but that's just because no one has given me a chance. It's not my fault."
    Not as obnoxious. I even might feel sorry for the candidate. But he's still unlikely to get the job. How about this one:
    Job candidate: "As you can see from my resume, I've learned from the best and been able to accomplish quite a bit. Obviously, I think your organization is wonderful (or I wouldn't be trying to get this job), but I think there's a number of things I could do to help make it better. Specifically..."
    Sounds trite (and it is), but now we're talking.
    That's the difference between being a whiney-ass and someone in a position to change the world. Works in industry. Works in academia. Ignore it at your own risk.

  • If they are non-workable, how about some criticism of why they won't work. Or alternatively, are you just saying "It's not my fucking job"?

    Ugh. Did you not read my entire comment? I have said this before on my own blog and I think I make the point in my comment, you cannot expect everything from a single person. For me, the career resources center and other faculty with career interests more like mine were great resources. We had career fairs that many of the people took advantage of and the grad school often had career workshops. No one is saying, "it's not my fucking job." What I am saying is that there are limits to what one person can teach and that it is in part the responsibility of the trainee to seek out additional mentoring/training if they need it.
    In an ideal world the PI would have endless resources to be able to connect every trainee with a network of help to make the trainee's life infinitely easier, but that's not reality. Stomping one's feet doesn't make it reality. That is why I continue to say that the onus is in part on the trainee to seek out the additional help they need. Many universities have programs that trainees do not take sufficient advantage of.

  • Dave says:

    Should the police academy also train students for "alternate careers"?

    Dude, have you not seen 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' ?

  • I remember once apologizing to Juniper. I don't regret that.
    But I do now thank the white male patriarchal God that I am in a position to bounce whiney-ass people like her out of the system before the whole thing is poisoned too much with her sort of dysfunctional bitterness.

    You never apologized to me, dickhead.
    You aren't "bouncing me out" of jackshit. Neither you nor anyone like you. Go ahead and try it. I welcome the challenge. I am one of the hardest-working people I know. I wrote about working hard, not whining.
    Your calling my appreciation of CPP an example of "dysfunctional bitterness" is exactly what I was talking about. I reserve my right to discuss my experiences as a minority female the way I see fit Thanks for proving my point to a wider audience!

  • DSKS says:

    Isis #40,
    "Now, now, now. I think we are all putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the PI."
    Absolutely right. Let's take it back to one of DMs original remarks,
    "When I was a trainee, I viewed this as a reciprocal relationship in which I was getting as good as I gave."
    Capitalizing on this mutual benefit is pretty vital aspect of forging a strong and productive relationship, not only with one's mentor, but with any future collaborator from that point onward.
    An interesting question comes to mind here inre the role of a mentor in academia. Is it the mentor's chief objective to assist her students in carving out successful careers for themselves regardless of in what sector? Or is it the mentor's chief goal to insure that future research in academia has a good source of talent from which to draw upon, and thus that the public continue to get value for money? i.e. is the mentor's chief obligation to the individual student or to the academic institution they are serving in? (has this been covered here before?)
    If the latter, then when a student voices the intent to pursue a career outside of academia - i.e. in industry - is the mentor under the same obligation to exercise the same degree of effort in providing assistance?

  • microfool says:

    The onus is clearly on the trainee.
    Most of the suggestions in comments 26, 27, 28, 31, and 34 do not require "endless resources". They aren't suggestions of what you should be doing, they are suggestions of what you COULD be doing. Where effort is required, it can often be pawned off on interested trainees, with your blessing.
    I read your comment (then fed my baby, walked my baby, made lunches and breakfasts, read your comment, watched Daily Show and Colbert, read your comment, put down my baby for a nap, read your comment), and your subsequent comment carefully, and all I see is " I feel overworked, and I don't even want to think about how I might help, even with minimal effort." My paraphrasing is more snarky than I feel is necessary, but besides using the eff word, it is the only way to get attention.
    Finally, Isis, PP, and DM all have mentorship in your blood. The very existence of your blogs make this abundantly clear. If you weren't clearly mentors, most of us wouldn't be bothering to write comments or pay attention. I would guess that most of here would just like you to consider our suggestions, and consider allowing flexibility to your trainees. I would guess that all three of you are already doing so.
    With that, I am off to the park. Stay at home parenting is the b0mb.

  • Dave says:

    Is it the mentor's chief objective to assist her students in carving out successful careers for themselves regardless of in what sector? Or is it the mentor's chief goal to insure that future research in academia has a good source of talent from which to draw upon, and thus that the public continue to get value for money?

    All of the above.
    Is it the mentor's chief objective to assist her students in carving out successful careers for themselves regardless of in what sector?
    Yes. I am extremely proactive in finding out what my trainee's career goals are, and I make sure I stay continually updated in that regard. It is honestly easy for me to be enthusiastic about a lot of different things, so I don't think any academic narrow-mindedness is a problem. That said, every one of my trainees so far in my short faculty career has continued in academia. The two guys got their top choice postdocs; the two women grad students from my lab are already faculty. So maybe the fact that I love my job might be inadvertently rubbing off.
    In any case, I explicitly consider it my job to help them achieve their goals, whatever they are. I have a student about to graduate right now who has flipped around between wanting a career in research to industry to teaching. When she was interested in research I found out exactly what and where and had a couple choice postdocs all lined up. I talked her up in emails and at meetings. Wherever possible. All she had to do was say she was interested. This is the way it's done. I get calls and emails all the time from people pumping their trainees. When she was interested in industry, I tried my best, but like CPP I have to admit this was hard because I really am not the best qualified person to help. Anyway, she's now interested in a job at an undergrad institution, and is applying. Under the assumption she'll get any job she applies for, we checked out salaries of each option using info from the AAUP Faculty Salary survey (http://chronicle.com/stats/aaup/), and have been talking about CV and faculty job interview skills, etc. I am as invested in her success as she is. Plus, I know she'll be an awesome teacher, so the world will be a better place. And who doesn't want a better world?
    I also ask students applying for grad school what their career goals are, and give them frank advice. Sometimes that advice includes telling them to apply to a different (better) institution. I work hard at every student prelim to find out what a student's obsessions are, so they don't waste the next few years on anything else.
    I agree with everyone here who says it's a mentor's JOB to help trainees be successful. But it's not just a professional obligation. I work in a University and not in industry partly because I love teaching and living vicariously through the success of trainees. Their joy is my joy.
    Or is it the mentor's chief goal to insure that future research in academia has a good source of talent from which to draw upon,
    It's important to remember that a 'good source of talent' is really a byproduct of being successful. If people in my lab are effective because they have been screened carefully, trained well, and launched to success properly, then will be a sizable pool of people to replace us previous generation folks. I can have a lab full of effective and ultimately successful people in my lab for entirely selfish reasons (their success is my success). But still, the future of academia IS important. There are three pillars of faculty job responsibility: teaching, research, and service. The 'service' part is all about ensuring the sustainability of the enterprise. It's taken seriously, especially at the upper ranks. Many people also find 'giving back' to the system personally gratifying.
    and thus that the public continue to get value for money?
    Yes. I obviously have an obligation to my funding agencies to get stuff figured out. Sometimes this makes personnel management more challenging, because it's tough to be nice and simultaneously run a tight ship. But that's what personnel management is all about. If a lab member is getting paid from a grant, or having their education or training supported by a grant, I am explicit that they have an obligation to the goals of that grant, and I am explicit about what those obligations are. So far, everyone quite likes my bluntness and transparency. And for those hoping to be PI's some day, I think it's good mentoring.

  • becca says:

    DSKS- I think as a philosophical question, the divided loyalties of the middle manager are always problematic. However, in practical terms it behooves institutions to have happy graduates who go on to well-paying careers (vastly more likely in industry than academia) - it means more money for alumni donations.
    Perhaps more directly relevant to the individual professors, having a former trainee out in industry facilitates more industry-sponsored collaborative research. Another possible benefit of having 'your own people' out there is that there is potentially more trust in forging such collaborations; i.e. if a stranger from a pharma company approaches you and wants you to show X drug does Y, you're more likely to be put in a tricky situation than if you have a former trainee who has the connections to let you use Big Fancy Screening tool ("collaboration" can mean many things when it comes to the industry-academia interface).
    This is not a zero-sum game, a question of benefit to the institution OR benefit to the student.
    aside to Dave- you are really a piece of work. Clearly you have your heart in the right place when it comes to mentoring, but your such an outstanding jerk when it comes to actually, ya know, interacting with young scientists I really wonder how effective any of it can be.

  • Thanks, Becca. I needed that.

  • Geeka says:

    Re: CPP comments.
    I don't expect someone to mentor me in some discipline that they have no experience in, I am annoyed because I want to go to someone's lab because I think that they do really cool and exciting research, but they snub me because I don't want to grow up to be them.
    We get what we can take from a PD experience. There are things that I think that I am lacking in. I am trying to get a position whereby I can remedy these things. However as soon as we get to the career goals, and I say that I want biotech, it's like I offended their mother. I'm not saying that a PI's job isn't important, it's just not the track that I see myself in.
    Biotech wants 3 years of post-doctoral research. PD mentors don't want you if you to go to biotech. Catch-22. What's a girl to do?

  • gigi says:

    Geeka, find a mentor who is willing to train you as a postdoc! I know a few people who ended up doing this and they are happily working in pharma now.

  • Dave says:

    aside to Dave- you are really a piece of work. Clearly you have your heart in the right place when it comes to mentoring, but your such an outstanding jerk when it comes to actually, ya know, interacting with young scientists I really wonder how effective any of it can be.

    Ha! You have no idea how I actually interact with people in real life, or how effective it may or may not be. http://www.unc.edu/depts/jomc/academics/dri/idog.html
    Perhaps I am intentionally TRYING to piss off young scientists here, because I know they should be collecting data instead of screwing around reading this blog. If I can do my little part to make the internet unpleasant enough that you'll get back to what your PI has been telling you to do, then I've done us all a service -- you, your PI, and the world.
    So, as perverse as it sounds, you should be thanking me. CPP too, because I'm working hard to take the heat off him in this thread. And Isis, and Juniper, because I am always a handy obnoxious white male strawman to rail against. They know that disagreeing with me is just as good as being right. If I disappear, then arguments for female oppression will have to rely on more difficult-to-obtain evidence. That's unpleasant for everyone.

  • Bill says:

    "Perhaps I am intentionally TRYING to piss off young scientists here, because I know they should be collecting data instead of screwing around reading this blog. If I can do my little part to make the internet unpleasant enough that you'll get back to what your PI has been telling you to do, then I've done us all a service -- you, your PI, and the world."
    Et tu Brute?
    Perhaps PI's should be writing grants, mentoring students/postdocs, and writing papers instead of screwing around reading this blog. I have to say it does surprise me that you all have so much time to blog/read blogs, and yet you are all (presumably) successful PI's? How's THAT for a pyramid scheme? You sit there in your offices performing mental masturbation with blogs, whilst telling students and postdocs to work 7 days a week to generate data for you? At least S. Rivlin is retired, the rest of you should get back to work lest you give us poor underlings the wrong impression about how to get ahead in science.

  • At least S. Rivlin is retired, the rest of you should get back to work lest you give us poor underlings the wrong impression about how to get ahead in science.

    We are providing you with an incentive to become a PI!

  • Bill says:

    True, very true! But I can screw around reading blogs as a postdoc too!

  • JohnV says:

    Dave as much as your attempt to be the poop in our ice cream is admirable, I think you give yourself too much credit if you think any one person can wreck the entire internet ๐Ÿ˜›

  • DuWayne says:

    You have no idea how I actually interact with people in real life, or how effective it may or may not be.
    I hate to break it to you Dave, but this is real life. We're all real people, with real goals and with our own reasons for engaging in this discussion and others like it. The fact that we're not face to face and some of us blog anon, doesn't make us any less real.
    Given your description of how you mentor, I would like to believe that you would be a good mentor, but given the bullshit you spew here (especially the fucking bullshit you threw at Juniper) I have my serious doubts. If you are in fact incapable of discerning that we are all real fucking people, I am not sure what good you could actually be.
    Perhaps I am intentionally TRYING to piss off young scientists here, because I know they should be collecting data instead of screwing around reading this blog.
    What Bill said and feel free to fuck off if that's actually the case. One, it's pretty hypocritical and two, some of us use blogs like this one to wind down, vent and actually learn something useful.
    But I doubt that's the case, because for the most part, all I've seen from you is offensive fucking bullshit. Occasionally you start to make a reasonable point, but then you have to ruin it by being a dick. Yeah you! you've proven you're an ass.
    They know that disagreeing with me is just as good as being right.
    That would be because you're a fucking asshole who is actually wrong.
    If I disappear, then arguments for female oppression will have to rely on more difficult-to-obtain evidence.
    Not difficult at all. If you disappear, there is still Sol, right here in most threads and even if by some luck he disappeared too, there are plenty of other examples online and off.

  • Dave says:

    Whoa. Thanks for the eye-opener. I'm going to have your name tattooed on my ass as a tribute to your wisdom and as a reminder to be a better person. Every time I get an urge to post something that I think might cause distress, I'll drop my pants, place a hand on my butt-art, and pray for guidance and restraint. You've done us all a great service. I'd like to send you money.

  • Alex says:

    Dave,
    You know, when you're making reasonable points I sometimes agree with you. Then you go and act like a total ass. Chill.

  • Dave says:

    Listen you guys, I don't give a flying fuck whether you like me or not. The only thing that bugs me is when people here start discussing other people, and not the subject introduced by DM or some reasonable offshoot thereof. If this blog becomes a pissing contest, we all lose.
    Let's try to disagree without being retarded about it. OK?
    I personally will renew my efforts to never ever post an argument that relies on diminishing another person personally. I know I've been far from perfect in this regard, but really I was always joking. In fact, I can't think of a single blogger or commenter here that I don't admire in some way. Anyway, I hope others also show some future restraint. Remember: even though any one of us may be an jerk, bitch, moron, neurodegenerated fuckwit, or pompous ass, we might still be right. You gotta get a thick skin if you're gonna survive the internet or science.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Dave,
    I'm with you regarding the effort to stay on topic and refrain from personal attacks that only lead to more attacks. Let's hope that one of the owners of this blog will follow suit, too.

  • Let's try to disagree without being retarded about it.

    It is not acceptable to use "retarded" as an epithet on this blog.

  • Luigi (Because 'Dave' is getting too much baggage) says:

    I have always thought that the overly PC shyness from terms like 'retarded' was unwarranted and unproductive. If we ban 'retarded', can we also ban 'stupid' (because I am), 'fuck' (because I'm impotent), and 'loser' (because I rarely win)?
    I'm OK with 'Jerk', 'Ass', and 'Prick'; they remind me of Christmas mornings with my step-dad growing up. Though, to be honest, I am having second thoughts about 'ass', because I do know some very nice donkeys.
    Sol: You're not helping. I'll give you a dollar if you promise to be nice in a way that makes me look good too. Seriously. A dollar. That's a lot of money in some places.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Luigi,
    I like you, so just tell me exactly how I can be of help. I'll forego the dollar; you can make a donation to any institution that cares for the mentally challenged instead.

  • Luigi says:

    I like you too, Sol. In accordance with your wishes, I'll give the dollar to myself.

  • I have always thought that the overly PC shyness from terms like 'retarded' was unwarranted and unproductive.

    Your "thoughts" on this topic are neither relevant nor welcome. Capisce?

  • Luigi says:

    Capito, Comrade. Ma perchรฉ essere scortese ospiti? Che cosa dire tua nonna?

  • Potrei chiedere alla vostra nonna, Luigi. รˆ nella mia base ora.

  • What the fuck language are you assholes speaking? This is America motherfuckers!

  • Anonymous says:

    Sea reservado, Camarado. ยฟTiene miedo alguien robarรก su trabajo?
    There. I know you know that one.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    ื‘ืืžืจื™ืงื” ืžื“ื‘ืจื™ื ืจืง ืื ื’ืœื™ืช, ื”ื‘ื ืช ืืช ื–ื”, ืœื•ืื™ื’'ื™? ืคื™ื–ื™ื•ืคืจื•ืค ืื™ื ื ื• ื’ื–ืขืŸ, ื”ื•ื ืจืง ืฉื•ื ื ืžื”ื’ืจื™ื

  • Luigi says:

    Mia nonna รจ morta, Isis. Dio resto la sua anima.
    YOU started, it Comrade!

  • Yelpy the miniature dachshund says:

    Physioprof ืฉื•ื ืืช ืืช ื›ืœ ืžื™ ืœื ืื•ื”ื‘ ืื•ืชื•.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Yelpy the miniature dachshund,
    ืืช ื ืฉืžืขืช ื›ืžื• ืฉื“ืจื ื™ืช ืฉืœ ืคื•ืงืก ื ื™ื•ืก ื”ืฉื•ื ืืช ืืช ื›ืœ ืžื™ ืฉืœื ืื•ื”ื‘ ืืช ื‘ื•ืฉ

  • anonymous says:

    Dear DM,
    As much as I enjoy discussion on this blog, I hate reading all those personal comments not to mention non-civilized language. Do you think you should moderate comments and remove those not relevant to the topic to keep the decency in the blog or just use a filter before posting it here. I know its extra work, but its working very well at the blog of FSP. Many of us read this blog to understand academic culture of American Universities but can not tolerate this low level fight while discussing something important to thousands of people.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dear DM,
    As much as I enjoy discussion on this blog, I hate reading all those personal comments not to mention non-civilized language. Do you think you should moderate comments and remove those not relevant to the topic to keep the decency in the blog or just use a filter before posting it here. I know its extra work,

    I'm not fond of the attacks myself and have no idea why Sol gets under PP's skin. I do not share PP's opinion about Sol's motivations in making the comments he does.
    There is simply no way I'm going to moderate comments, however. I don't have time for that. And I find it annoying and conversation limiting on those blogs which do it habitually.

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