Science Careers Blog

November 7, 2008

Praise for Beryl Benderly and Science Careers

Dear editor,

Thank you for this extremely well-written and exhaustively researched article!!  I'm a recent PhD graduate from a western university and everything written here pretty much sums up what a lot of us have been through but never hear.  At the beginning of my fifth and last year, I had the opportunity to have a group meeting with Barry Polisky, CSO of SIRNA therapeutics.  One of the students asked him if we should do a post-doc and he said, "Sure, kill some time, if you're young and immature, do it.  But, if you're in your late thirties, married with two kids I'd advise against it".  I'm that guy.  That was the first I'd heard that I shouldn't do the post-doc.  Everyone in academia advised me to do one, that I would be a great faculty member some day, I had an awesome pub record, gotten a grant or two, but it didn't make sense.  Then, I started reading the science careers website, and consulting with people OUTSIDE of academia, and it became clear to me that I would not do a post-doc.  Another student and myself made a pact to not take a post-doc, and this frustrated the hell out of our mentors, but we held our ground, and turned down offers from established faculty on a weekly basis.  After a short job search before I had even graduated, I was hired by a consulting firm to write for Johnson and Johnson, which put me in the loop, and now I'm a consultant for Assent working at Amgen. All of this occurred without a recommendation from my PI, (who takes advantage of her students and post-docs), and without a doing post-doc. My salary is 3 times higher, and my hours are flexible and 40 per week.

I'd also like to mention that during my time at my institution I attempted to organize the students into a collective bargaining agreement with the university but I feel that the 50% of the student body that's Asian wanted nothing to do with it, and we could never gain momentum.  I saw the victimization of our post-docs, especially the ones from China, who receive much less than the NIH recommended salary and no health benefits and work 60+ hours/week.  It's equivalent to indentured servitude.  And I saw it with my classmates, who talk about "grant time" like they were riding with General Custer.  Every single one of them worries about what kind of recommendation they'll get from their professor as if it's life or death.  I know, I did too.  And it makes sense, because we love doing science so much, that we want so badly to do it for the rest of our lives.  So we enter into PhD programs and (falsely) realize that one person controls our fate, our PI, and there's hardly a chance that we'll actually get to do what they do. It's like the movie "Hoop Dreams", where you find out that there's thousands of amazing basketball players vying for a handful of spots on NBA teams.

Anyway, thank you for putting this out there, and please keep the amazing work coming.  This website made a huge difference in my career.  It shone a light into the dusty halls of academia and said, "Hey, check this out" and it empowered me to step outside the box and forge a better path.



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