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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.



2 comments on “Praise for Beryl Benderly and Science Careers”

  1. RAD

    Very good comments. Maybe you’ll help some students who will follow in your footsteps. One thing you didn’t point out also is that while a student (before the qualifying exam), a small handful of faculty have your life in a sling. If only one of them takes a disliking to you, they can nail your career before it gets started and the chance for recovery or transfer to another program is extremely small. There is a lot of freedom in academia but not for students and postdocs. Their lives are under the control of one or a very few people. Congratulations on getting a good job that you like without having to grovel to your PI.

  2. PJB

    RAD- you’re right, and it happened to someone in my lab. It was a poor fit, and she was GOOD, but the PI ruined her. Now she’s going to med school.
    Also, as the author of this letter I’d like to point out that the reason my asian classmates didn’t want any part of the collective bargaining agreement was purely for reasons pertaining to their student visas, and not for lack of enthusiasm and sense of kinship. Basically, they were afraid of getting kicked out and sent home empty handed.

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