The problem isn't a lack of scientists, it's a lack of jobs

Illustration for article titled The problem isnt a lack of scientists, its a lack of jobs

For would-be scientists pursuing postgraduate degrees, the lack of jobs within academia is disheartening. This reality stands in stark contrast to the narrative that America's perpetually falling behind in the science game. This excellent essay at Miller-McCune dissects this misconception.


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About ten years ago, I knew a guy who was a rising star in particle physics. He spent his time at Fermilab and CERN creating his own testing programs, and he designed games to learn to code more quickly. As his graduation loomed, he got a lot of unofficial offers to come work for various profs. I was impressed by this and he laughed. He said, "Yes, I could go be someone's bitch for 10 years for $35k annual, and maybe get a faculty position by 45 or so." Since I started out at $32k doing computer operator work, I was horrified. He graduated and took his brilliant self on over to Silicon Valley where he started out with a 6 figure job.

One of the things that he had a hell of time with was the interview process. Apparently 'real' world' interviews are nothing like interviews in the world of academe. They'd prepared him to work only within that world, so he had no idea how to approach a plain old interview. I had to coach him. Smile. Small talk. Social skills. Getting along is just as important as how smart you are, especially if it's an HR interviewer instead of a technical one. It took some practice and a lot of hand-holding on my part. A lot of places missed out on a brilliant man because he wasn't versed on the niceties they expected. (But if you can't communicate with the rest of the human race, it's tough to justify bringing you onto the team no matter how smart you are.)

So, in summary, this whole thing pisses me off. They're breeding generations of brilliant indentures, and they (probably purposefully) don't equip them to function outside of that system.