Subj: Horror stories
Date: 97-04-10 23:31:38 EDT
Although I meet your criteria for someone who you wanted to hear from, Iím
not sure that everything Iím going to say will conform to your expectations.
I definitely sympathize with much of what you are doing, particularly your
efforts to raise awareness of the harsh realities of the science job market.
Had the real situation been more widely known when I was younger, the process
I followed in seeking a career would have probably been much more efficient,
and I almost certainly would have ended my years studying physics after
getting my M.S.
As it was, I had been encouraged for all of my life to follow my love for
science to a career in it, and it was always implied that there were plenty
of jobs waiting for me if I did. So, I went on towards a Ph.D., a decision I
now feel wasted quite a few years of my life. The closer I got to a Ph.D.,
the more evidence I saw that the what I had been told concerning the
plenitude of science jobs was a myth, and that the reality was that there
were not nearly enough jobs to go around. Finally, in 1994, I decided to jump
ship, and gradually managed to parlay my computer skills into what has become
a fairly satisfying career in information technology.
I personally know people who havenít been as lucky, and again, I sympathize.
However, Iím not sure precisely what sort of "drastic changes in the way
society approaches science" you could be proposing, or what exactly you
expect to result from meetings with government leaders.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that the supply of scientists (especially
physicists, astronomers, and chemists; certain fields have faired better) has
been growing much faster than the economy and the population. It is a matter
of supply-and-demand, exasperated by the sudden end of the Cold War and the
subsequent reduction in defense expenditures. Itís very sad, but I find it
hard to imagine our cash-strapped government doing much about it, or society
reacting positively to any assertion that people who want to be scientists
should be protected from the realities of life.
What could you say to a person who responded "I wanted to be a (fill in the
blank; actor, professional football playerÖ) but eventually I realized that
it wasnít likely to happen, and I moved on. Thatís life."
Yes, I personally value scientific research more highly than theater or pro
football, but I also think that it is pointless to expect the government to
repeal the laws of the marketplace and somehow effectively employ all of our
would-be scientists. Rather, I think that the answer lies in people using
their scientific talents to help grow our economy and make our society more
efficient, so that ultimately we will live in a society that can afford to
fund more scientific research. After all, scientists have faired much worse
in the societies of the former Communist world, where the laws of the
marketplace were more blatantly ignored.
Michael E. Smith