The “Thing” About Graduate Students and Postdocs

Posted in BioEducation, Uncategorized

During my daily perusal of stuff on LinkedIn, I came upon a promo link to a video report by Dan Rather entitled “PhDon’t!” that was shown on March 5, 2013on  Not surprisingly, the video promo talks about the surplus of PhD-trained scientists and how fiercely competitive the current life sciences job market is for these talented and well trained individuals. Further, a female scientist in the promo declares that “the life sciences graduate training system is broken and in the long run it will do a great deal of harm to biomedical research in the US.

While you can see a promo of the show on YouTube, you cannot see the entire video unless you fork over $3 to download it from iTunes!  This begs the question: Is it worth spending $3 to hear Dan Rather tell most graduate students and postdocs what they already know?  Nevertheless, I bet that a large number of graduate students and postdocs will pay the download fee anyway. This is because the old adage “misery loves company” is true!  Nobody wants to suffer alone and there is comfort in knowing that many others are suffering just like you!  Although this may make you feel better emotionally, it does little to help to correct or solve the problem.

I agree with the scientist in the promo who said that the “system is broken.”  Everyone already knows that it is broken but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. And, the only folks who are going to be able to change the system are graduate students and postdocs. If you think that university administrators or tenured faculty members are going to fix the system, then you are either delusional or visiting medical marijuana clinics too frequently.

The point I am trying to make is that graduate students and postdocs love to complain about the system but do very little to try and change it.  Sure, every major university now has a graduate student or postdoctoral association and many schools have even formally created Offices of Graduate and Postdoctoral Training. And, there is even a National Postdoctoral Association.  But, what have these organizations done over the past five years to improve the likelihood of finding a job upon completion of your training?  To that point, how many more seminars, conferences, meetings etc are you going to attend to hear about alternate careers, resume writing and job interviewing techniques before you realize that it is not you but the system that must change?

There is no doubt that change can be difficult and extremely risky. But, at this point, what do most life sciences graduate students and postdocs really have to lose?  The choice is simple: continue to complain, feel helpless and accept your plight or come together and fiercely work to change the system (one institution at a time if necessary) to improve the likelihood of employment and a successful scientific career.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting