My recent missive on the dismal prospects of early-career researchers has, evidently, struck a nerve. Since I posted it on Thursday, over 550 people have read it, it’s been tweeted and retweeted, and a couple of folks contacted me by e-mail. This is by far the largest response to any post I’ve had, and the message is clear: I’m not alone.
But after the weekend, one thing has become abundantly apparent: there are some alternatives out there that, for whatever reason, aren’t really discussed in the hallowed halls of the academy.
I spent just over 10 years as a student in university between undergrad and two graduate degrees, and with one exception in a fourth-year course on field ecology, the options generally presented were a) med school / dentistry school / other professional health-related program, and b) grad school leading to a career as an academic. I don’t necessarily blame my professors – after all, it worked for them. But following the glut of hiring in the mid 1990s, things have slowed down, NSERC’s postgraduate and postdoctoral wages have declines in real terms, and retiring ecology professors aren’t being replaced (or are being replaced by other subfields, like anything-omics).
Now, I haven’t given up totally on landing an academic job, and I’ll continue to apply for them during the next 18 months (which is the extent of my current foreseeable funding). But there are some other options that I’m going to start paying attention to a little more:
During my undergrad (and parts of grad school), consulting was derided as selling out to “the man” and something you did only as a stop-gap measure until a “real” job came up. As Jeremy from Dynamic Ecology pointed out in his comment, this isn’t the case. Private landowners, NGOs, and increasingly, government agencies and departments, all want their own evidence to counter assessments provided by resource extraction companies.
Jennifer over at From PhD to Life wrote a post (startlingly close to when I wrote mine!) about what she, as a humanities PhD, actually wanted to do: run her own business. Freelancing is tough work, and has little job security, plus all the added stresses of being self-employed, but it can be highly rewarding.
Start to build a community
Postdocs are an odd bunch. We’re not quite staff, but certainly not students. Our tenures are often short (usually a couple of years), and there are few “Postdoc Associations” (though see CAPS-ACSP if you’re a postdoc in Canada) that keep us in touch. Ethan Perlstein wrote earlier this year about “Postdocalypse Now”: the shell shock of realising that a tenure-track job might not actually work out. I find myself in the same boat. At the end of his piece, he writes:
So what’s next? As the shell shock begins to wear off and more and more thwarted postdocs emerge from their bunkers, I hope we can take comfort and inspiration from each other by sharing our journeys. Younger trainees can benefit from our peer-to-peer mentorship. And practically speaking, we can start to mobilize and brainstorm new ways to do the science we love outside of traditional academic (or even industry) settings.
So, consider this, and my other post, a small contribution to the codex of the post-postdoc world.