Saturday, January 17, 2009

Academic self-replacement

Herb has been pushing all of his graduate students to think about how their personality will impact their career choices and suitability. What type of career does your personality lend itself towards? Also, if you aren't a very social person, how will you make yourself known to others in the field? How will you be a face instead of just a name? What's your strategy?

Similarly, he has been trying to impress upon us the importance of getting outside the UBC bubble to find out what other people in the field are thinking about. Last week's lab meeting was a discussion about these issues. Herb gave examples of how his previous students have initiated collaborations outside of UBC and how they have networked and built their careers.

He mentioned that his third former graduate student (of many) is about to receive tenure at a major research university. Then he said, "So, if self-replacement is the ultimate goal then I've got that covered."

Suddenly it hit me: jobs like Herb's aren't growing much (at all?)*. When he retires, one person- one former graduate student- will fill his position. Unless new positions are being created, a huge number of once-graduate students are competing for 'replacement.' Yet he has produced many, many graduate students.

I've read about how the number of Ph.D.s awarded in biology greatly exceeds the number of jobs requiring a Ph.D. in biology*, but I didn't really get it until Herb talked about replacement.

Of course there are many jobs for Ph.D.s in biology that aren't research-based professorships like Herb's. There are undergraduate institutions, government jobs, some industry (limited for ecologists and evolutionary biologists), and non-profits. But are graduate students being prepared for these jobs or encouraged to pursue them? There's an interesting discussion at Sciencewomen that touches on these topics (with particularly insightful comments by Alex- check them out).

* My limited and impatient Google searches didn't turn up what I was expecting. I didn't just imagine this stuff- can anyone point me to some articles I can link to?


Eugenie said...

"What Type of career does your personality lend itself towards?"

Very, very good question to ask... snobs/jerks need not apply...

Fia said...

I very much like the way your PI treats you, - you really seem to have a mentoring person!