From Sean at Cosmic Variance: Soliciting advice on non-academic careers for science Ph.D.s
This kind of discussion happens all the time these days within the walls of the ivory tower, predictably, since a lot of Ph.D.s do end up having to go do something else (“conservation of people”, if you like). Really, not a day goes by where the difficulty of getting a tenure-track faculty position doesn’t come up at tea, lunch, dinner, the office, or somewhere else.
Like some of the commenters, I do worry periodically not only about my ability to get a tenure-track position, but also what I’ll do if I successfully land one — and then have to work in a situation where I’m expected to employ many young people on a temporary basis to get my science done. I continue to think carefully about that. At the moment, my view is that while I’m okay with the idea of working with students and postdocs, I can’t feel good about doing it without careful attention to mentorship, doing what I feel is my part to give my people a good experience while they’re working with me and enabling them, as much as possible, to realize their own career goals while they work with me. This necessarily includes talking about the long odds of staying in academia, but if a full spectrum of interesting possibilities are laid out from early phases, this may not be such a tragedy.
Of course, as a mentor and supervisor I can only do so much — one of the big life lessons I’ve learned since starting graduate school is that we each need to be chiefly responsible for our own happiness — but I see an awful lot of young scientists who don’t seem to have much urgency, or who cling to the myth that hard work and technical competence will suffice to get them where they want to go. The earlier we can get our junior colleagues to start thinking seriously about where they want to end up and how to get there, the better, I think.