Scientists Career Advice: Seeking No Feedback
A flurry of publications have dropped in the last month from trainees and established PIs about the fabulous and infuriating parts of academia. These essays and interviews shared one thing in common. They weren’t seeking any feedback or comments. Lucky for them, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what came out in NEJM, Science and MBoC.
In NEJM (that’s New England Journal of Medicine in case my mom is reading this), Suzanne Koven busts out a Letter to a Young Female Physician. Koven discusses harassment and gender inequality, but her message is, “there’s also a more insidious obstacle that you’ll have to contend with — one that resides in your own head. In fact, one of the greatest hurdles you confront may be one largely of your own making. At least that has been the case for me. You see, I’ve been haunted at every step of my career by the fear that I am a fraud.”
Is it more insidious that you feel bad about yourself when the system is treating you poorly? I would argue it’s actually a fairly predictable outcome. Putting the harassment and gender disparity side by side with career insecurity and not linking the two left me underwhelmed. I’m afraid her column only merited steak knives from me, but maybe you can find some more redeeming qualities?🔪
The American Society for Cell Biology tapped Amy S. Gladfelter and Mark Peifer to offer the upside of being a PI. In their article What your PI forgot to tell you: why you actually might want a job running a research lab, these investigators talk about the perks of flexibility, intellectual engagement and running a lab. These benefits absolutely don’t get enough chatter. Gladfelter and Peifer discuss how they have been engaged in their children’s lives in ways other professionals couldn’t be. There is no selling this perk short. Even as a trainee, experiments can often be rearranged to accommodate sick children, mental health days and travel. When Gladfelter and Peifer stay in their happy lane, they make some excellent points. When they wander off the trail into a cheer sessions about diversity, things get a bit grating. These efforts are too little and potentially too late and only underscore the unwillingness of NIH Director Francis Collins to act on the self-commissioned Ginther report by doing simple fixes. This isn’t hard math – Science calculated it would take only 23 Ro1s a year to black PIs – but NIH apparently lacks the will to implement them. The authors’ handwaving ‘we love diversity’ in light of this persistent problem is tone deaf, but your milage may vary.
Last, but not least, Science hosted an essay from Peng Yuan: Extraordinary and Poor. Yuan is a foreign national doing a neuroscience postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. He struggles to stay financially solvent and only is able to with the help of family in China. Yuan is clearly a gifted scientist and surely had to make many sacrifices to achieve his level of success. He also is supporting a family of five in one of the most expensive areas of the world on a single salary. Say what you will about these choices, but there is thought-provoking fodder in Yuan’s essay about the bringing in highly sought after international trainees and their spouses without work visas.