Eve Marder on the vagaries of life.

April 18, 2013

Eve Marder has an opinion piece up in which she discusses the “luck” involved in career outcomes.

Our present world is filled with great angst. Our junior faculty are writing too many grant applications for not enough money. Our postdocs rightfully feel that they are in purgatory, not knowing when and if there will be an academic position for them, should they desire one. Our graduate students are watching the struggles of postdocs and faculty. For me, this era is especially frustrating, because it is a time of extraordinary opportunity for scientific discovery, and it is criminal that our young scientists can not experience the excitement and challenge of scientific discovery without being worried about their futures.
There is no right answer to the question of how long a talented scientist can or should remain in a ‘looking for a job’ limbo. Every individual must take into account their own ambitions and circumstances as they try to answer this question. And all of us should also be aware that we have the potential to be successful in many careers, in and out of science.

Go read (and comment).

Advertisements

15 Responses to “Eve Marder on the vagaries of life.”

  1. Geologist Says:

    There is some truth to what she says, but I also believe that you make a lot of your own ‘luck’. If you don’t put yourself in positions/places to be successful (through a lot of hard work and ambition), then you don’t even have that chance to be successful.

    Like

  2. Spiny Norman Says:

    On the one hand, Geologist is right.

    On the other, I would be fucking delighted to learn how I could have “made my own ‘luck'” when my three parents (one of them a step-parent) all fell critically ill simultaneously. If I’d had kids — especially if I’d been a single parent — it would have been game over for my career and for my ability to care for my folks. If it had happened before I had a TT position, or before I got my lab going, again game over.

    The current system is mercilessly unforgiving and fault-intolerant. That is Marder’s point and telling people to buck up does absolutely nothing to solve that problem.

    Like

  3. Mike Says:

    “Putting yourself in a position/place to be successful” generally means “Putting yourself on a project that will be a high-profile publication”. How often does a trainee have any control over that?

    In most labs, from Day 1 of your postdoc, you have no chance to be successful, by the standards of success required to move up in the profession.

    Like

  4. Dave Says:

    telling people to buck up

    You mean lean in?

    Like

  5. Spiny Norman Says:

    “If you don’t put yourself in positions/places to be successful (through a lot of hard work and ambition), then you don’t even have that chance to be successful.”

    This is one of the shallowest and most damaging things that trainees think. We reject job applicants with glam papers All the Fucking Time. Why? Because while having a glam publication unquestionably helps, we are looking for the Whole Goddamn Package. Someone who will be able to speak, write, secure grant support, teach effectively, run a good fucking lab, and not jerk off their trainees.

    A glam publication ≠ training for success. For that you need to be in an environment that trains you for success AND helps you develop an important scientific story with the potential to geminate important lines of future research. You need some fucking mentoring. You need to be in a place with an unusually high per capita rate of trainee career success.

    If you want to understand what I mean, consider the example of Joe Gall’s lab.

    There are plenty of factory labs where you can be a good little cog, get your name on a glam publication, and where you will sink like a fucking stone.

    Like

  6. Geologist Says:

    My comment regarding that hard work is necessary stems from the fact that I see students all the time who are lazy, and don’t “put themselves in positions” where good things can happen. They choose to not go the extra mile and not present at national meetings (even when funding is available for their travel!). They choose the easier pathway for classes, and other opportunities and then they wonder why doors don’t open for them.

    However, I completely agree that you can work all you want and still be unlucky in a host of ways such that you never get that break that allows you to really show your potential and ‘make it’ (whatever that definition is for you).

    Like

  7. The Other Dave Says:

    Ever Marder is brilliant and wise. Every neuroscientist (or aspiring neuroscientist) should read her essays.

    In contrast, this:

    “Putting yourself in a position/place to be successful” generally means “Putting yourself on a project that will be a high-profile publication”. How often does a trainee have any control over that?

    In most labs, from Day 1 of your postdoc, you have no chance to be successful, by the standards of success required to move up in the profession.

    …is whiney baloney. No control? Step 1: Choose a lab that publishes well and does a good job helping trainees meet career goals. Step 2: Work hard and don’t annoy everyone you work with. Who has more control than that? Stop blaming others.

    Like

  8. kevin. Says:

    “If you want to understand what I mean, consider the example of Joe Gall’s lab.”

    Very nice. Sounds like someone who continues to mentor, well beyond the duties of just an employer.

    Like

  9. coldhot3 Says:

    Step 1: Choose a lab that publishes well and does a good job helping trainees meet career goals

    —-
    It is very hard to trace all graduates from one specific lab, most labs do not have this information disclosed, especially for those less successful graduates/Postdocs.

    Like

  10. dr_mho Says:

    @coldhot3
    …umm, how about visiting the lab before committing to a postdoc – ask the PI what his former trainees are doing… more importantly, ask the current students/postdocs what the former trainees are doing and what their progress is… I interviewed/visited 5 labs before choosing a postdoc.

    Like

  11. AcademicLurker Says:

    …more importantly, ask the current students/postdocs what the former trainees are doing and what their progress is…

    I was 95% certain about where I wanted to do my first postdoc until I visited the lab and got a strong “We’re all miserable here” vibe from trainees. No one came out and said anything, but it was pretty clear.

    I’ve never regretted my decision to go elsewhere.

    Like

  12. Busy Says:

    On the other, I would be fucking delighted to learn how I could have “made my own ‘luck'” when my three parents (one of them a step-parent) all fell critically ill simultaneously.

    A friend had this happen to him. He took a year off to earn money in the real world while the storm went through. After that he got back on the saddle, got accepted to Oxford and finished his PhD. I’d say he made very good lemonade from the lemons handed to him by life.

    Like

  13. Bashir Says:

    cowboy-sack-the-fukke-up-lean-in-bootstraps

    Like

  14. whoknows Says:

    I have spent two fruitless postdoc years listening to the lullabies of the possible “science publication” which got nowhere. I was stuck with a selfish mentor who thought his work was the coolest and only cared about advertising every little useless progress he had and getting himself grants rather than mentoring the people he hired. Also, he underpaid. I felt from the get-go that he was not going to get me anywhere but I stayed for the “science publication” which most possibly will never happen.

    Like

  15. hahah Says:

    Eve Marder has a reputation of being a role model, so here I was as an outsider who wanted to get into neuroscience, I met her at a conference and wanted some advice on my career. She was kind of rude to me …

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: