[FUN_Mail] FUN Newsletter - President's Message and Conversation

Bob Calin-Jageman rcalinjageman at gmail.com
Fri Jun 27 17:02:08 EDT 2014

This is a great piece, Jeff.  It's thoughtful and it clearly raises some of the big issues we should be thinking about in terms of training future scientists.

I think in one sense it's not quite as bad as we think-- becoming a lab PI is not the only fruitful resolution to undergraduate training in the life sciences.  In fact, going on for a phd is STEM fields is extremely rare for undergraduates.  Even at the most elite institutions (the "Oberlin 50"), only 5-6 students out of 100 who graduate go on to earn a phd in science and engineering (see http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf08311/) .  It is arguable that this is too many, leading to our glut of STEM PhDs.  But the fact still remains that for the majority of our students looking for career advice, the slow-motion apocalypse now engulfing the academic research world is really not a concern.  

Other than this one bit of perspective, I think Jeff's piece is actually a bit too light on the doom and gloom.  It outlines the mismatch between PhD production and PhD opportunity currently roiling the life sciences.  But you can add to it:
*	The disappearing nature of tenure, which means that even those students who get a PhD to teach rather than to be at an R1 have diminishing prospects of a reasonably paid job.
*	Federal and state government's schizophrenic demands for higher education to increase completion with lower government support but more government regulation (and please control those tuition rates, too!)--external pressures which make it difficult to forecast if being a PI or professor in the future will be at all enjoyable.
*	And pretty much all the other glum points made here hilariously about humanities PhDs here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obTNwPJvOI8  

Personally, my solution is discouragement, because I don't share Jeff's belief that the cream rises to the crop.  In my opinion, it was a fluke that I had the good fortune to end up on the tenure track and I've seen lots of people more brilliant and hardworking than I get stuck on the post-doc/adjunct treadmill until terminal discouragement set in.  

For those students intent on a STEM PhD, I suggest a) a PhD in chemistry, b) Medical/Pharmacy school, or c) a Clinical Psych PhD (depending on their background).  Should a student win the med school lottery and earn an MD, they can always do research full or part time (like this guy: http://www.nature.com/news/firearms-research-the-gun-fighter-1.12864 ).  They also end up having a leg-up in MRI labs and fighting for NIH funding.  The clinical psych degree is similar in offering the flexibility to go R1 with the backup of a steady income doing good.    Ditto for chemistry PhDs, who always seem to be in demand at universities and in industry.    I boil it down to this for my students: if you want to do research, go learn how to do something useful and then use those skills to research what you are passionate about.  That way, you can pursue your passions without risking life, mortgage and happiness on the whims of NSF and NIH.  

But that's just my $0.02.

Anyone else?


-----Original Message-----
From: FUN_Mail [mailto:fun_mail-bounces at lists.funfaculty.org] On Behalf Of Jeffrey Smith
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:33
To: FUN Mail
Subject: [FUN_Mail] FUN Newsletter - President's Message and Conversation

Dear FUN Friends,

In our most recent newsletter I opined about concerns I have, and believe many of you may share, about the current and potential future of the training of our current (and future) generation(s) of neuroscientists. Since many of our colleagues at research-centered institutions are mulling these concerns from the perspective of the PI/Research Scientist viewpoint, I feel it might be worthy to think about a potential position paper from the undergraduate/student mentor perspective.

It is my hope that after reading my comments in our current newsletter (http://www.funfaculty.org/drupal/sites/funfaculty.org/files/fun%20newsletter%20v02%20e01%20-%20d4.pdf) it may generate discussion that could be used as fodder for additional conversation at our workshop in Ithaca. Then, if the interest is there and we are able to come to a consensus about our role in the future training of neuroscientists, we may then move on to several of us collaborating to craft a position paper to add to the national conversation. 

Though ambitious as this might sound I feel that if we simply watch what is going on without inserting our voices, our students might not have the same opportunities as we did. 

So, feel free to simply respond to this message (reminder: your responses will go out to the entire mailing list) and we can have an ongoing conversation leading up to our meeting in August.

Best to all and I look forward to hearing all of your perspectives!


Jeffrey S. Smith, Ph.D. 
President, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience The Malcolm and Lois Field Endowed Chair in Health Sciences Department of Health Sciences Crystal M. Lange College of Health & Human Services Saginaw Valley State University
7400 Bay Road
University Center, MI 48710 

web: http://www.svsu.edu/~jsmith12
email: jsmith12 at svsu.edu
Office phone: 989.964.4503
Laboratory phone: 989.964.4553
Cell phone: 971.678.5022
Fax: 989.964.4925 

--remember replies to the mailing list go to everyone on the list!! --

FUN_Mail mailing list
FUN_Mail at lists.funfaculty.org

More information about the FUN_Mail mailing list