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

Bob Rosenberg rosenbo at earlham.edu
Sat Jun 28 12:38:11 EDT 2014

>From my perspective, having been a professor at a research-intensive medical/graduate school (UNC-Chapel Hill) and now a professor at a liberal arts college (Earlham College), I have some disagreements with Jeff. 

1. There are no "alternative" career paths anymore. Graduate students understand from very early on, i.e in their first year, that their career path is unlikely to lead to a tenure-track position. All career options (e.g. research positions in academia or industry, R&D in any commercial setting, grants management, clinical research management, science writing and editing, working for professional organizations) are considered as options from early on in grad school. All of them are considered legitimate by most students and their professors. Many professors still hope their students will become their clones, but most are realistic that that's unlikely. Maybe students at Stanford and Harvard are deluded into thinking they can be a tenured professor if they want, but at the grad programs I was affiliated with in Chapel Hill, students knew the score. Most of them are using their PhD very productively even if a small percentage are tenure-track professors. 

2. Undergraduate education is not vocational education, it's life-enriching education. We can hope that neuroscience students will pursue neuroscience after they graduate, but we mustn't be disappointed if they follow other paths that aren't in science at all, and we mustn't think of those paths as failures. Students become neuroscience majors because at this point in their lives they're passionate about learning about the brain and behavior, and that should be reason enough. Their lives will be better for following that passion even if they don't pursue it past the BA or BS. If they use the skills that they learn as neuroscience majors -- thinking critically, being able to communicate their thoughts, understanding complex ideas and data -- in any career, their education was worth the effort. Even if they become real estate agents, bartenders, or stay-home parents, their college education enriches their lives. 

3. We must be honest with students who express an interest in graduate school about the possible career paths, and we can't be too sanguine about their chances getting onto and then surviving the tenure track, but I think it would be a mistake to discourage students from following their passion for further education. Unless we actively delude students into thinking that the tenure track is a likely outcome, we are not part of the problem. The problem is when students, both graduate and undergraduate, are deluded into having unrealistic goals about academic career paths. As long as we don't do that, there is no major problem. 

Bob Rosenberg 
Professor of Biology 
Earlham College 
801 National Road West, Drawer 142 
Richmond, IN 47374 

office: (765) 983-1464 
fax: (765) 983-1497 
email: rosenbo at earlham.edu 

More information about the FUN_Mail mailing list