It seems that everywhere I turn I hear more about the desperate job situation for those wanting to pursue a career in academia. I’ve read more than a few recent articles and blog posts discussing the postdoc plight, namely that there are too many postdocs and too few jobs. In one article posted to a friend’s facebook page the chosen path of a postdoc was described as “penury” (It’s ok, look it up. I had to!). Not exactly encouraging for someone just starting out.
The rather unpleasant consequence of all this, besides the obvious lesson that nothing good ever comes from reading, is that it has had me thinking about my own career trajectory [shudder]. I have always planned on giving a career in academia a try and had naively assumed that it would be up to me to prove that I could “make it” in my postdoc. It is slowly dawning on me however that the choice may not be mine, particularly if I plan on returning to Canada. There is a very real possibility that when I’m ready to start my job hunt in earnest there will simply not be any tenure track openings in my field. And what the hell would I do then? I want to use my postdoc wisely to not only do my best to become competitive for whatever miracle tenure track jobs are out there, but also to prepare for the possibility that there won’t be any. On a whim today I decided to take a look at how many current job positions are out there right now that I would one day be qualified for. I sat down at my computer eager to do a little reasearch and then….uh….google: …… “faculty jobs, virology”???? I have no idea how one even looks for a job!! Add that to the list of things to figure out during my postdoc!
My former PhD supervisor recently told me that your main goal during your postdoc appointment should be to “find your third reference”. Huh? He was referring to the fact that when applying for jobs in the future the obvious choice for reference letters would be one from your PhD supervisor and one from your postdoc supervisor, but the third reference letter is often much harder to come by. I can appreciate that, but I guess what confuses me the emphasis on this point when considering all the other things that you need to accomplish to get an academic job. Is it really that big a deal?
What about an alternate career (whatever that might be)? I have no idea how true this is for other postdocs, and perhaps it is due to my recent big coast-to-coast upheaval that is still fresh in my mind, but my idle thoughts often turn to what perceived known comforts I have “given up” (mainly family, friends and the world’s best cat) in exchange for the unknown. Will it be worth it? What I’ve been conscious of lately is that I don’t want to continue too far down a path in a vain attempt to make everything “worth it”. There’s a strong feeling in academia that if you go into industry, or really any path other than the academic, that you are selling out or failing. As much as I hate to admit it, I buy into that a little. I feel the need to go as far as I can down this path to know that I truly gave it my best. But is it what I will choose in the end?
All these questions, queries and quandaries bring me to the ultimate purpose of today’s blog entry: an official declaration of my intent to wade through what the hell it is exactly that we’re supposed to be doing and report back with whatever tidbits I pick up along the way! (Starting with some tips on scientific writing from a seminar I went to last week…..oooh scintillating, keep ’em coming back for more….)