Although it came out in February, I just saw this article in Science Careers online and am unable to fight my rant impulse.
The article describes a new one year Masters program from the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences – the PPM (Postdoctoral Professional Masters). Yes, it is exactly as it sounds; a Masters program for scientists and engineers that have completed a PhD and are looking to enter private industry rather than continuing in academia, available to you at the low low price of $25,000.
I’ll just pause for a moment while you consider that concept fully.
I would now like to humbly suggest that rather than creating an entirely new degree program for the already (arguably) over-educated, why not demand that our current programs provide us the necessary tools for future employment?!
The PPM is designed to allow its students to “pursue senior management positions within the life sciences industry or embark on entrepreneurial ventures … to commercialize technologies developed in laboratories”. Proponents of the program claim that the PPM provides more than just book learnin’ by fostering relationships between its students and industry leaders.
As postdocs, we often suffer the worst of both worlds. We are considered ‘trainees’ and are thus generally denied the benefits provided full-time staff and faculty (I just want a train pass, for the love of God, give us train passes!!). We are not quite students either and are denied the tax breaks and sometimes the university resources afforded graduate and undergraduate students. In the end since we are, for better or worse, ‘trainees’, we should take care to not become complacent and accept a lack of mentorship. Nor does it mean that the onus is all on the university or PIs. As our training institutions have the responsibility to provide career training, so too do we have the responsibility to seek it out.
At the vast majority of universities, career resources can be found by industrious students and postdocs willing to look for them. For instance, my university just hosted a biotech career day hosting multiple companies eager to network and chat with interested students and postdocs. The postdoctoc council at my institution also makes an effort to foster industry connections for interested parties. I’m also a member of AWIS which provides a mentoring program for women in science in communities throughout the US. If your institution is not providing similar opportunities, the graduate and postdoc community need to stand up and call for training that is competitive with that provided at other universities. This includes career training and networking opportunities.
So I ask, with the resources that should be available to us as trainees, is $25,000 and another year in school really required to get an industry job? Or are we just so used to being in school that it has become our go-to solution for everything?
Perhaps my favorite part of the Science Careers article is the quote from the KGI president stating that the program helps scientists prepare for industry by re-teaching them “the art of balancing a whole bunch of different kinds of things that are going on at once.” Right. Because I didn’t need to do that during my PhD/postdoc. I mean, it’s not as though I currently have to balance bench work (which on a daily basis involves multiple ongoing experiments for multiple ongoing projects), seminars, journal clubs, meetings, grant writing, reviewing the occasional article, mentoring new students and fellowship applications. Oh wait, yes, it’s exactly like that.
The article also describes the importance of understanding how all aspects of industry work, such as accounting and management. Ok, I get that. What I don’t ‘get’ is the anecdote provided describing a KGI student who learned “if I don’t spend the time to give them correct information, inventory management will be screwed up. We won’t be able to provide my product at a reasonable quality because I’m not helping them to get the inventory managed at an acceptable quality.” Um, I’m pretty sure ‘correct information’ is essential in academia too and thus you learn to keep a lab book with accurate notes during your PhD.
This program is providing students with tools that should be or can be learned during their PhD or postdoctoral work in exchange for $25,000 and a year of your life. More school is not the solution to all career dilemmas and it’s time that we say enough is enough. If we’re not employable after a PhD and perhaps a postdoctoral fellowship in a related field, then we’ve got bigger problems than trying to decide what electives to take in our PPM.
If the hole in our training that the PPM is trying to fill truly exists, then I think it’s important to ask ourselves if this is due to a lack of opportunity provided us or to a lack of initiative among trainees. Whatever the answer, it is NOT more school. C’mon people, stop the insanity!