Better Jobs Than Science

Via Matt McIrvin (whose earlier entry on “Nerd Bravado” is also a must-read), the best explanation I’ve heard so far of the whole “Why are there so few women in scinece?” debate: they got better jobs:

One of my students, we’ll call him Bill, in an introductory computer science class said that he wanted to be a biologist when he grew up. What biologists had Bill met? They were all professors at MIT and about half of them had won the Nobel Prize. This is hardly an average sample of people who went to Biology graduate school! Fortunately, Bill was a tall good-looking fellow. He managed to score himself a lovely girlfriend during the semester, we’ll call her Theresa. Theresa was a biology postdoc, with a PhD from an elite institution and a plum job at MIT. Bill got to see how Theresa was treated in the lab, count her working hours, see the pay stubs she received as a young woman in her 30s with a PhD, wave goodbye as she got fired after her experiment did not work out, and write email to Theresa at her new postdoc at Stanford. By the end of the semester, Bill said, “I think I want to be an architect.”

I don’t entirely agree with his claims (in particular, I think the job picture he paints is a little too bleak), but it’s an entertaining contrarian take on the whole argument.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Kozlowski
    March 3, 2006

    (Is that really the kind of money that science professors make? I always thought the professoriate was a comfortable six-figure sort of life.)

    Greenspun badly overstates job security in the private sector. Being let go from a private sector job may not be as devastating as being denied tenure, but I doubt it’s appreciably less common.

  2. #2 Kate Nepveu
    March 3, 2006

    What, like the way law is?

    *hollow laughter*

  3. #3 Chad Orzel
    March 3, 2006

    (Is that really the kind of money that science professors make? I always thought the professoriate was a comfortable six-figure sort of life.)

    Not so much.
    My employer is on the low end of the academic pay scale, and my base salary is a bit below what he cites. With “summer salary” from my research grants, I’m in that ballpark. Tenured faculty do a bit better, but it’s not really a six-figures kind of job. That’s one of the things we trade for tenure.

  4. #4 Fred
    March 3, 2006

    “Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics.”

    – Dr. David L Goodstein, States of Matter

    Physics – A career to die for.

  5. #5 Bob Oldendorf
    March 4, 2006

    Better jobs than science?

    The state civil service has a title of “Lab Assistant”.
    “Lab Assistant” is the same grade and gets the same pay as a “Clerk”.

    The Clerk position requires a HS diploma; to land the prestigious “Lab Assistant” position now requires a BS in physical science.

    Therefore, a college degree in science is now worth exactly nothing:
    You go to a fancy college, study insanely hard subjects, lose four years of income and seniority, go comically into debt… and at the end of four years, you too can earn exactly as much as your high school classmates.

  6. #6 Walt Pohl
    March 4, 2006

    Bob: The empirical evidence is that a college degree makes a big difference in how much money you make.

  7. #7 mostly harmless
    March 4, 2006

    I was pretty lucky with my field, the synthetic organic chemistry. When I was a high-energy freshman, I wanted to discover some reaction/method that every chemist would know and use. I am now resigned to this – but developing anti-cancer drugs for a pharma company is not that bad either. Actually, I have deserted the pharma industry few years backs for a research institute; I do the same kind of research here, I am paid six figures and the people are nice & do not seem to be bothered by my unfinished PhD. I know from my working with the biologists that they tend to have a bit harder time with postdocs but they too can land a sweet job with a good company.

    Being postdoc sux, staying in academia can be pretty hard if you do not have the stamina for long hours and academia salary and biologists have harder time than medicinal chemists. But it all depends what you can do to make yourself desirable as a job applicant – like in any other field.

    If the guy wants to be an archistect rather than biologist, good for him (and the biology too).

  8. #8 Bob Oldendorf
    March 4, 2006

    Walt Pohl: The empirical evidence is that a college degree makes a big difference in how much money you make.

    Well, sure, in the general case. But not in the particular example I cited. (And, quite possibly, maybe not for a science major). The State of NY now requires a BS in the physical sciences for a job that pays exactly as much as jobs that are available to HS graduates.

    Presumably, there are science graduates hungry enough to take the job, too.

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