Normally I leave it to Prof-like Substance to pull on the meatpants and dispel some of the myths held by disgruntledocs. And he has yet again.
And I usually try not to get too up in the face with my posts....
But then I was reading Postdocalypse Now and the various comments over there, and well, the sense of entitlement is so thick you could stir it with a stick.
There are no entitlements in academia. Never have been. No one is guaranteed a TT position, let alone an interview. No one is guaranteed funding. No one is guaranteed tenure. Tenured profs aren't even guaranteed an office and lab space.
So here's some simple math some of the disgruntledocs just don't seem able to grasp. Perhaps those of you coming up the ranks behind them can.
Simple Math I:
You're not that special. Think it through. The traditional path to a TT position is grad school followed by a postdoc or two. So if your PI has trained one grad student and one postdoc, they've essentially trained their replacement. Every additional student and postdoc is competition. For you. Direct competition. They've likely been trained on the same systems and methods. There's only so much room out there for people studying bunny hopping using electromagnoanisotropicoptophysioluminescence.
Simple Math II:
Yes, there are typically up to 300, maybe more, applications for each TT position at research intensive institutions (at least in the biomedical fields). But, as pointed out by Spiny Norman, you're not competing against all 300+. Around 70% aren't really that competitive (not you though, right? Yeah, right.) and likely won't be landing a TT position at an R1. On top of that, the remaining ~30% are applying to multiple, hopefully many, positions. So your odds are better than you might think. IF you're truly competitive.
Simple Math III:
Again, as pointed out by Spiny Norman, and discussed multiple times by DrugMonkey, CNS publications are not your ticket to a TT position. They help, for sure. But productivity and originality are the keys. Multiple first authorships. MULTIPLE. Preferably multiple as a postdoc. Not one or two.
Simple Math IV:
You're not that special part deux. Pedigree is a guarantee of little. Yes, having graduated from Fanycpants U, gone to grad school at Superfancypants U, and postdocced at Ultrasuperfancypants U gives you a little leg up. And, as Spiny* once again made clear, having trained in a well known lab that is also known for providing great training** is important. BUT, if you don't take full advantage of that, and every other opportunity you can get your hands on, you've screwed yourself (see Simple Math III above and V below).
Simple Math V:
Funding helps a lot. Our dean currently strongly encourages us to only consider applicants with funding (K99, R01 etc.). You can argue whether or not that's the best strategy (I don't think it is), but it is what it is. So you need to be applying. Early and often. Current funding rates at the NIH are somewhere below 20%. That does not mean >80% of applicants are unfunded. It means >80% of applications are not funded. Want to up the odds? Have multiple applications on multiple projects.*** As a postdoc that means convincing your PI to let you. If they won't, you need a new PI.
Simple Math VI:
The system needs an overhaul for sure. From grad student training through to PI's (which one way or another seems to be in the works). But even if we got rid of all the deadwood tomorrow, that won't up your odds of landing a TT position much, if at all. The economy still sucks. Funding rates are low. Many institutions are having a hard time making ends meet (BBRI anyone?). A deadwood prof fired is money saved. A new TT hire might have a lower salary and benefits cost, but requires a massive start up package. Many places are likely to decide to save the money instead of making that investment.
Are the odds stacked against you? Sure. But it's always been that way and likely always will. Having your dreams shattered sucks. But despite what you might think, no one has promised you a TT position. Or funding. At least try to open your eyes to the reality around you.
* Who should have a blog.
** The two are not necessarily synonymous.
*** As should all PI's of course.