That's the best you could find Mother Jones?

Mar 28 2014 Published by under Life

So this link to a Mother Jones article on Ethan Perlstein and his "postdocalypse" went through my twit feed this morning. I'm not going to discuss the content here.*

Look at the stock photo at the top of the article. Clearly meant to be an MD. For an article about PhDs.

Really, Mother Jones? Really? That's the best you could come up with?

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* Feel free to have at it in the comments if you like.

7 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    The Perlstein "I'm a snowflake but I can't get a job" BS is really stating to get on my tits.

    It's rather disconcerting when someone is branded as one of today's "best scientific minds", on the basis of a grand total of 15 publications, only 4 of which are his as first author, and 2 as senior author (the rest middle authorships and reviews). Add in the human health relevance of his work (autophagy in yeast, puh-leeze) and it's not hard to see why he hasn't been NIH funded yet.

    The other annoyance here is the phrase "He'd put in 13 years". He spent 2001-2006 in grad' school, then 2007-2012 as a post-doc'. So, that's actually 11 years total including grad' school, a mere 6 years of post-doc' in a single place before bailing.

    Color me unimpressed. There are literally a fuck-ton of people out there who spent more than 6 years as post0doctoral fellows (myself included). There are equal numbers out there who are willing to spend more than 2 years looking for a job. There's the fact that most people actually do 2 or even 3 post-doc's in different places so they can get a feel for the world and the different types of lab and mentor out there.

    Whining because you can't find a job after your first and only post-doc' is not going to cut it my friend. Take a look at that publication record and see if it really matches with your self-assessment of "competitive" in the job market.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ola- you forget that Perlstein didn't only do a "postdoc". He had a very fancy fellowship (with research funds) https://www.princeton.edu/genomics/lewis-sigler-fellows/alums/index.xml

    Look, stuff can happen. People with all the advantages can still get screwed by the system. But something doesn't add up here. I really want to know how hard this guy actually tried to find a job before I credit that the system screwed him.

    And there's a complete and utter lie in his quote to MJ. This whole 42 yrs to first R01 simply would not have applied to him. With his background, he should have been able to land a job *somewhere* in 2, maybe 3 years of searching. Mostly likely in 2 after he abandoned his Ivy/Equivalent-or-bust approach in year 1 (this is my assumption, open to correction). And he would most assuredly have won his first R01 before many years went by. I base this on his clear vigor and energetic careerism....but it would of course depend on him committing to the task and abandoning his current anti-system pretenses.

  • the human health relevance of his work (autophagy in yeast, puh-leeze)

    Are you off your motherfucken rocker???? Studying fundamental cell biological processes in yeast (and other model organisms) has been *hugely* important for driving our understanding of these processes in human health and disease. A great example is this year's Nobel Prize for discovering the mechanisms of vesicular secretion, discoveries that relied in large part on work in yeast. Autophagy is a universal function of eukaryotic cells, and likely important in many human diseases.

    (Perlstein's specific research approach in yeast was, in my opinion, totally cockamamie and poorly grounded.)

  • Takver says:

    By Perlstein's own blog postings, he applied to something like 20-25 jobs over 2 years, constrained to the best universities in N. California.

    Most people I know in similar boats applied to 70-150 jobs, all over the world. When there are 400 applicants to each position, 20-25 focused applications aren't going to cut it.

    When there are 400 applicants for a single academic position, there are some serious systemic problems. But Perlstein's maverick poseurdom is getting on my nerves, and I completely disagree that falling back to the crass patronism of the 19th century is the way forward for doing modern-day science.

  • MIchael H says:

    I agree in general that there is a kind of silliness to the whole postdocalypse. I bailed relatively early in my PD (2 years) after getting screwed 2X in 2 years by PD advisors. Ironically, that is not why I left academics for teaching. I left because I no longer agreed with the direction "translational" neuroscience was going, and I saw that what really floats my boat was not on the table--and I realized that was okay, I had another path. Being shafted just gave me the space to realize I had been souring on my academic direction since early on in my graduate career.

    Ethan will always have a hard time getting jobs other than those he starts because his work is different. It is not because of lack of papers, lack or presence of a K99 or anything like that. He is not a great fit in most departments I see, and that is why his foray into start-ups and indie science is a good move. Talking to the media, not so much as that will only form enmity with the greater scientific community.

    As an aside, please please please drop the sanctimonious "publication record" crap. In my academic job search I got no bites of any kind, and my publication record clearly warrants at least an interview (if it were about publication #, which it is NOT). I got no hits because I did not fit. Not because I was "unqualified".

    I think that only those actually on the hiring committees have the guts to state why jobs are hard to find--it is a buyers market. When you have 100+ applicants for a position, and you know there are going to be lots more next year, you can wait for exactly whom you want and make a perfect fit into your department. Build your reputation, and increase grant revenues to the department. It is simple economics.

    Long gone are the days of slim picking and the search committees trying to rationalize candidates because they NEED to hire someone out of a slim field. Universities can wait, bide their time, and actually try to hit a home run with their hires rather than take chances on the unknown. I am not sure this is entirely a bad thing TBH.

  • I am a scientist and I have seen really good scientist with correct records who could not get any jobs and had to find something else with 40. Quite difficult.... I also saw bad scientists (with correct records,too) getting jobs.
    I think nobody will question that if Ethan had been ready to do more sacrifices, he would have got a job in the academia (unless he would have gotten sick, or he would have started a project with a lot of new techniques to learn,or...), the question is: do you want to do the sacrifices? Will you wait until you are 40 before having a secure job, will you take that risk, when you have two kids at home?

    Personally, I was fed up with moving to yet another place and wrote a grant to work here as a group leader. My grant proposal was rejected because of my poor records. Although my mentors (and grant reviewers) have been saying nice things about my capacity in doing science, this could not be translated into papers.
    The life of a post doc is tough. I am 35 and I decided not to move anymore. Either I get a academic job here in Berlin or I go do something else. I am lucky that I had savings from my phd in switzerland and could therefore wait 6 months (wait= writing papers, founding a company and supervise the last months of a PhD student, unpaid) before getting a job (in a lab to make a company out of one of their project); otherwise I would have had to take a stupid job like selling dvds: my past in academia is worth close to nothing in the real world! I can still do something else now, but what if I try another 5 yeras?

  • namnezia says:

    I'm not saying this is necessarily the case here, but even if someone's credentials are excellent, many fail to get jobs because of the simple fact that they come across as arrogant assholes.