March 20, 2011

'Tis the season for recruiting

**Part 2 of the 2-for-1 day!

by flickr user thinboyfatter
All of the prospective graduate students have come and gone from Big U for this year's Chemistry recruiting season. I saw the recruits in a completely new light this time. Granted, my exposure to recruits was limited as I wasn't allowed to host (wouldn't want the "bitter" grad student leaving with a Masters to say anything negative about the department), but I did interact with them at the poster session and a couple of the informal dinners.

I was struck by their naivety. Many expressed their desire to go the academic route, becoming a professor at a small college, and faithful readers will know how I feel about that. As soon as I heard this I wanted to start quoting stats as to the limited number of academic positions, the huge number of applicants, and therefore the low odds of getting that coveted spot. In general I wanted to warn them of the troubling job market for PhD chemists and the possibility that we just have too many PhDs. Did I tell them any of these things? Nope. I knew that my cautionary advice would fall on deaf ears, especially once they heard that I was leaving the program. I was in their shoes once, and I was so confident that I was different that I would have thought that those statistics didn't apply to me. No, instead I kept my mouth shut and hid behind the mask of a graduate student in good standing. I cringed and squirmed a little when they asked about the attrition rate and how many people quit with their Masters. Thankfully one of my close friends fielded the question and answered truthfully that people leave for all sorts of reasons. After all, six people have left from our class, and we all left for distinct reasons.

So readers, did I take the easy way out by staying silent? Do you think they would have heeded my advice? I believe that there really are some things people can only learn through experience, and by documenting my advice here the information will be available if they choose to go looking for it later.


  1. A few years ago, when I was still working in industry, I was part of an online mentoring program for women in chemistry, mostly graduate students. Although the job situation wasn't anywhere near as dire as it is now, there were layoffs going on and I knew a lot of people having to move from city to city to find jobs - something that was particularly hard on people with families. I wasn't saying they should leave chemistry, just that they needed to be flexible and be prepared for the future. But the students I was mentoring didn't want to hear about it. They were convinced that it wouldn't happen to them. I eventually stopped being a mentor because I felt like I wasn't helping anyone. But maybe people just have to figure it out for themselves.

  2. Yes it was the easiest way, and what's wrong with that? They would not have listened to you AT ALL because they are different from everyone else. They are totally going to put out 6 first-author JACS papers, win a bunch of awards, present at a Gordon Conference and probably leave inside 4 years - duh. A small but significant number of these kids will be planning their post-doc before they join a lab. Telling them that you are leaving with a Masters would be the same as telling them that you poisoned their dog. Possibly worse.