Last week, Sandra at Discovering Biology in a Digital World had some interesting thoughts on Life science PhD’s as industrial strength technicians. What I thought interesting was this bit:
This wasn’t for a technician job, but a few years ago, I was in the position of hiring someone to help me on an education project. I interviewed four people and had some of them present seminars to our company to tell us about their work and why they were interested in working for us. Surprisingly, only one person had read anything about my project and really wanted to work on it. It was pretty clear from talking to the other people who applied that they viewed this position as a foot in the door and really wanted to do something else. One guy was even obnoxious about it and acted like the job was totally beneath him and I wasn’t doing the right kinds of things anyway!
This analysis of course is from the industry perspective, and that last person’s views (I think) may reflect the clash of academic versus industry views. The academic training of PhD’s, at least in my limited experience, is generally that of the independent researcher delving into fundamental questions of basic research. Graduate school does not promote teamwork, respect the refinement of already-discovered methods and information, or good lab conduct of the sort that might be interesting to potential employers in industry.
I’m sure though that PhD’s with more of a background in applied research might not face these problems. In the life sciences, food science is one such applied field, that might suit the shift from academia to industry better, or more clinically-oriented fields. Any field, however, with a focus on the fundamental nature of things, promotes the sort of arrogance that Sandra describes – correct me if I’m wrong.
Regardless however, plenty of PhD’s find the employment market ultra-competitive, and must find the humility to find work where they can. They have to find a way to enjoy such work even if they previously had lofty dreams of making great discoveries someday. That’s just life.