Posted by: CJ | November 12, 2010

Sexy Discipline Reality Check

I was recently following some links, and ending up looking at a lab doing work in an area of science I’ve always wanted to know more about. And, looking at the cool stuff they were doing there, I was sorta kicking myself for not majoring in that and going into that field.

The very next day I got a wonderful reality check the very next day. A friend I’m taking a few classes with started out going to grad school in the sexy area of science I’d been salivating about. His experience? He said that coming from a liberal arts background he just didn’t have enough background to work in those labs. He’s of the opinion that you need approximately the background of a master’s degree before you can be in those labs. So that’s two years of studying in grad school before you can re-apply to programs to get really serious about studying in grad school. (Systems like this are somewhat common in the most competitive areas of science and technology. Unless you’re coming from a very, very good place you need more than just a bachelor’s degree and good test scores to get into a good graduate program.)

Of course, that’s the background you need just to get into one of those labs. Actually staying in academia requires you taking at least one and possibly two post-doc positions–around 2 to 3 years each–before getting a tenure-track job. And, of course, employment prospects outside of academia are sorta a mixed bag. If you’re the right subdiscipline those prospects could be great, or they could be iffy or lousy for the wrong subdiscipline.

So, to recap, this sexy discipline is more of a siren. Yeah, it’s cool, but being able to do it is another 4-8 years of student-ish existence before possibly getting a tenure-track job. At least compared to my current trajectory. And, of course, getting a job outside of academia might not be easy.

I’m not so enamored with that discipline. At least right now.

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