A scientist’s family

Science magazine surveyed postdocs and postdoc advisers about what makes a successful postdoctoral experience (“Postdocs: Striving for Success in a Tough Economy“). One glaring discrepancy between the two groups is the importance of spousal accommodation. 37% of supervisors and 86% of postdocs rated spousal accommodation as important to a positive postdoctoral experience. But more disturbing than this was a quote from someone who had chosen her postdoctoral position based on where her husband had a job: “If you want to have a striking career and be famous then you should choose on that basis… But if your personal life is important to you, then you need to take that into consideration.”

This type of statement makes me angry. It perpetuates the myth that to be a successful scientist you must sacrifice your family. A “real” scientist stays in the lab all hours of the day and night, takes the best job for her career, and it doesn’t matter that her spouse & children live in another city or on another continent because she wouldn’t see them anyway, spending all her waking moments in the lab. Since no human lives that way, any failure can be attributed to the scientist’s lack of commitment and dedication, not to inadequate mentoring, insufficient funding, or the enormous collapsing pyramid scheme that is academic research.

If you want to have a striking career and be famous, then you should not become a scientist in academia. At least not in the USA.

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