Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading books that I don't have a strong motivation to blog about.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Stephan: An alternative to the "alternative"

One periodically hears the Right-Thinking Classes talk about "alternative careers for PhDs."  This sort of talk is a joke on a number of levels.

For starters, some of them include "teaching at a 4-year college without a graduate program" as an "alternative career."  That just shows how narrow their conception of academia really is.

Of course they include working in industry as an "alternative."  It is rather strange that the most common job (when one finally lucks out after years of postdoc positions) is the "alternative."  They seem to be aware of this, and if they talk too much about industry in a roomful of postdocs somebody will eventually say "Oh, yeah?  Where are all of the companies clambering to hire us?"

But the true darlings of the Right-Thinking Classes are the trio of k-12 science teaching, science journalism, and science policy.  Now, yes, of course, we want to have scientifically literate k-12 teachers, especially (but not exclusively) in high schools.  And of course it would be nice if more journalists knew more about the science stories that they (sometimes) cover.  And who wouldn't like to know that the people making decisions about nuclear power regulation or approval of pharmaceuticals are knowledgeable about science?  Alas, there are only so many jobs in science journalism and science policy, and k-12 teaching requires a lot of other traits besides a science degree.  It isn't for everyone.

None of this stops the Right-Thinking Classes from periodically yammering about these paths.  I like Paula Stephan's response on page 181:
Yes, there is an apparent shortage of math and science teachers in the United States.*  But surely there is a more efficient way to increase the supply than by transforming people who have invested seven years of training in graduate school and another three to four as a postdoc into teachers.
Ooh, she is just ASKING to be disinvited from any further panels at funding agencies and professional societies.  Well, if she gets tired of those events, instead of getting herself disinvited she can just transfer the invite to me.  I'll be happy to consume fancy hors d'oeuvres while telling people things that they don't want to hear.

*To my knowledge, this is one of the few areas where the "shortage" rhetoric might have a factual basis, though the shortage has a lot more to do with the number of people who will accept those working conditions at the salary on offer than the number of people getting science degrees.

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