PhD: Reader story _ 2
I want to first thank PhD Scam for getting the word out so that tragedies like mine can be avoided. I am getting out of academia this year. I have been planning for months. A bit about myself. I have a PhD from a top school. I have a steady stream of publications in top-tier journals like nature, etc, until last year. I have gone through a few interviews and even gotten an offer last year for a tenure-track position, which I turned down.
What kind of idiot would turn down a tenure-track offer? Whether or not I am an idiot, I will let the readers judge. The offer was for $43000/year with three courses per semester teaching load in a university in a fairly high cost of living region of US. This translates to 12 hours lecturing per week plus maybe 10-20 hours per week of office hour plus 10-20 hours of prepping and grading per week (assuming I actually have the time to prep), plus approximately 10-20 hours of “faculty services”, not to mention time needed for research and mentoring students (assuming I care), say another 10-20 hours. Anyway, we are looking at upward of 50-80 hours per week. 40 hours if I do the absolute minimum. Remember also that summer breaks is really meant for you to catch up with your research and writing grants. For conservative estimate, let us just assume that I only work 60 hours a week on average. There are about 50 weeks a year (if one exclude the holidays) so that means if I had taken the post I will be earning $43000/50==$860 per week or 14.33 dollars per hour. I am sure the astute readers would have recognized that this is less than the $15 minimum wage that fast-food worker are asking for in recent news. Regardless, the custodian cleaning my office in my current university earns $15 per hour + benefits. I chuckled at the offer and pointed out that I will be making less than the guy cleaning my toilet so it must be a joke. Obviously, the other side did not find it so funny.
It turns out my “discovery/calculation” is not new. It really is true that one can earn more doing non-teaching non-research university jobs with comparable if not better job security (and prospect) to that of a tenured professor, see Peter Lawrence’s paper in the 2009 PLOS Biology. It maybe less mentally engaging but with the accumulated pay leaves and the peace of mind that comes with a secure job, I can surely accomplish a lot more as a university staff doing science as a hobby.
Not believing this revelation, I asked the payroll woman in my department if there are any science/research positions available at my university with more security than a postdoc. She was very sympathetic because she had talked to others like me. She quickly explained to me the concept of soft-money and hard-money and told me the simple answer is no, there is no secure scientist job because there is no hard-money for it. One thing she said I would never forget. She said that she cannot understand why ultra-smart people spend years to get PhD so that they can get jobs with far lower pay and way less security than hers. Guess what I cannot fathom it either. I am furthermore shocked that I am getting punished for spending my best years doing good science and aiming to be a good educator. I feel like an idiot, like I have been in a cult all these years.
Even if I am okay getting less pay than the guy cleaning my office and with the potential of getting fired years later because of failed tenure. I still have a dependent spouse and a kid to worry about — Day care costs and unexpected further tragedy can easily cost an arm and a leg. In fact, I am living paycheck to paycheck and I worked 70+ hours a week because of publish or perish mentality, not anymore though since I am quitting. My advice to the uninitiated is to avoid doing PhD unless you have no life and have no plan for one ever. If you do want to live to your golden years and have a family, the good news is that you can now join the university bureaucracy because that is where the future jobs really lie.
Think of the number of people needed to support MOOC, setting the prices and deals, protect the copy-rights etc. Imagine how can we possibly educate the next generation without people inventing multiple standardized tests and administering them. God forbid, how about compliance. How can we possibly know what rules to invent and what rules are followed and efficiency achieved without people telling us these rules and many more to measure the efficacy over and over and over. And how can we possibly know that good research is being done without a huge propaganda machine to say that it is. The best part is that you do not need a PhD with years of training to do most of these jobs.