Reader opinions: PhD/postdoc Intellect in over-cherished Nobel Prize culture
Postdoc – a highly educated slave ( Part I )
Who wants to become a postdoc? An oxymoronic description of the postdoc title makes you think twice what domain of the education actually makes one to become a slave or if the education in general is a bad idea. Above all, what is a postdoc?
A postdoc can mean the job title, a person educational level or a particular career stage in one’s scientific endeavor. Postdoc is a short form for postdoctoral scholars who (1) have completed 5 or 6 years long research training in one lab that earns them a glorious three letters, Ph.D and (2) who are currently pursuing another research training in another lab in the name of ‘further training’.
A 5 or 6 year long endeavor in doing repetitive tasks to discover something new and mandatory publication earns you a glorious prefix in your name, Dr. and yet using Dr., in social setting is pretentious and no one appreciates your in-depth knowledge of how silicon and silver makes a better bonding, maintains the heat capacity and offers a significant thermal expansion or your true discovery of a protein that is involved in a particular step in secretory vesicle trafficking in cells.
If one is truly enamored with the research, one can expect a true recognition of their work as they spend hours after hours, burning midnight oils, and physical and mental labor. But if I tell you that ultimate credits for all the work and research, you have invested so much in the hope that yours would be truly appreciated, will end up in someone’s else name in the end, would you be better prepared for this reality or would you still enjoy the research?
Imagine, now it’s your turn that you are a freshly minted ‘Assistant Professor’, managing the lab and junior scientists such as graduates and postdoc alike, all the credits will go under your name and the ultimate award such as Nobel Prize if ever given one, will go to you, while you are sitting your ass all day long and every little glitch and experimental, technical problems are daily managed by those lab rats, would you wonder if the system itself becomes somewhat of a joke or you become another one entangled in the system and supporting the system after all?
Now I want to emphasize that if you become a principal investigator one day and deservedly showered with multiple awards for managerial prowess, publications wizards, I for at least would not bat an eye on your award.
However the very nature of the Nobel Prize and truly positive connotation it carries describes the nature of the award, i.e., you discovered something extraordinary or invented something marvelous. Nobel Prize is not for your management of the lab, or smooching with those upper echelons in academia in a cloak of “I’ll scratch yours and you scratch mine” social achievement. This prize is intended for a true discoverer, not a managerial award. Scientists salivates Nobel Prize but the essence of the prize and nature of the science has immensely diverged over many decades with a glut of many undergraduates, graduates and postdoc alike squeezing at the bottom of the ivory tower, pushing even higher you up in the tower where you compete against your peers with the publication number game.
Name me any PI in STEM fields who received that glorious Nobel Prize after 1990s, actually worked their ass for the very project that led them to where they are now. Name me one. Nobel Prize is a gambling after all. If you pick one project and stick to it with many graduates and postdocs over the year, publish tons of papers on the topic, you’ll get to see a silver lining at the end of the tunnel because all the hard work, technical skills, knowledge by graduate students, and inter-disciplinary knowledge carried by postdocs make your seed project work in the first place. It’s not about your brilliant idea that earns you the Nobel Prize. It’s the hard work all put by the graduate, postdoc slaves and you take the credit for a ‘true discoverer’ in the end?
The reason I said I wouldn’t bat an eye if you won the Managerial Award for discovering something new after working 30 years in the lab is because you’re just basically managing the lab.
Now you might ask “If I’m so smart, why don’t I take up the project and make me win a Nobel Prize then?”
Here’s a few projects that I can throw in the air that will earn me a Nobel Prize if I ever given a chance at the Top University with tons of graduate and postdoc slaves.
1. Stem Cells regeneration to fully functional heart
2. Curing the most debilitating cancers with some drugs, any cancers will do
3. Return the cancer cells into normal cells by getting rid of chromosome numbers
They all seem grandiose and definitely will earn me a Nobel Prize if I initiate those projects. But remember it’s ‘easier said than done’. Those who are making those grandiose projects possible in the first place are graduates and postdocs alike. The very bottleneck in your entire project could depend on the troubleshooting skills of graduate students or subtle observation of postdocs in the lab.
So next time, don’t get cocky that you won a Nobel Prize. It’s just a joke and you are another scammer on this earth, sucking the blood out of grad, postdoc slaves and taking the credits which you will use to smash down any of the next comers in your research field that you don’t want them to stay. Period.
End Part I