Today’s cynicism: research employment opportunities

I saw this photo on a friend’s Facebook page (I don’t know where it originated, sorry) and the first thing I thought was, “if he’s only managed 6 publications out of 3 postdocs, it’s no wonder he’s unemployed”.

Does this make me sound cynical? Probably. But it’s a function of the high-pressure nature of the research game in biological sciences. Maybe he’s an engineer, and 6/3 is a really awesome effort. But for molecular and organismal biology, the trend seems to be 6 papers per year is perceived as reasonable.

Most universities in Australia are offering more PhD scholarships than ever. The uni I work at guarantees a PhD scholarship to anyone who attains a first-class Honours degree. Yet postdoctoral fellowships and permanent research jobs are like hens’ teeth. We end up competing with more people than ever for fewer positions, so it’s no wonder that the dude in the picture is begging. Normal, modest research output is no longer good enough to get you noticed in the sea of applicants. You’ve got to be outstanding, with a freakin awesome list of publications as long as your arm. Which is a fairly big ask for a freshly minted PhD.

I don’t know why we are prepared to do this to ourselves. To work ourselves into the ground to win the admiration of our peers. Such is life, I suppose. For every Leonardo DiCaprio, there are hundreds of wannabes turning up for auditions at movie studios.

It’s all just a game really. Too often it seems the handouts of research funding are random and arbitrary, but we all roll the dice and hope. And write like mad to improve our track records just in case it’s actually not that random after all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper to write.


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