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The Worst Jobs in Science - Popular Science

The Worst Jobs in Science -
the most torturous ways to make a living in science.

Popular Science - October 2003 (by William Speed Weed)

(Oct, 2004 - This appears to no longer be in their online archive. So to read the original issue a visit to the library may be required.)

Ah, science! Ennobling. Fascinating. Deeply challenging. Also, dangerous, gross and mind-bogglingly boring. We at Popular Science are sometimes brought up short by the realization that there are aspects of science—entire jobs, even—that, when you strip away the imposing titles and advanced degrees, sound at best distasteful and at worst unbearable. Having chosen last month our second annual Brilliant 10—a group of dynamic researchers making remarkable discoveries—we turned to this pressing question: For the rest out there, just how bad can a science job get?

The answer: Really, really bad.

We're grateful that someone out there is doing these jobs. Even more grateful that it isn't us.

POSTDOC (icon - "Career Track Bait and Switch")

Sure, some Ph.D.s do enriching work in their postdoc "year" (this limbo between earning the doctorate and getting a real job has in fact grown to a more typical two, three or four years)—but in an obscene number of cases, it's just drudgery leading to dashed dreams, for the simple reason that we produce many more science and engineering Ph.D.s in this country than we have professorships to fill. The academy line is that, overall, the postdoc is a beneficial "winnowing-out time": The fittest scientists are selected, while the rest flee to lesser callings (like … picking randomly here … science journalism). But, to extend the Darwinian metaphor, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that the postdoc limbo selects not for intellectual fitness to be a scientist but for sheer endurance to put up with 80-hour weeks of, say, sticking electrodes in rat brains and getting bitten. People with interests in family, art or recreation are the most likely to bail. As well-rounded minds, they're also potentially the best scientists.




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