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Ask Slashdot: Advice For Budding Scientist?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the keep-quiet-about-the-reanimation dept.

Education 279

New submitter everithe writes "Dear Slashdot, I am nearing the end of my undergraduate years and hoping to continue on in academia, probably focusing on condensed matter physics. Recently I've noticed some alarming pessimism among Slashdotters about the state of science — that fraud is rampant and that people honestly trying to do science are less likely to be recognized and obtain tenure. Obviously I am very interested in doing real and useful science, but am worried that this could conflict with my ability to put food on the table. My question is, how bad is it really, and do you have any advice for how one just starting out might survive in such an environment?"

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The News Is Not Reality (5, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605371)

Those cases are all exceptions. Look around at your department, or the next one over. They're not full of crooks (probably.) The vast majority of upper-level academes are just committed nerds: think about how many cases you've heard of, and then how many universities there are, and how many professors, postdocs, and graduate students at each. Life goes on.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605433)

Some do call the norm an exception ...

No, sorry, I don't intend to devalue your motivating comment, as the one asking may well be able to find a great lab to work in, but I think reality is more shadowy than it looks like. This is not because science is broken or anything, but because of human nature. Without bad intend, people are prone to lie even to themselves. Get some nice stress put onto your back and see how unbiased your conclusions become!

Think about how many cases you've heard of, and then how many universities there are, and how many professors, postdocs, and graduate students at each.

That means: There are so many yet undocumented cases waiting to surface.

I personally have stopped working in academia because of all the crookery I experienced in molecular biology. I have switched to the pharmaceutical industry instead. Is this an advice? Maybe not, as I found even more crooks in the industry ... there's money at stake, guys!

Basically, if you're honest, prepare to get fucked.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (3, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605489)

Molecular biology really depends on what organism you're focusing on. Worm researchers, for example, are all really nice people because there's an unbroken lineage and it's a relatively small community. If you were studying mammals, you shouldn't be too surprised that things were a little more cut-throat. Anything remotely medical is unfortunately very competitive, a product of self-aggrandisement that it really doesn't deserve. I obviously can't speak for your particular experience, but coming from a very medicine-heavy school that had a radically different culture between the (faculty of medicine) biochemistry department and the (faculty of arts and sciences) biology department, it seems to me that such is the trend. If you're going into pharma, you're really just asking for it even harder. :) Pick something considered less glamorous by prime time television, and you'll find less careerism and more curiosity.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605609)

On a side note, I am really disgusted by Slashdot. We ACs get hardly recognized ever, and rarely somebody responds ... so, thanks for your reply!

More on topic: You're spot-on, I was not only in mammals, but, even worse, in humans (neurology: memory formation). There's very tough competition in that field and, even worse, everybody knows everybody else, either as friend (thus promoting each other's findings), or as foe (thus busting "unacceptable" and "laughable" "research").

Poor me that I didn't get that grant for C.elegans research at CSHL! And why didn't I stay with C.albicans! And skipped ribosome structure and translation control (back then when I met Ada Yonath, years before she was awarded with the anticipated Nobel Prize).

Most about science (about a career in science, that is) is about socializing. And some fields make it easier to get your research well while establishing fruitful contacts. I was definitely on the sucking end.

Budding? (3, Funny)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605789)

I know young scientists tend to be a bit in the dark about sex and suchlike, but really! Budding is not the way that mammals produce offspring.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605439)

Yes, also remember Schön who came up in the discussion? He lost his degree over it, and the courts agreed with the university that falsifying results in such a way is a significant enough misbehaviour that the university can strip his title.
What I see far more frequently is people wasting lots of time hunting money instead of being productive. And this is actually also where usually the really common fraud happens: People who are supposedly working full time on three projects at the same time isn't unusual, with the officially reported work hours summing up to over 24 hours/day.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (1)

qwak23 (1862090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605513)

Methods for reporting work hours vary from industry to industry and organization to organization. For the organization I work for the standard is generally to round fractions of hours up. 5 minutes then becomes 1 reported hour, while this can result in excessive hours being reported, it also prevents too few hours from being reported. Sure you could document everything down to the minute, but that documentation requires additional time, a few minutes here and there can quickly add up (don't forget adding in the hours you spend documenting your hours!).

Sometimes it can be a bit extreme, but in most cases it's much better to have more resources than you need available than to have too few resources. Sure it can be a bit wasteful, but too few resources (especially in terms of labor) can have nasty consequences (accidents, negligence, poor morale, etc)

Re:The News Is Not Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605707)

I am talking about hours billed (or at least reported) to whoever finances the research (often some government institute/project).

Re:The News Is Not Reality (1)

lfp98 (740073) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605441)

I'd agree, actual fraud is still pretty rare despite all the pressures, if only because the consequences of getting caught are so unspeakable. The more common problem is that in an age of scarcity, everything has become more politicized, with personal connections and salesmanship becoming much more important than they once were. Everyone is more obsessed with claiming the maximum possible credit for their contributions to a project, simply because they have no choice, and that has taken a toll on the traditional collegiality of scientists.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (3, Insightful)

flyneye (84093) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605515)

Corruption happens, it happens on campuses, it happens in private facilities, it happens in cases where it is LIKELY to happen in fields it is LIKELY to happen in. For instance, Gov't. commissions a field study of global warming, I'd look for a few dollars to change hands. Tobacco industry commissions research on cancer, I'd bet on some careful wording and outright skewing. Physics? Ask yourself, is there anyone interested in outcomes, enough to pay for the outcome they want to come out of it all? If not, don't worry about it and if they do and it's a lot of money or license to breathe, we'll understand, not condone,not approve,but,hey, par for the course....

Re:The News Is Not Reality (2)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605677)

Corruption is not a problem in science. It's when there is a prior interest to the outcome of a study (e.g. paid by a company). Also, every scientist wants his analysis to be a success -- significant and relevant. The problem is choosing the wrong method for an analysis, and/or interpreting the results in a slightly off way. When every but one method tells you that the results are insignificant and that one method is chosen (file drawer effect [] ). If you're any use as a scientist -- got used to reading literature -- you will recognize these cases easily.

Scientists who do dodgy research don't stay long. They can't switch positions to a serious institute. In my opinion, it's not a problem in fundamental research.

Yes, you won't become rich, but potentially you'll have a fulfilled life.

Agreed, mostly .. (2)

Weezul (52464) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605531)

There is a fair bit of nasty backstaby fighting in some subfields, but maybe you could just avoid such subfields.

There is a much larger problem that real academic science jobs aren't nearly numerous enough accommodate the glut of PhDs. Anyone studying a STEM degree should plan on "selling out" to industry after their PhD or first post-doc. If possible, avoid the subfields that industry doesn't care about.

If you find yourself with a PhD in a not particularly applicable subfield, then you're basically faced with several choices :
(1) Retool back into an applied subfield. (2) Accept a teaching position at a crappy school that doesn't want you "wasting time" on research. (3) Emigrate to a poorer country who's university system is still growing. If you emigrate, then plan on staying permanently, you'll lack the financial resources to retire in the first world after you raise kids or whatever.

Re:The News Is Not Reality (2)

AstroMatt (1594081) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605671)

Agreed. I've been a professor for 20 years. I can't imagine a better job. Research is still fun sometimes to the point of controlled obsession, teaching is satisfying and the students are mostly good to great, the downsides of the job are minimal, and the pay is good. There's nothing else I'd rather do. Matt Wood, Professor Dept Physics & Space Sciences Florida Institute of Technology Melbourne, FL 32901

Advice (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605373)

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
Only be sure always to call it please 'research'.

Re:Advice (4, Funny)

mustafap (452510) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605491)

here are my thoughts...

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
Only be sure always to call it please 'research'.

Re:Advice (1)

Richard_J_N (631241) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605653)

For anyone who hasn't encountered Mr Lehrer, I recommend a Youtube search for "Lobachevsky"

Re:Advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605785)

CARPE VERBATIM - sieze it word-for-word

Re:Advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605827)

Thank you, Dr. Lobachevsky.

there is no hope (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605379)

don't let anyone corrupt you with a paycheck. get a basic job which puts food on the table, save science for your spare time. post thoughts on the internet like every other scientist, you'll be ignored, but at least you won't be lying.

Degrees of scientific freedom (0)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605381)

That's your problem (or rather our problem) today. Everything today is subject to patents and liability. Every time some scientist makes some significant progress somewhere, that scientist is limited to several buzz killers like:

- Patents
- Religious implications
- Political complications
- Today's glass-fragile ethics

All these factors severely complicates life for your average scientists, well - nothing prohibits you to come up with the next cure for aids or stop world hunger, but there are many out there that can and WILL stop you from doing so.

To Open Source science however, making sure that formulas can't be patented, opens up the freedom we once had in science, the freedom to spread ideas, freely combine formulas and derivative material any way we needed to get that new idea working - is nearly long gone. That is why it's so important not to let greed hinder progress, that's easier said that done in our world today with all the super powerful "world health org - endorsed" pharmaceutical companies vigorously defending their purchased patents while half the planet is either starving or dying from not being able to afford it, while affordable techniques already exists, but is prohibited by patent issues.

Re:Degrees of scientific freedom (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605397)

Patents do not affect scientific research at university institutions. I know first hand of PLENTY of research based directly on methods and techniques which are patented, and nobody gives it a second thought.

The biggest problem with academia is the number of people vying for a very limited number of positions/jobs. Be prepared to go to where the work is, and that may mean the other side of the world (Europe, Asia, Australia, etc). Also be prepared to spend a fairly long time in a non-tenure track position, and to have to relocate multiple times from temporary position to temporary position.

Disclaimer: I am a current PhD student leaving academia to go into industry, my brother is a Post-doc in Physics looking for a tenure track position for a while now.

Re:Degrees of scientific freedom (3, Informative)

Epimer (1337967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605533)

And the reason why nobody gives a second though to patent infringement in academia is because research use of patented inventions in academia is subject to an exemption from infringement. It's perfectly legal.

That said, it's probably imprudent to let mere facts get in the way of an anti-patent rant on here :)

Re:Degrees of scientific freedom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605549)

. It's perfectly legal.

And pointless. Most academics want their work to be used. Basing any work on patented work is just asking for trouble when you have enough challenges as it is. Patents are poison to most good research.

That said, it's probably imprudent to let mere facts get in the way of an anti-patent rant on here :)

Many "facts" promulgated by the PTO's and lawyers are merely pious hopes completely out of touch with reality.

Re:Degrees of scientific freedom (2)

Epimer (1337967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605641)

Academics have a variety of motivations, and a common one in my field was indeed to see that work used - by other academics, principally. In which case the same scenario applies - research use does not infringe.

Basing any work on patented work is a reasonable means to obtain cross-licensing agreements if you improve upon the base invention. That's a good start for commercialising an academic venture.

Re:Degrees of scientific freedom (3, Insightful)

boristhespider (1678416) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605593)

Mod up on the travel aspect - if you're not willing to move away from your home country then you're in the wrong field and may well find yourself struggling to get work. If you refuse to move from your home city then you're shit out of luck. Academia is extremely unstable up until you get a permanent position, and there aren't many of them going around and you very rarely get a chance to pick where your permanent position will be. (Exceptions exist; schools like Cambridge and Oxford in Britain have a long history of hiring their own - although even that can't be assumed for Oxbridge graduates, not least because there are so many of them - and I get the impression a few of the Ivy League are similar. But even there, people generally have to move around.)

Physics? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605409)

....probably focusing on condensed matter physics....

Well now. You're prepared for a seven figure career on Wall Street. [] .

Sonny, don't waste your life in academia! You'll be 50 before you do anything worthwhile. And in the meantime, you'll be teaching an ever dwindling group of people who want to learn your subject or worse - engineering students.

On Wall Street, you'll be a god! You'll rake in the big bucks, great cars, great women, great math, and people will be impressed!

Condensed Matter? They'll ask, "You mean like my condensed orange juice? Or condensed milk - in a can?"

Yeah, get laid describing that! OTOH, "I work on Wall Street! I also have disposable Porches. Well, not disposable. I donate them to poor slob doctors.'

"Oooooooo! Take me back to your place now!"

See? And when you make it big, retire with your money and finance your own research - no need to publish or perish, no bullshit classes to teach - no engineers, no begging for funding - unless Tropicana wants help, and best of all, fucking young chicks won't get you fired! It'll get you promoted!


Re:Physics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605419)

So yeah, the US is fucked.

Re:Physics? (1)

everithe (915847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605521)

I suspect that you're trying to be ironic, but I just thought I'd mention that I'm female ;) That said, is it really true that Physics grads are in demand in the financial sector? I hear a lot of talk, but your link is inaccessible to me.

Re:Physics? (1)

boristhespider (1678416) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605603)

Yes, it is very true. Or it was before the crash - I know that for a while after that the market was glutted with experienced quants who'd just been laid off by their banks, so outsiders didn't get a look-in, but it might have changed back again now.

Re:Physics? (1)

qwak23 (1862090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605659)

So by mentioning your gender to the AC, are you trying to imply that you are against homosexual relations? Homophobe! In this day and age the women cruise for chicks and the men look for a strong man to take care of them!

Joking aside, Physics grads have plenty of skills that are valuable in the financial sector that other majors may lack. Advanced Mathematics? check. Advanced computer skills? check. Ability to assume everything can be represented by a pointlike object or perfect sphere? double check.

Re:Physics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605721)

Yes, and these are the geniuses that helped wreck our economy.

Re:Physics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605691)

I work in the financial sector. As a physics student you'll have more than sufficient statistical analysis to build exciting new CREDIT MODELS that decide whether or not to extend a loan to a potential customer.

Re:Physics? (5, Informative)

Chase Husky (1131573) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605743)

Anything related to math, e.g., applied maths, theoretical maths, and statistics, is in high demand in finance, let alone other sectors, especially if you've got a base degree or focus that matches, e.g., an S.B./S.M. Bioengineering/Biology or an M.D. if you want to do principled biomedical work. In fact, with the right position, you could easily spend all day publishing biostatistics papers in Biometrika, Biometrics, the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society on, say, models that analyze the effects of some treatment or drug under development, yet get paid more than someone doing the same thing in academia.

Touching on your overall concerns and questions, here are a laundry list of things that I found useful during my graduate years, with respect to a career in academia:

- Take some time to really figure out what you want to study and, ultimately, do in the future while you're in graduate school. If you don't have a firm plan, it's not a bad idea to stay in graduate school longer, provided you have grant funding from your adviser or a fellowship, to pursue other options or investigate other disciplines.

- If you are committed to being a researcher, figure out why the top scientists are where they're at today and maneuver yourself accordingly. For example, within machine learning, people like Michael Jordan, David Blei, Zoubin Ghahramani, Bill Freeman, etc. are successful because they have a somewhat strong statistical background and statistics makes up a large portion of prominent pattern recognition schemes; if you were in, say, computer science or electrical engineering and wanted to be a prominent contributor to the field, it would probably be wise to pursue an S.M./Ph.D. Statistics or an S.M./Ph.D. Applied Math to ensure that your skill set is highly developed. With respect to condensed particle physics, on the theoretical side, you'd probably be well-served by pursuing an S.M. Mathematics, with a focus in differential geometry, topology, and algebra, while, on the practical side, having some programming knowledge wouldn't hurt.

- If you're wanting to do research within academia, determine, as early as possible, where you would ultimately like to obtain a faculty position. This will dictate where you should complete your terminal degree, since, once you graduate, unless you do some incredibly amazing work in your early years, happen to work with someone very famous, or are nearing retirement with a large body of work, you will mostly be constrained to moving laterally, slightly up, or down compared to your alma mater's ranking. As an example, if you want to work at Stanford, it'd likely be good to do your Ph.D. at either Stanford, UIUC, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, or UC-Berkeley.

- If you're unable to get into a really good school during your first round of graduate applications, and you know that you'd like to teach at one, either settle for a somewhat mediocre school to start out with, especially if they offer you a research assistantship, or pursue a second undergraduate degree at your alma mater. During this time, you should ascertain how the current crop of graduate students at the good schools got admitted. If it was based upon publications, find out what journals the "best" publications are in your field are being sent to and start targeting those venues, if possible, before you reapply. If it was based upon internships, try to do more of those at better institutions/labs. If it was based upon the "old boys network" and recommendations from a trusted source, surreptitiously determine, e.g., by looking at publication records, if anyone you're either working with or that knows you well happens to have either collaborated with someone at or graduated from a better university and if they can put you in touch. (I say surreptitiously because, if you chose the mediocre graduate school route, blatantly asking someone like your committee adviser about moving to better university, especially when that move is still a bit in the future, can cause them to basically yank your assistantship funding away and give it to someone who is going to stay there much longer.)

- It's a good idea to apply for as many graduate fellowships, like from the National Science Foundation, as early as possible, as you may get lucky and have four years of tuition paid for along with a generous living stipend. (Unfortunately, the NSF's process for handing out these fellowships is still a mystery to me, as they'll give one to a non-minority, male EE student at MIT with one publication at a mid-/top-tier conference and skip over the non-minority, male EE student with 20 top-tier journal publications at someplace like Texas A&M or the University of Florida.) Since you won't likely have the chance to apply for fellowships until you start graduate school, be sure and pester departmental faculty, once you're accepted, about a research assistantship. (However, don't ask them for such a position before you are accepted, though, unless you happen to be introduced to them from a known third party, as they get tons of emails from foreign nationals about such matters on a daily basis and those emails go straight into the trash can.)

- Most importantly: never piss off your adviser, as you can quickly find your education sidetracked, your reputation unduly slandered, especially if they are petty and vindictive,, and your chances of easily switching to another school dashed. I ended up inadvertently making that mistake and it derailed my Ph.D. EE and M.D. for two years, forced me to basically redo my both degrees, albeit at a much better institution, and cost a pretty penny to sue him for assault and libel before eventually settling.

Re:Physics? (1)

everithe (915847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605923)

Thanks for taking the time to write all that, it was very helpful and I wish you were modded up more.

Re:Physics? (1)

sirrunsalot (1575073) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605929)

I think there's some irony there, but he's not too far off. Appears there's a place for physics/engineers in the financial sector. Not sure how big the market is, but the student whose fluid dynamics code we used went to work on Wall Street. Your mileage may vary, but it also looks to me like there are more satisfying lives than the life of an academic.

Crap. Here we go...

So I spent the last five years in two different grad programs and will soon be leaving with... an M.S... They were decent/very good programs and I was plenty smart, but spent most of ages 22-27 almost completely miserable for it. In short, I went because I was smart, capable, and loved the material, and I payed a pretty big price for it. It's a great thing if you can find a field that piques your curiosity like that, but I'd call it a necessary rather than sufficient condition for success in grad school. I like to get lost in equations and algorithms, and it just didn't dawn on me that I'd have to make such a desperate attempt to flaunt it and establish a name for myself. I don't have a big enough ego to think that the world revolves around my research topic much less me, and as silly as it sounds, I found myself sitting through presentations much more interested in the personality of the presenter than the content. Grown men (yes, usually men) spending their whole lives analyzing a particular wave mode? Are they passionate about it because it's interesting or because they're desperately clinging to something they can get funding for? It's a mind trip if you really sit there and analyze it. And the isolation. Hell. When I was most productive, it wasn't at all unusual for me to go three or four days without speaking to anyone. Probably wouldn't be so bad if you're of the female type. In the end, I decided that although nothing would technically prevent me from being a scientist and a good person, as stressed out, overworked, and miserable as I already was, and with no end in sight, the risk was just too great.

Sorry for the pessimism. I'll cut myself off there and refer you to a few sources I've found helpful: []
Former classics professor, now web developer/writer. Pretty awesome person. No longer an academic. You read that correctly. Not an academic. Awesome person. They're not incompatible, despite what some professors would like you to believe.

Demetri Martin On Puzzles And 'Important Things' []
Because who doesn't love Demetri Martin? He made it most of the way through law school before dropping out and doing something that made him happy. I like his explanation around 10 minutes in. Winning the Games Scientists Play []
I can't recommend this book enough. It's basically a book about how to advance your scientific career in the most efficient way possible. I picked it up randomly and got through half of it standing in the library stacks before I found myself too nauseous to continue. He starts off insisting he's only the messenger, but it's really pretty sickening that someone would attempt to codify and advocate everything that makes academia such a miserable place. Thing is, it's pretty much true. I love where he says that fake scientists with outside hobbies or interests that occupy too much of their minds should be identified and exposed with great pleasure. Wow.

Richard Hamming: You and Your Research []
Yes, Richard Hamming of the eponymous window function! Advice on how to be a good researcher. "I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this."

Anyway, after all this, I figure someone who's not deterred in the least might actually be a good fit for academia. You really have to want it. It's all about focus and persistence. Some people seem happy. Putting food on the table is easy no matter what you do.

Re:Physics? (1)

sirrunsalot (1575073) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605973)

Good God, that's pessimistic! Sorry for that. It's more of a warning than anything. It's really not all bad. There's lots of interesting research going on and lots of truly wonderful people in academia, but there are also a lot of dead ends that are only obvious in hindsight. Just be aware of what you're getting into and it could save you a lot of grief.

Re:Physics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605625)

I work on Wall Street! I also have disposable Porches.

Ha! Forget the porch, my whole HOUSE is disposable, bitch! :)

Fraud?? (2, Insightful)

Barsteward (969998) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605411)

Most of the talk of fraud is from religious nuts, climate change deniers etc. so just ignore these idiots.

A lot of this "science is fraud" is from idiots (3, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605413)

They say that evloution can't be true because the bible says it. And that global warming must be wrong because they like driving an SUV, and because they know they are nice people they cannot be impacting the environment. Most people you meet within science won't be at all like that.

Re:A lot of this "science is fraud" is from idiots (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605775)

No most people in science will only be concerned with funding.

Science! (2)

qwak23 (1862090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605417)

If it's what you want, go for it. You may struggle for a few years early on, very few jobs are awesome (pay wise) to start but over time it will get better. Also remember, you're never too old to try something new (with the exception of a few career fields like fighter pilot), if your dream job doesn't work out, you may be able to find another one that you enjoy but never realized existed (science majors have many more options open to them than say, business majors). Success is never guaranteed, but if you don't try, you'll never get anywhere.

I too would one day like to be an Academic Scientist, and maybe I will get there, I am just taking the extra long route right now ;)

Best of luck to you.

Re:Science! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605803)

Having worked as a scientist for over 40 years, I can say that I was lucky enough to get paid to do something I really enjoyed. I found the research to be very exciting. You are always learning and being challenged.

  There were ups and downs, but mostly ups. The lab I worked for always had funding problems, but somehow we got to the end of each fiscal year. I never saw any cheating on research results. Before a research paper was released, we had 2 internal reviewers, then before it was published, the journal usually had at least 3 reviewer go over it. Many times I would have to explain things better to satisfy these reviews. I must say that getting the reviews back was probably the most emotionally difficult part of each paper I published. The reviewers were anonymous, and often knew more about the subject than I did. However, it did get less stressful after a while.

I wish you the best of luck, science to me is much more exciting and rewarding that being on wall street. You will be doing something constructive for society, rather than shuffling money around.

Re:Science! (1)

everithe (915847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605941)

Sounds like you had a great lab (: And thanks for the encouragement. I can't wait to publish something of my own.

Re:Science! (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605895)

if your dream job doesn't work out, you may be able to find another one that you enjoy but never realized existed (science majors have many more options open to them than say, business majors).

Seconded. I always thought I would be a scientist, and I got a master's degree in physics from a rather prestigious university. Since then I have started about 5 PhD projects, each one coming to a halt within a year, mostly due to problems with the supervisor and the department. In most of these cases I was simply unlucky, for example with one supervisor moving to another job. In another example, other people soon followed me as I left an incompetent supervisor. So my one advice would be, find a supervisor/department you like -- no amount of interest in your topic can help, if your general working environment sucks.

Besides academic work, I have greatly enjoyed industrial R&D, mainly related to process engineering. In some ways, that work has been closer to my hobbies in electronics and programming than my academic qualifications, though knowing the real physics and chemistry also helps. However, most of my working career has been spent teaching math and science -- being fluent in English has landed me some rather unique positions in international schools. As a working environment, a school is in many ways nicer than academia, although there is often an overload of social activity for an introverted nerd.

Find great mentors (2)

Subm (79417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605425)

Find great mentors. I recommend Richard Feynman.

You can't go wrong getting his perspectives on science (besides his actual science, which has some relevance to condensed matter physics). I don't know anyone who describes learning about nature better. If what he says doesn't resonate, you might consider leaving the field. If it resonates, you may find you don't care about other people's opinions as much and just enjoy the pleasure of finding things out.

There are many hours of videos of him online free.

It's not rampant (4, Interesting)

JanneM (7445) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605427)

Cheating and fraud is not rampant, and has never been. The vast majority of scientists never go close to any unethical line. Most cheating is likely found out too, sooner or later, and sooner the more flagrant and potentially important it is. Your career will not be affected in any way by the existence of fraud in the field.

What is a concern, however, is the sheer amount of young researchers and the relative lack of positions for them. Academia is an up-or-out kind of system, and at every step of the career ladder you are competing with dozens or hundreds of other qualified people. To put it bluntly, do go into science as a career if that where your hearts desire lies, but also make sure you have some idea of what to do instead if it doesn't work out.

Re:It's not rampant (3, Insightful)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605673)

Agreed. My observation is that you can make a decent living doing ANYTHING IFF you are exceptionally good at it. That doesn't mean getting A's in the average watered-down school class - it means pursuing it with a passion and being recognized outside of school by "peers" who are already established in that industry. Now, that doesn't have to be something recognized as a "profession" per se in school - it could be a trade, or even just your ability to BS or play poker.

What you can't afford to do is be mediocre at just anything. There are fields you can make a survivable income on with mediocre performance, but science is definitely not one of them. In fact, I'm not sure a college degree is even a worthwhile pursuit for most of them - those incomes are much less survivable if you're repaying $50k in loans.

So, the important question to ask is just how good you really are. Being above-average in school just isn't going to cut it in most fields - there are no jobs just waiting out there for anybody who can apply and check the 4-year-degree box on. When I size up kids in high school with dreams I usually ask them what they're already doing to achieve them. If they think that the path to success is to do what their teachers tell them to and go to the right college, I inform them that they are in for a world of hurt. If they aren't already doing it outside of school, then chances are they'll never be doing it. Oh, sure, the NIH won't give you a job without so many degrees, but there are lots of "sciency" things you can do on your own time without anybody's permission - whether it be exploratory programs or just reading a lot of good books and interacting online.

Would-be programmers have no excuses at all - I wish I had half the access to online resources that kids have today when I was their age. There is no reason that a kid in high school can't be making very strong contributions to FOSS/etc. If they aren't, then good luck ever getting a job in the current market.

Re:It's not rampant (1)

everithe (915847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605969)

You've touched on a very important point, I think - that of being good at research. The thing is, it's hard to tell whether I'm any good for real research right now. I'm definitely interested, and my grades are decent, but there's always a real possibility of me discovering, perhaps partway through my PhD, that I'm not good enough. After all, being able to do well in exams is hardly an indicator for whether I'm cut out to do actual scientific research.

Science outside academia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605437)

Scientists are humans too... any bad behavior you've seen in people, you can find in scientists. I doubt that's any more or less true today than ever. But that doesn't mean that training your mind to use the tools of science won't be incredibly valuable. I had a great experience in academia getting my PhD, but ended up leaving academia right afterwords. What I learned has proven valuable, and given me opportunities to do some original science, but more importantly to have an impact and in a small way push the course we're taking as humans toward rational choice rather than whatever it is you call the alternative.

Accepted norms (5, Informative)

DaneM (810927) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605459)

While I can't provide much specific information, I can tell you some general advice.

Background: My father is an internationally prominent plant scientist and former air pollution researcher. He's also worked at several universities in important positions (department head, etc.). One things that he's mentioned repeatedly (if not often) is the fanatical importance that most scientists and university personnel seem to place upon what's "accepted." Bluntly, this is a pretty blatant problem of inflated egos (endemic to universities and such, in general), but highly educated people are also quite good at pretending they're being rational, rather than emotional about decision-making. The essence of the problem is that if you come up with an idea that's contrary to the current "status quot" belief, and if you promote it shamelessly (as you should), you'll prick the egos of others and be ostracized, criticized, and (if possible) discredited. Furthermore, the success of a scientist seems to be about 40% skill/talent and about 60% political adeptness. Of course, an ethical and self-aware scientist will put away his pride and fear and publish good work regardless of what others think--and sometimes that will pay off in the end. Below is how it might do so.

I can't provide specific examples of theory-based conflict off the top of my head, but I can illustrate the power of politics (i.e. university politics, scientific community politics, etc.) in science by noting that because my father was able to obtain more grant money than his superiors at UC Riverside, the university decided to close down the department that he headed: the air pollution research department. Of course, this meant a prolonged job hunt and a big move for my dad and his family (including me). (UC Riverside's leaders thereby got rid of the "troublemaker.") If you aren't aware, Riverside is about 60 miles outside of LA and obviously has air quality problems to rival nearly anywhere else. A lesson to be learned from this is that no matter how good a scientist you are, and no matter how good you are at procuring what you need to do good work, ultimately it's the ego of those who provide you with land, labor, and capital that will determine how successful you are. Therefore, it's proven extremely important to foster good will amongst those who can help you do good science. The ethical way to do this (as far as it's been demonstrated to me) is to use your science to help people with real-world problems as much as possible, and show others that helping you is in THEIR best interests.

My dad now works as a farm adviser (associated with UC Davis), and it's proven very useful to go out of his way to help his "client base" (farmers, primarily) see the value of what he does by helping them to increase their production, and thereby their personal wealth. Essentially, it's good to do a good job, but it's better to "go the extra mile" to bring your good work to those who can make profitable use of it. This strategy has seen my father summoned (from the US where he lives) to China, Italy, Chile, Brasil, Uruguay, Japan, and probably others that I don't recall. By inventing means to help farmers grow their crops cheaper and more reliably (including new methods of testing for nitrogen levels without a mass spectrometer), he's made himself indispensable to the industries and institutions (universities, etc.) that he serves. It hasn't made him "rich," but it has given him job security and a good living for his family.

So, the bottom line here is something like:

Do the best possible work you can, but make sure it's actively helping people who need it. That way, when you annoy the scientific community or your academic "superiors," you'll already have people to guard against you being politically maneuvered out of position, since losing you will also cost them money and other resources. Science for the sake of science is good and useful (eventually), but in order to keep it up, you have to provide others with very good reason to help you keep at it.

I hope that helps.


Re:Accepted norms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605701)

This is one of the best things I have read in a long time.

I cannot possibly endorse this more.

Re:Accepted norms (1)

DaneM (810927) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605735)

This is one of the best things I have read in a long time.

I cannot possibly endorse this more.

Thanks! Every once in a while I say something useful, it seems. ;-)

Re:Accepted norms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605733)

40% skill/talent and about 60% political adeptness

This is true both in academia and in the corporate world. The remainder of your post is spot-on though. I was a former staff member at a large public university. I tended to seek continuous improvement to make my job easier and yield overall positive net benefit for the university. Stepping on other people's established work / fiefdoms will bruise egos badly, even if you are in the right, its more about how you present your work than the actual work. (Note: In a for-profit company, the same is also true, but, rather than the idea being completely shot down without any consideration, it will be considered if there is a business case / net positive benefit to the company ... not necessarily so with a university!).

For the OP, my wife is a scientist by trade, "biology" being her field. She intentionally left academia to go to the workforce as she did not want to deal with the university politicking over the course of a career. The main difference between the two is that you do not do research just for research's sake to contribute to the field of science. In the corporate world, you do research ultimately to make a product. There's some loss of the spirit of scientific research overall, but the tradeoff being you work with bleeding-edge new ideas and have nicely equipped labs. Still contribute to science at the end of the day, just for different reasons. Best of luck choosing a career path.

Science career management triangle (4, Insightful)

srussia (884021) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605463)

Obviously I am very interested in doing real and useful science, but am worried that this could conflict with my ability to put food on the table.

Pick any one.

Re:Science career management triangle (2)

qwak23 (1862090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605527)

What if they research methods to have a table that grows food between meals? Would that cover all three? ;)

Common Sayings (3, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605473)

"The squeaky wheel gets the most oil", and the words "The vocal minority" seem to apply here.

There are rare cases of scientific fraud which bring out the doomsayers who you'll find pessimistically posting in every article. The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of academics around the world doing real science that brings real benefits to our lives every day. Their results alone should be proof that you can make survive in that chosen industry.

Re:Common Sayings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605787)

"The squeaky wheel gets the most oil", and the words "The vocal minority" seem to apply here.

There are rare cases of scientific fraud which bring out the doomsayers who you'll find pessimistically posting in every article. The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of academics around the world doing real science that brings real benefits to our lives every day. Their results alone should be proof that you can make survive in that chosen industry.

The squeeky wheel gets replaced.

How bad it is depends on your view of the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605481)

This is not specific to science but anything and everything. Many of the people others here claim to do bad work don't see themselves that way and see things differently. Also many of the people telling you things are bad are themselves doing substandard work in the eyes of others.

Are things really as bad as you heard? Yes they are. They're even worse. But don't attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance. And laziness... ironically mental laziness while as bad as physical laziness is harder to detect and often goes unnoticed - and ironically it happens to frequently be practiced by those who are far from physically lazy...

This advice may not work for you (again depending on your view of the world and priorities): if you at all can, try to separate and isolate things you are really passionate about from your work - that way you remain in control of things that matter and don't have anyone telling you how to do things, are not accountable to anyone but yourself, and don't have to compete with anyone. You can focus on your projects and ignore distractions.

Don't! (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605495)

Don't Become a Scientist. [] It isn't worth it.

Re:Don't! (1)

Epimer (1337967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605547)

This deserves more mod love.

A suggestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605501)

Want a PhD in physics? Check this out:

personally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605507)

I left academia when I discovered just how bad capitalism was.

I don't want to contribute to a society which really needs instead to be neglected and implode upon itself so we can rebuild on more humane foundations.

Don't be an "ambitious" part of the problem: withdraw your labour. If everyone intelligent did it, things would change.

Re:personally (1)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605573)

If everyone intelligent did it

Except that you know perfectly well that will never happen. The only way you can claim it will is by resorting to a "no true Scotsman" denial of reality.

Find scientists' blogs and read them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605509)

There is a large community of scientific bloggers out there (most are in the life sciences, but there are a few in the physical sciences also), at all levels (grad student, postdoc, tenure track, tenured). A lot of them a pseudonymous, and offer very candid perspectives on their careers, and a lot of useful career advice. Be warned however, that you may not like what you find. Jobs are scarce, they often don't go to the people that "most deserve" them (whatever that may mean), and those that do get them find that they're often really not a lot of fun at all. If, after getting a feel for the reality of life as an academic scientist, you still really want to be one, just go for it -- I am.

SimplyciTy (-1, Offtopic)

SimplyciTy (2611255) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605551)

Hey people how would you like a free iphone 4s just go to the link: [] ( ONLY EMAIL REQUIRED)

"...put food on the table." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605555)

I think some clarity is needed on that phrase. Are you actually looking for bare necessities or some unspecified level of comfort? My family (two adults, two children) never want for food, shelter, and a reasonable* level of entertainment with ~$36,000 per year (total household income).
*noone is spoiled, but noone has any excuse to be bored.
Someone more insightful will likely bring better discussion to this on the other topics.

Yes there is a lot of fraud. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605565)

30 years ago, when I was a grad student, a visiting professor advised me to study neutrino oscillations. He told me that in that case I could include some solar physics in my grant proposal. Then I would be able to include the word "fusion" many times in my grant proposal, which he said would help me get grants. Why? Because Harwell laboratories just made some big discovery in "hot" fusion that put the US far behind. The NSF was going to throw a lot of money at anything to do with fusion in order to catch up. If that's not fraud I don't know what is.

To me the funniest part of the fraud, is Michio Kaku's first book on string theory. Seems he lifted a some stuff from a seminal paper on BRS quantization. How do I know? He didn't lift stuff from the erratta they published a bit latter. That's right he made the same errors/typos they did. This is one of the faces of modern physics.

Let me put it this way. Look at your advisor. In 30-40 years since he achieved tenure, he will retire. How many grad students will he advise? 3-4 on the low side, 10 or more if he is on the enterprising side. That means that there will be at least 3 people and possibly ten people competing for his job. Yes. there will be some growth, but do you expect that there will be three times the number of researchers in your field in 30 years? If not then there will be a job shortage. Those who are willing to commit fraud, and can get a way with it will always have a leg up.

My one piece of advice if you absolutely want to go into research is find a particular topic and subtopic that industry is likely to care about now and in the future. If that is the case then jobs created in industry will help absorb some of the crop of PhDS in the area. Further, if the research is intresting to industry, they will provide some of the grants. So even in academia you will not have to rely soley on the government for your grant money.

Do what you love (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605567)

I'm in the sciences and work predominantly with physicists and engineers. Like any field, yes there are problems and annoyances with working in the sciences. Sometimes there are budget issues on R&D spending. Sometimes it's salary (I think a lot of good science professionals in industry are underpaid when compared to other folks given their training and contribution to the bottom line). But at the end of the day, it's about doing something that you're passionate about. If you really enjoy it, then go for it; you're only 22 once - it only gets more difficult to get into academia as you get older. Besides, even if you don't make it, or do but find out it's not for you, then you can always move on to something related outside of the ivory tower.

Without having read the comments, (4, Informative)

boristhespider (1678416) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605579)

and so risking repeating others, it seriously isn't that bad. There's a fashion for showing how cynical you are, and how the world's going to hell and everyone's on the make and blah blah blah. It really isn't particularly bad. What you do have is a *lot* of politics, which circles around getting funding if you're a professor, and circles around getting postdoctoral positions if you're not. This does lead to both a conservatism -- which, regardless of what people might tell you is the valid approach for science; something has to be tested to oblivion for people to believe it, even if that means you're likely risking your career doing something too whacky too young -- and to a regrettable amount of brown-nosing and nepotism. There's also a distressing focus on publishing and getting citations, so if you work in a field with a lot of interest but with relatively few people you'll struggle to attract as much attention as someone who picked an easier course. What I've found increasingly annoying recently is that my career is being judged by anonymous referees on journals who clearly just don't know what they're talking about -- I get the very strong impression that they're PhD students very early on in their PhDs -- and I find that offensive. But the point I would make is this is no different from any other field and any other job, and at least in academia you can be sure that the people you're working with are at least as smart as you are. Except some of the referees.

From my experience in academia -- ten years now since I started my PhD -- the people you'll encounter are very smart, dedicated, professional in their attitude to their work; but you'll have to play the game to a certain extent, attending conferences, networking, making sure the right people know who you are, work in fields which are attracting funding but which aren't glutted or flashes in the pan (in my field that was probably braneworld cosmology; it attracted enormous funding for about five years or so and then it died out, and people who focused exclusively on braneworlds during their PhD find it a bit tough to get new positions), and make sure you put a professional face on all your work, and that you can always defend every choice you've made and every bit of work you've done. So, no different from any other job you want to do well in.

As for money, no, this isn't the best-paid job, but I get extremely irritated when people complain about it, because it's also really not that badly paid, and we get fantastic benefits. Unless you're unlucky with your lab you have fairly flexible hours, you're doing a job you love (and you better had, because if you don't love it you'll be very much better off doing something else), and there's enormous opportunity for travel, which is fully funded. If you're lucky you get generous allowances while you're away, too. We got an absurd amount to visit Toronto when there was a conference there in the mid 2000s -- something like $60 a day to eat. So we ate cheap during the day and had plenty in the evenings for a big meal and some drinks. I think we even ended making money on it...

So basically I'd say it's no worse than any other field. It can be very political given the funding situation, but that happens anywhere and in any job, and generally you've got the advantage that your boss isn't a moron, which is sometimes hard to say if you pick other career options.

Advice from a physicist (3, Interesting)

zakaryah (1344891) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605581)

Alarming pessimism is the defining trait of Slashdot culture... Science is like any field, and the majority of scientists are like the majority of other professionals - there is plenty to complain about, and plenty to be thankful for. If you want to see how it really works, I suggest trying to attend a small conference or summer school. The Les Houches schools are very good if you can go abroad, otherwise a school which is at least two weeks and has fewer than one hundred participants, mostly students, is ideal. You will meet people doing similar things to what you will be doing in the near future if you stay in physics, and you will learn a lot about the field beyond the textbook and canonical examples level of undergraduate studies. Which is not to disparage the textbooks - if you don't have Altland and Simons' book you should get it, it's fantastic.

Re:Advice from a physicist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605719)

More like this is just how the elite act anonymously on internet forums.

Seriously, it's true for all fields, not just technology. Go to pprune and you will believe becoming an airline pilot is suicidal for your pocket. Then go to the real world and visit an airline. Different story suddenly.

Moral is, get out of your room and talk to people.

Not in real sciences (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605595)

Most of these problems occur in "sciences" such as psychology or sociology. As a physicist, myou have little to fear.

It's like a career in acting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605601)

I'm on my second post-doc in bioinformatics and had to move to Asia to find work at all. There are a lot of nights where I'm lying awake at 3am with cold fear in the pit of my stomach wondering how I'm going to feed my family a couple years down the road. And it's a good week when I can make it to Thursday or Friday before the frustration of relentless failure and exhaustion of 10+ hour days have me wishing I'd never been born.

But my advice would be the same as I'd give to someone contemplating a career in acting. Do it if you really love acting/science - not just for the prospect of fame or glory or money or women or whatever - because it's extremely unlikely that you'll be one of the lucky few who makes it to the top. And be aware that it' not not just you who will suffer for the long hours and low pay: it's going to be a rough ride for whoever you happen to marry and whatever children you happen to have.

Shitter Was Full! - Cousin Eddie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605607)

"I mean the people when you look at them or talk to them it's like there clueless and their mind is off in outer space.And even a simple conversation seems like something their not capable of,whats up with them."

I swear there is another, even larger thread about this same issue. Maybe more people are just waking up to this. When you're in a place where people are waiting or in transit in large groups, a Subway, a Bus station, etc. in checkout lines in stores, at amusement parks in long lines, etc.

(I am not promoting or suggesting you or anyone watch one or any of the following films. I haven't since I've awoken and I intend to avoid them from now on):

Films that have always bothered me when considering what you've said, in the real world:

* They Live: but what if he was going *too* far and these *aliens* were just possessing the people and he saw the evil which was front and center while the human was "asleep" (Matrix possible connection) in the background of the mind?

* Truman Show: if not "one" individual, what of "millions" all duped by another race?

* Dark City: what if not only the "dead" were/are being used as vessels, but living ones
as well? (remember "Dax" from ST:DS9? and her "parasite" like being inside her?)
Something interesting if you should ever watch Dark City, potential spoiler,
one guy who "woke up" was concerned about "them" getting to him, so he found
a way out, and he jumped in front of a train to his death..
if you go frame by frame around the time or after he jumps in front of the train,
or press pause exactly at the right moment (it's difficult to spot if you use
pause) there is a poster on the wall, where one normally wouldn't be in real
life, and it mentions HELL, I forget what it says exactly, but HELL is mentioned
on the poster. It's been a long time since I've sat down with Dark City, and
honestly I won't again, it's too jarring to the mind once you've explored all of
this Illuminati crap.

* Matrix: In my opinion the movie is a lie, IMOthe red pill symbolises the opposite, being
pushed into a frame of mind or (sub)reality in which you are a puppet and controlled.
vs. "awakening" to truth, instead you are "deceived" through lies. Symbolism of
the creature taken from Neo could be related to a soul or more likely a protective
(holy) spirit, extracted by Satanists. The whole "Matrix" world, when viewed in
reverse (no, I don't mean watching it from ending to beginning) and perverted *for*
Satanist world-view/goals is eye opening, the same with Dark City. This movie only
bothers me, not for the fake/real awakening/reality concepts but in that I feel
the whole movie, IMO is a lie and the real meaning is perverted, kind of like..

* Fight Club: On many levels this movie bothers me, but I see the dark female character in the
movie as an evil angel which is involved in the split of the two identities of
the one leading role. In the same way I perceive her role in the film I see the
same, or feel the same vibe for the role of the female evil creature in the movie..

* The Ninth Gate: both the "odd" female role in this and in Fight Club shout out to me in
that they are both playing a similar or the same role. Please don't watch
this movie, I'm sorry I ever did.

This one, not so much as the method of alien attack as for how it sometimes "feels" for the person played by NK, in public once they've awoken to the aliens around them and how they act, or rather what actions the aliens DON'T display:

* The Invasion (I) (2007) | Nicole Kidman in lead role []

Tucker: When you wake up, you'll feel exactly the same. (possible tie-in to the movie, "Dark City")

"As a Washington psychiatrist unearths the origin of an alien epidemic, she also discovers her son might be the only way it can be stopped."

Yorish: I say that civilization is an illusion, a game of pretend. What is real is the fact that we are still animals, driven by primal instincts. As a psychiatrist, you must know this to be true.
Carol: To be honest, ambassador, when someone starts talking to me about the truth, what I hear is what they're telling me about themselves more than what they're saying about the world.

* The Arrival (1996) | Charlie Sheen in lead role []

"Zane, an astronomer discovers intelligent alien life. But the aliens are keeping a deadly secret, and will do anything to stop Zane from learning it."

Zane Ziminski: I come to you with what may be the preeminent discovery of the 20th century, the possibility of extra-solar life, and I get shit-canned for it?

[right before he kills an alien]
Zane Ziminski: Do you want to see the ruins, my friend?

* Starman (1984) | Jeff Bridges in lead role []

"An alien takes the form of a young widow's husband and asks her to drive him from Wisconsin to Arizona. The government tries to stop them."

* The Last Starfighter (1984) | Lance Guest in lead role []

A video-gaming boy, seemingly doomed to stay at his trailer park home all his life, finds himself recruited as a gunner for an alien defense force.


The Last Starfighter,
when compared together,
is interesting.

In Starman, the "alien takes the form of a young widow's husband"

In The Last Starfighter, the character Alex Rogan goes into space to do battle while a clone,
Beta Alex, is left behind. Notice the lizard reference:

Alex Rogan: Teriffic. I'm about to get killed a million miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax.

(it's all just a clever "mistake"):

Centauri: The amusing thing about this, it's all a big mistake. That particular Starfighter game was supposed to be delivered to Vegas, not some fleaspeck trailer park in the middle of tumbleweeds and tarantulas. So it must be fate, destiny, blind chance, luck even, that brings us together. And as the poet said, the rest is history.

Alex's "twin" or "clone":

Beta: Wait a minute, what are you doing back?
Alex Rogan: Are you kidding? It's war up there!
Beta: Oh, save the whales, but not the universe, huh?

[Beta is about to sacrifice himself]
Beta: [grimly smiling] You owe me one, Alex.

Alex Rogan: Hey, you look like me!
Beta: Of course I do. I'm a beta unit.
Alex Rogan: What the hell is a beta unit?
Beta: A beta unit is a simuloid. An exact duplicate, only not as loud!

Did you read that? "An exact duplicate" - so one tie to the "Starman" movie.

(Ask yourself, have YOU ever had "something", notice I didn't say someone, as to suggest
a human being, ask YOU if you wanted to FIGHT in SPACE? Be honest, now, and you don't have
to tell us, just know inside that that "voice" was of evil) In many "space" themed and
science fiction stories there's often this "split" personality or "other" being involved
somewhere, usually with the leading role.


Hebrews 13:2
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

Are they ALL good angels? Are some bad?

Are some people possessed? Do some of these people have their true nature/soul either
extracted from them and the "walk in evil being" is in control or what?

Or are we simply more "self aware" and notice differences in people around us who
are not as self aware? Have we isolated ourselves too much playing games, using computers,
being nerds, etc. and simply notice people aren't as fully animated as television and movie

I believe there's more to it, and I believe it's spiritual. One crazy commercial had a ton of people riding a train with the "shh!" finger at their lips. I've seen a lot of ads with the "shh!" sign and trains and cars of different colors being used as "spiritual" symbols as vehicles in a spiritual way, colors having their own defining characteristic.

If you watch much television, you've probably noticed the increase in evil themed shows,
if people aren't simulated as killing other humans it's zombies, vampires, or showing
vampires and other "evil" creatures as "good", which is a Satanic lie.


One thing is for sure, whatever the truth is: I cannot wait for this "ride"
to end.

kamagra (1)

barlet4678 (2607169) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605613)

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The state of Science is good . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605615)

. . . the state of Society, less so . . .

Actually, the state of science is in the state it always is . . . unknown. That is why we need scientists to at least be able to chip away at some pieces of the Grand Puzzle.

Depends where you are and what you do (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605635)

The amount of money you'll be able to get in academia depends vastly of where you are, who you work with, and what you do.

Assuming you're in the US, it will vastly depend on which university you are in. Try to get close to a team in a prominent university. Getting a good job in academia is mostly a matter of relations.

One word: (1)

Infamous Coward (642174) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605643)

Runaway! []

Seriously, there are lots of great careers for someone in your position to pursue, why go into something where the deck is completely stacked against you? Even if you do succeed it will take longer, and not be to the level of where you could have been in an another career track. Take it from someone who has been through that ringer, if you do go for a PhD it should only be because you have a plan for an immediate exit from academia when you finish it (i.e. you are just "getting your union card").

The fact that you are questioning tells me you might not truly want this, and the only, only time I would ever suggest someone follow this track is if they have an unbelievable burning desire for it. That's what it will take!

"I'm not afraid" you say? You will be. []

I'm a recovered scientist (4, Interesting)

Epimer (1337967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605693)

As a disclaimer, my undergraduate degree and PhD were in chemistry, rather than physics, and in the UK, not the US.

When I started my PhD I was planning on staying in academia. By the end of it I was desperate to leave it behind forever. Organic chemistry is somewhat notorious for having some very strange ideas about what constitutes an acceptable work/life balance. It's generally accepted (and emphasised most strongly by the more successful and/or ambitious groups) that as a PhD student or a post-doc, your work is your life. Six days a week is standard, and if you're not still in the lab by at least 7 o'clock in the evening then you're a slacker. As an aside, this leads to extremely poor time management practices, since the accepted solution to any perceived problem is "throw more lab hours at it"; this is partially due to the nature of the field and organic chemistry still being a touch unpredictable and requiring large amounts of experimental work to offset this, but it's an endemic part of the working culture. It also leads to people being in the lab just to be seen to be in the lab, rather than using their time productively. It's ridiculous.

There was a study commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry a few years back looking at why chemistry had such a poor retention rate of women. Physics has a low proportion of female academics, too, but then it has a relatively low proportion of female undergraduate students. Chemistry, on the other hand, has roughly equal male and female intake at undergraduate level, but the further up the ladder you go the further the ratio becomes skewed in favour of men. So what's up with chemistry? The conclusion was that the field fosters tribal attitudes to adversity (your PhD is a trial by fire!) and very masculine support systems, and that long term prospects are not very conducive to family life. I remember reading a related quote from a US professor which, to paraphrase from memory, said: "I can give you a list right now of all my former [chemistry] students who had a good handle on their career prospects. They're in my 'recommendation letters to medical schools' folder."

Funding is short for post-doc places and shorter for academics. But there's always industry jobs, right? Wrong. The jobs barely exist. Where they do exist, they're poorly paid, unstable and have poor promotion prospects. Anecdotally, when I was looking for jobs at the end of my PhD the going rate for an organic chemistry industry job (post doc experience preferred) was around £22-24k. That's less than what a sociology student going for any of the generic graduate schemes at a thousand different companies can expect to get straight out of their undergraduate degree, and with less opportunities for advancement to boot.

So if you want to have a life outside of your work, pursue hobbies or outside interests, start a family, buy a house, be relatively financially comfortable - a career in chemistry (I won't generalise to "science", that would be overreaching) is a very, very poor choice. It won't change, either, because there will always be someone who will be willing to work 12 hour days 6-7 days a week for the prospect of just one more publication. Is it worth it? That's obviously up for individuals to decide, but depressingly enough the smartest thing I could have done with 9 years of scientific training at world class research institutes was to use it as a springboard to get the hell out.

I'm much happier now.

Re:I'm a recovered scientist (2)

boristhespider (1678416) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605709)

I have to say time management is an issue in theoretical physics, too. There's a strong culture of extremely long hours, but when you look at how people are using those hours, they could be at least as productive (and most likely more so) if they just got into work at 9, left at 5 or 5:30, and applied themselves during that time. There's enormous amounts of time-wasting, goofing off, scanning the internet etc etc -- no different from many office jobs, I know, but unacceptable when you're judged on results and there's such a push for frequent, well-cited papers, which is why you see so many people working late and working weekends. (And I'm no better than many others; this Easter break is the first protracted break from work -- by which I mean more than 15 hours or so -- that I've had in months. This will change, though, I'm fed up of it.)

There's an interesting article on this by Sarah Bridle, a lecturer at University College London, I'll try and find it. []

That might be what I was thinking of - it's not actually by Sarah Bridle but it's the result of an interview with her. It's discussing the gender imbalance and the stupid work hours that are very common in our field (cosmology). Actually a very interesting read. She's always refused to play the game the way so many of us have, and she's more successful than many of us, too...

Re:I'm a recovered scientist (1)

Epimer (1337967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605891)

Thanks, that's an interesting read. The RSC report I was thinking of is here: []

But I was made aware of it during a wider presentation on the topic, which touched on more of the stuff I mentioned above.

The working practices thing is interesting to me. I was fortunate in not having a supervisor who ascribed to those beliefs personally (he always thought applying extreme pressure was an excellent way to get falsified results back...), but those expectations still creep in from elsewhere: other group members, other groups in the department, other academics at conferences.

The lack of productivity despite lengthy lab hours is something which totally matches with my experiences too. When you see people in on a Saturday morning just checking BBC news, email and Facebook... It's frustratingly ludicrous.

I didn't play that game until the last six months of my PhD necessitated it (I had a start date for a job lined up), but the amount of people who do is staggering. A friend of a labmate worked in one of the more competitive groups at my department, and worked 16 hour days for 4 months trying to get some research ready for publication. She gave up outside hobbies and even lost her long term boyfriend due to simply never seeing him. When she was making final preparations for her publication, another group independently published basically the same research in a high-profile journal. I wonder if she felt it was worth it.

I worked 9-6ish, 5 days a week, for the most part. At the end of my time I had several publications, a good reference, a good job lined up and the same letters after my name as the 12+ hour a day people. Who's made the better choices there?

Experience with Astronomy (3, Interesting)

Elrond, Duke of URL (2657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605695)

For the past 15 years I've had an, let's call it unusual, job working in the astronomy department at the University of Arizona. First as a student employee (research assistant) and now for a private start-up, though my "office" unofficially remains on campus.

So, I've seen a lot of the goings on in the department, and while I'm certainly not plugged into the faculty grapevine, I see what goes on.

Fraud? No. It's a friendly and cordial place to work really. If there has been any fraud, it has been either very minor or done by people who weren't around very long. But, astronomy is not like physics or biology. Sure, the grants are still very competitive, but it is expected that you will be looking for the unknown, so somewhat fanciful ideas aren't immediately shunned. Maybe you wont get to use your first choice 10m telescope, but there are many others available.

The state of astronomy is changing, though. I had a lengthy chat with my boss about this recently. He's about to turn 80, so he's been at this since the Apollo days. Back then, space research got a lot of funding, but that's not true any more. Often, to get a grant you need to try to show how this idea of yours could conceivably help industry. The problem is that a lot of astronomy falls into the fundamental research category. You just want to see how the universe functions. It is a lot harder to get money for that these days. There are subcategories where it is easier, though. I work in the adaptive optics part of the department and this has obvious uses for, among others, the military. This means you can potentially get funding from the defense department, they get something they want, and you still get to do astronomy.

Having said all of that, do read what a lot of others have posted about the scarcity of jobs for scientists in academia. It's not good. My position is somewhat unique (in both good and bad ways that I wont get into here), so I haven't had to deal with this yet. And perhaps astronomy is somewhat more fortunate than regular physics in that there are fewer students trying to get PhDs, but getting a permanent job still isn't easy.

real and useful science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605705)

I got a PhD 30 years ago. In Physics. I saw the rampant bandwagon trend and decided it wasn't for me. The job interviews were of two types: 1) Can you get enough money to cover your pay and more to pay the University, and 2 ) Would you like to work in Weapons? I changed my career path to straight programming
and have done OK ( food, helping people accomplish their goals for small businesses ), but could've done better if I hadn't been so repulsed by the cynical attitudes,
manipulative management, and the bandwagon trend. I have continued to do minor research ( theoretical, of course ) as a hobby, which is surprisingly rewarding
without the pressures ( publish or perish, tenure, grant research, military research project goals, egos of those who build reputations to enhance their grant
probability, in-house politics and drama). I chose not to support or participate in any of the military industrial complex projects, or the insanity of the tenure-seeking,
grant-generating University system. There are good scientists in both, but they, too have joined in and seem a little less than happy with the trade-offs.
In short, choose what you can live with, be honest with yourself, and be very careful about the bandwagon.

I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605715)

what Sheldon would say about this

Ask slashdot?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605717)

Your first mistake is asking slashdot. The typical slashdot reader thinks he has the IQ of Einstein, Feynman and Dirac combined, but in reality his knowledge is limited to how to make EMACS compile on OpenBSD.

Try out an actual physics oriented community. Reddit has a few: I'm sure there are plenty more.

My Advice: OK, but Just don't inter-marry (1)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605729)

One academic per family is enough.

leave the fsk i n g usa alone; move to europe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605737)

that's all

GRAND DELUSION: How to avoid the "snare" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605755)

The Final Battle Is For Your Mind And Soul!
Google: The Mind Has No Firewall, it's written by the military and is a must read!

Until they have plugged us all into the internet with our minds and keyboards/mice are tossed behind us, ways to ID us in every aspect of our lives will continue, because the machine of blackops is never satisfied, never full. It won't be until we're all hardwired into the global manufactured, false reality, second life like abomination of Internet 6.0!

Smartphones = lie with a sweet name
patriot act = lies with a sweet name

Just as I'd imagine they'd call some type of legislation against Christianity, the "True Cross act of 2029!" it's all a big game of lies, folks! Lies!

Your soul is what they're after! Rebuke all entities trying to communicate with you in the name of Christ Jesus, Yahweh, Holy Spirit, watch them run, watch them flee! They are scared of the mighty One True God. Do not be fooled by darkness, it has no real power.

But there are those who will accept what these evil entities have to offer, delusion and a false belief they've gained hidden knowledge. Remember, "nothing is new under the sun".

Everything hidden will be exposed when God returns, and the evil creatures fear Him, and rightly so! The humans who have been lulled by these evil entities are afraid, too, they do their best to bash precious Christ, but they will be defeated in the end, unless they choose God. They will be thrown in the same lake the invisible serpents and scorpions will be thrown into.

The "don't tread on me" flag is illuminati garbage, the same snake image is on Metallica's black album cover. The Bible gives Christians the power to TREAD ON SERPENTS AND SCORPIONS and OVER ALL POWER OF THE ENEMY. These are mentions of real, spiritual enemies! They should be tread upon at all times! They are weak but God is strong!

They're running ANCIENT ALIENS on THC and aliens everywhere, occult symbolism in everything you could imagine, popular music, movies, television shows, comics, entertainment magazines, you only need to know what to look for, this whole world is polluted by the occult, they want you to kneel on the commands of evil, do not fall for the trick, do not fall for the false illumination, come to Christ and CLAIM the power over ALL EVIL!

Never forget: The beast system longs to trick and absorb us all, for any true Christian is a threat to the beast system and its lies.

When you gain confidence in your faith, they will send messengers in human likeness or humans taken over to try and pollute your belief, to try and sway you from your faith. If you follow a paganized form of Christianity or give up your belief, the attacks will not be as pronounced, or they may stop altogether, for you will have "fallen away" and aren't a spiritual threat.

WE are ETERNAL beings, the powers of darkness despise this and want to rob us of our heavenly place in our heavenly home.

Avoid ghost-hunter shows, anyone searching for ET or other such garbage, they are all manifestations of the same evil. Trust God and His Word. People posting against this truth are likely a part of the delusion.

The cover of The Dark Side of The Moon album is illuminati proof, summed up in one photo, of a (spiritual) transformation which is a lie. Don't be fooled by creatures appearing as light or bathed in light or blinding you in light. Reject them all through Christ and they will flee like the cowardly vermin they are.

Perspective from an ex-condensed matter physicist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605761)

I spent a good number of years during undergrad and grad school working in physics, specifically scanning tunneling microscopy and later on, studying optical and electromagnetic properties of semiconductors. I did make it all the way through my Ph.D., however, I too have left the field of academia. I had an awesome time, met some amazing people, and got to play with and build some very cool instrumentation and technology. I don't regret the decade or so I spent working in the field as it was a tremendous learning expierence. I'm one of those crazy people who believe that education,discovery, and learning should be experienced by all and in abundance. Physics in general, and CM experiment in particular requires you to learn so many different skills; CAD, machining, chemical handling, carpentry, plumbing, electrical system design, building lasers, programming, vacuum systems, cryogenics... The list goes on and on. It's all a lot of fun, especially if you like tinkering and designing and building as I do.

However, you asked about opportunities in the field of science; the practice of science. Ultimately, I found the career opportunities to be too limited. As many have mentioned here, the field us very competitive. This is not in itself a terrible thing, however, when resources (and salaries) are scarce, one needs to work extremely hard and be extremely talented to land well paying positions. Many colleagues and friends of mine, brilliant people mind you, work incredibly hard to find a good position, and even some of the brightest never really find satisfaction.

I may sound a tad pessimistic, and I don't mean to discourage anyone from entering the field. I truly believe that it is vitally important for society and humanity that we have a vibrant and active scientific community. However, I would encourage someone to go into the field only when they have the passion for their chosen discipline. Academia has its share of joys and druggery, like any modern workplace environment, but the people whom I've seen succeed live, breathe, and love their work. Thus is a critically important success factor, and I cannot stress this enough. Passion for your chosen field is a necessary (but insufficient) ingredient.

I didn't have it, the combination of passion and talent for my field. I gave it a try, but it wasn't for me, and I took a seemingly random turn to IT consulting and am now in charge of IT and consulting services at a small software company. I'm happier than I could have ever imagined with my career choice.

Bottom line, if you have the will, there is something there for you to find. Go for it, find your niche, become an expert in it, if it is for you, you won't regret it.

Be objective in more than science.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605767)

It's not pessimism, it's the law of averages. Not everyone is a straight A student (even if they got straight As) and all things being equal, most people are average. When confronted with A student problems these people will tend to take shortcuts, lie, manipulate, and coerce. This is simply human nature, isn't it? Everyone going out into the workforce has to come to grips with reality -- it's not just you.

Science is not in trouble, people are just starting to realize what it's always been.

Depends on how you look at it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605771)

High-stakes science will have some serious egos and real fraud. The bigger the egos, the bigger the problems, usually. Low-stakes science will have pessimistic individuals who believe that the sky is falling on them at any moment. All levels of science will reside in the gray area between fact and fraud. Sometimes they will find things that they wish were true, and sometimes going for the lowest bidder will limit the quality of results.

Do what you love and to hell w/ these aholes (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605781)


Let Me Get This Straight... (1)

crow_t_robot (528562) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605819)

Recently I've noticed some alarming pessimism among Slashdotters about the state of science

So, you are going to make career decisions based on the mindset of a subset of the slashdot readership? For actual advice I would say do what you love and the rest will work itself out.

funding, not fraud (1)

kc8tbe (772879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605821)

I'm not really sure where you have gotten the impression that fraud is rampant in science, except perhaps by confusing Slashdot with a real news source. At least in the field where I am a graduate student, Neuroscience, fraud is rare to non-existent. I would be much more worried about the political climate for funding. Depending on your field, software patents could also become a concern in the future.

Stick with it (2)

hengist (71116) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605823)

People don't do advanced degrees like a PhD for the money (which isn't that great) or the recognition (which is hard to come by) but because they love the work.

Basically, if you love doing it, do it. If you hang in there, things will probably work out. If not, find something else to do with your life. A while ago I summed up in a blog post my thoughts on doing a PhD: []

Just my $0.02.

Too soon for belly achin' (1)

segfault_0 (181690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605857)

You will see sciences ugly side eventually, and, if your successful, you will see it often. Put your big boy pants on and suck it up.

Avoid Asia at all costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39605869)

Whatever you do, avoid doing postgraduate (or postdoctoral work) in Asia at all costs. Fraud is a big fucking deal, especially in China, Japan and Korea (and in that order). If you're in .us/.ca/.uk/.au, you're probably fine. Much of Europe is fine too, particularly France and Germany.

Good luck.

As a postdoc (2)

golden age villain (1607173) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605901)

Just go for a PhD and think about an academic career again once you are in your last year. In my experience, you will be disillusioned about science within 4-6 months. Most projects don't work and most PIs have unrealistic expectations and no time for supervision. Salaries suck and long-term career prospects suck, in all fields. There is a lot of jobs in competitive fields but cut-throat competition and no jobs in the other fields. Also I think that fraud is more widespread that a lot of academics would like to admit but it remains anecdotal and it will certainly not have any impact on your career prospects if you are honest. This being said, this is I think the best and most stimulating job in the world (or at least one of them). And I personally work from 9.30 till 9.00 every weekday and some hours over weekends.

My best advice is to consider it as seriously as you would any other job. It helps to have a clear career plan and know where you are going. Too many students start thinking it will just happen. Once you know in which field you want to work, seek advice about the best labs and apply there. Visit as many labs as you can. Don't be afraid about moving to other countries/states and if an excellent opportunity presents itself outside of what you initially considered, take some time to think about it. The most important things are (1) that you choose a project that you like, (2) that the lab where you work is full of nice people and (3) that your boss is really famous in his field, not necessarily in that order. Don't go for second grade universities, it is not worth it. If you want your academic career to be full of opportunities, you need to do your PhD in one of the top 50-100 best universities of the world and in a really good lab for your field. That will keep most doors opened and put you in the most stimulating environment. This is not to say that good research is not done outside of these but simply that you are guaranteed to get maximal exposure to foreign ideas and people.

The academic path is not for everyone (1)

elyons (934748) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605947)

I'm just about to start a tenure track assistant professorship this summer at a research university. Yes, it was a long road to get there, and it continues to be one. For every undergrad that I've mentored, I've done everything I can to discourage them from going into academics. IF there is anything else you can see yourself doing that will make you happy besides being a professor, I would recommend it. It is a lot of thankless work, there is lots of competition, and no guarantee of making it. Getting there requires some luck, being good at politics, and being very good at what you do (hacks are recognized pretty quickly). IF there isn't anything else you can envision yourself doing that will make you happy, then go for it. Just remember that the reward is waking up and doing what you want to do every day (and I mean every waking moment of every day). Though there are many difficult people with whom you have to work, most people are fantastically smart, interesting, and passionate. For me, this was one of the two most important things for becoming a prof (I had spend 5 years in industry as a scientist and was bored silly by my coworkers' water cooler conversations). The other is the opportunity to think up and work on hard problems that no one else had ever done before.

My dad is also an academic. Watching his path was quite inspiring for me, through I didn't appreciate all he had done until I was set on doing the same. He worked wherever he could that would allow him to write grants and do the work he wanted to do. It wasn't until he was 50 that he landed his first profship. He's now been a prof for over 15 years, works harder than before due to department responsibilities, graduate students and post docs, and loves every minute (almost). That showed me that if you keep at it long enough, eventually things would work out.

If you decide to go for the academic life, good luck and enjoy every step along the way. Just don't worry too much about the sad state of affairs for doing basic research.

Some insight. (1)

Epell (1866960) | more than 2 years ago | (#39605951)

Some fields are more likely to be fraudulent.
You can't really fake physics (at least I think), so I think you'll be fine on that aspect.

Although getting tenure job IS difficult.
My department (biological sciences) just went through a faculty candidate search this year.
We have two positions open and each position received 200+ application. So expect very high competition.
These people were all highly qualified good scientists, each has done 1-2 postdoc, etc.

That personally got me discouraged and I'm trying to go to MD/PhD to have some back up plan.
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