Many PhD students and most postdocs want to pursue a career in academia. But is it a good idea to admit that you want to become a professor? Would you appear overambitious or pretentious? Or does it ruin your career to hide your ambitions from potential mentors and decision-makers?
Many young researchers struggle with their work-life balance. Especially for researchers with a family, it is challenging to divide their time and energy between home and work. The question “is it possible to be a parent and have a career in research?” keeps many researchers up at night.
Young scientists often produce negative results. All experiments were done correctly – but there was no difference between test and control. They get conflicting advice from supervisors and ethicists. Some say that publishing negative results is a waste of resources and ruins their careers. Others say that ‘not publishing negative results is unethical’ and promotes the reproducibility crisis. What should young scientists do in such a situation?
Being a professor is amazing: a lot of academic freedom to investigate and teach very interesting subjects and a considerable and secure salary until retirement. However, the way in which to obtain this position can be pretty hard and more than 90% of all PhD holders find a job *outside* of academia.
If you want to become a professor how do you qualify?
Impact factors are heavily criticized as measures of scientific quality. However, they still dominate every discussion about scientific excellence. They are still used to select candidates for positions as PhD student, postdoc and academic staff, to promote professors and to select grant proposals for funding. As a consequence, researchers tend to adapt their publication strategy to avoid negative impact on their careers. Until alternative methods to measure excellence are established, young researchers have to learn the “rules of the game”.
However, young scientists often need advice how to reach higher impact factors with their publications.
Young scientists often get conflicting advice on how they should publish. Every generation of young scientists has to address similar questions: Should I publish several smaller papers or should I focus on one big paper with a high impact factor? What is the effect of my publication strategy on my career and the possibility to raise grant money? How important is my publication list for a non-academic career?
About 97% of all young researchers find a job *outside* academia. However, most professors focus on academic success and scientific excellence. Some professors are afraid to transform young scientists into “slaves of the market”. Others simply do not feel qualified. Most universities invest a lot of money and efforts to train PhD students and postdocs well for the non-academic job market, but most young researchers do not feel well-prepared.
Why is it so difficult for universities to fulfil these needs of young scientists?
When discussing career paths in life sciences with postdocs, we hear on a regular basis the wish to escape from the “rat race of the professors” by accepting a kind of long-term senior postdoc position in academia. The idea is to obtain a permanent position (and thus a safe job in economic turbulent times) which encompasses at the same time an intellectual stimulating and creative profession with some (but not too much) responsibilities. Is this what you want?
For many researchers science is a passion and for some even a calling. However, the status of sciences as “something you do for passion” is often abused by supervisors and institutions to justify bad working conditions. Unveil some myths about ‘science as a job you should do for free’ – you may take them for granted without knowing it.
There is a huge body of scientific evidence that happy team members produce better results. However, the majority of PhD students and postdocs is stressed by peer pressure, high demands by their supervisors, potentially insufficient supervision and a high degree of uncertainty about their future career. Is it better to make them all happy?
Do you dream of becoming a professor?
Check out the online course “How to become a professor in science“.