May 12, 2007

Science faculty & the tenure process

If you're at an academic institution, you probably see a lot of the junior faculty members scurrying around, looking tense and nervous. They're the ones who are hoping to get tenure. But just what are they going through?

Rob Knopp of Galactic Interactions recently vented big time in The Astronomy Community to Rob Knop : "Get out. You aren't good enough" and I thought the post was extremely illuminating. It's generating quite a buzz out there in the science blogosphere and I thought I'd give a little link summary here to give a flavour of the discussion.

But first, a bit from the original post:

The simple fact is that there are too many research astronomers out there in comparison to the number our society is willing to support. There is a lot of evidence to this. How competitive it is to get a faculty job in the first place. But, the simple fact that if you're going to play in this game, you need money: money to travel to conferences, money to travel to telescopes, money to pay grad students over the summer and (ideally) during the year. And, money to convince your University that you're a worthy researcher. If the NSF is only funding 16-20% of the astronomy proposals it gets, even considering resubmissions, there are too many people.

And I'm one of the ones below the cut. Never mind that I'm one of the most popular AAS Shapley lecturers this year, never mind how much I contribute to Vanderbilt, never mind any skills I may have in teaching, never mind how many undergraduate research projects I've mentored. I'm trying to play in a game where there are more people doing it than there is support for it. Vanderbilt can only afford to keep the best, where the criteria for "best" includes "ability to get funding." That's a rare quality that evidently I don't have.

Wow, now that's real insight into the life of a working academic scientist, the fears and insecurities and the irrational craziness of some parts of academic culture. There's lots more, please check it out. Needless to say, the comments are flying fast and furious on this and other posts.

As promised, here's a few other related posts kicked off by Knopp's cri de coeur.

No comments: