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Universities? Do poor science career prospects contribute to far out theory and Cancel Culture?

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That’s not a topic Stony Brook astrophysicist Paul Sutter addresses in his discussion of the poor career prospects of science postdoc in academia but the story he tells makes one wonder:

One option is to dramatically increase the number of tenured professorships and long-term research associate positions, to ensure that postdocs can find a secure home in academia. But another, seemingly harsher approach could be the tough medicine we need: Severely cut the number of available postdocs. Placing junior scientists in temporary positions that have poor odds of leading to a long-term career is unfair to them, especially when departments aren’t transparent about the fruits those labors will bear. If there’s going to be intense competition, it’s better to have it earlier, when people are better able to pivot into new directions. It’s one thing to produce scores of Ph.D.s for every one open position; it’s quite another to delay that cliff until scientists are in their mid-30s.

Paul Sutter, “Universities Are Failing the Next Generation of Scientists” at Undark (March 24, 2022)

Far out theory (e.g., “Advanced aliens engineered the Big Bang…) may be one way of standing out in the crowd — and Cancel Culture is definitely a way of thinning that crowd. Sutter’s suggestions are worth pondering.

Readers may know Stony Brook astrophysicist Paul Sutter from his writings in the discipline.

See, for example, Astrophysicist: Stop looking for extraterrestrial civilizations. And accept that ‘Oumuamua was a natural object, though a very mysterious one. Paul Sutter is not saying that ET isn’t out there but that evidence of biosignatures (life) is more useful than technosignatures (intelligent life).

2 Replies to “Universities? Do poor science career prospects contribute to far out theory and Cancel Culture?

  1. 1
    BobRyan says:

    There was a time when scientists were not limited to working for colleges/universities, corporations or government. Edison started his own company, as did John D. Rockefeller.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    I doubt that anyone will “ponder these suggestions”. Everyone has known for a LONG time that tenure is a terrible way to run academia. My father told me about it in 1959, and plenty of journal articles were making the same suggestions in the 60s and 70s.

    But tenure never goes away.

    Federal money is an ever-increasing source of energy that has no connection to real education or real quality research. All of the incentives are lined up in one direction, with no negative feedback from supply / demand.

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