Friday, March 13, 2009

The Profzi Scheme

 
This cartoon is making the rounds. It's from PHD Comics.

I've been associated with four universities in my career and I've never seen anything that even remotely resembles this. In my experience, departments recruit outstanding junior faculty who may, or may not, work in a field similar to current faculty members. Usually not. No single Professor makes the decision to recruit new scholars to the department.

In my experience, when funding gets tight it is often the senior faculty members who lose and the productive junior faculty survive. Is my experience that unusual?




16 comments :

  1. I may be mistaken, but I don't think it's talking about recruiting for faculty. Rather, it's talking about graduate students. And yes, I have heard of professors pulling in extra graduate students to inflate their department's (or their own) perceived value to the school.

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  2. When funding gets tight, untenured faculty get fired. Tenured faculty get... nothing happens. Don't they have tenure for senior faculty at UofT? In the USA, the NIH's own analysis reveals pervasive systemic bias against new investigators, even when you "compensate" with more generous paylines for new investigators.

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  3. Larry,

    Medical schools and university science departments (not business and engineering, I mean science) may be among the last bastions of snobbery/discrimination in North America.

    Case 1: A v.v,distiguished mathematical statistician who has headed a equally distiguished institution in another continent retires and seeks a faculty position in the US. He is dissed by a University whom he helped set up a similar department 40 years ago, and instead settles for a lesser public university

    Case 2: A v.v.distinguished experimental physicist again from another continent settles for a faculty position at a 2nd-tier physics department when he has for several years guided the experimental work of several peacock preens at 1st tier departments in the US.

    Case 3: A young science graduate decides to join an engineering department rather than the science department, because the school "as a rule" never tenures certain people.

    The glass ceiling and wall is all too real.

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  4. Then again Truti they may not be.

    Case 1. An adequate assistant professor who published 2 papers based on work done at their institution gets tenure.

    Case 2. An institution that isnt known for granting tenure, grants tenure.

    Case 3. 2 assistant professors are hired a the same time, one gets funding the other doesnt. Only one gets tenure, the one with funding.

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  5. No, it's not about faculty. The comic is about Big Science labs, usually NIH-funded in the US, with the grant-writing PI supporting layers of postdocs, grad students, technicians, etc. All of those post-docs and grad students are then supposed to go out and become externally funded PIs themselves. I have seen it from a short distance.

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  6. Yes, this is about an overproduction of PhDs, with the added touch of telling them that anything except tenure-track is "alternative career", thus beneath them.

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  7. I've just been at MIT, and around 2/3 of the PhD's go to industry/government jobs, so at least at some places it's not like this.

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  8. Sven DiMilo says,

    No, it's not about faculty. The comic is about Big Science labs, usually NIH-funded in the US, with the grant-writing PI supporting layers of postdocs, grad students, technicians, etc.

    So, the first layer of "scholars" should actually be "postdocs" right?

    And "in order to survive" those postdocs go out and recruit new "scholars" (i.e. graduate students) to follow in their footsteps.

    That doesn't make any sense to me.

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  9. Anonymous says,

    When funding gets tight, untenured faculty get fired. Tenured faculty get... nothing happens.

    If you're talking about tenure-stream faculty then this isn't correct, in my experience.

    Even if it is correct, what does it have to do with a Ponzi scheme?

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  10. On the bright side, never will your local "untrained" work force be so highly educated.

    Personally, I'm hoping to become a postman.

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  11. The system itself is not a ponzi scheme. It does require more people at the bottom than at the top. Not everyone can stay in the system and advance. The numbers just don't exist. The thing is PhDs in the sciences are not boxed into the system. With a PhD in the sciences you can compete for a wide range of jobs besides being a faculty member at an R1.

    Faculty who sell the notion that such faculty jobs are easy to come by and the only job good PhD students and postdocs should consider does border on deception as they are benefiting from the work by dangling a carrot that they make seem easier to obtain than it actually is. Not all faculty are like that . Faculty who are honest and are good mentors are not selling a ponzi scheme. They are selling a hands on educational experience to develop analytical & scientific skills. A Ph.D. is more of an academic degree than a professional one.

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  12. The thing is PhDs in the sciences are not boxed into the system. With a PhD in the sciences you can compete for a wide range of jobs besides being a faculty member at an R1.

    Wide range of jobs? Which jobs? There are some research positions in the government and in industry. However, the number of such jobs is small, at least in countries like Canada.

    Beside research jobs, why would you get a Ph.D. if not to do research? If you are to work as an engineer, there is no point in getting a Ph.D. It is a major waste of time and ressources.



    Faculty who sell the notion that such faculty jobs are easy to come by and the only job good PhD students and postdocs should consider does border on deception as they are benefiting from the work by dangling a carrot that they make seem easier to obtain than it actually is. Not all faculty are like that . Faculty who are honest and are good mentors are not selling a ponzi scheme. They are selling a hands on educational experience to develop analytical & scientific skills. A Ph.D. is more of an academic degree than a professional one.


    Realistically, people complete a Ph.D. to get a job. Specifically a research job, and almost always a professorship. I have yet to meet a Ph.D. student without any profesionnal expectation.

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  13. Daniel Lemire says,

    Realistically, people complete a Ph.D. to get a job. Specifically a research job, and almost always a professorship. I have yet to meet a Ph.D. student without any profesionnal expectation.

    You don't get out much, do you?

    Daniel, meet Eva Amsen [easternblot and Expression Patterns].

    She's not alone.

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  14. Beside research jobs, why would you get a Ph.D. if not to do research? If you are to work as an engineer, there is no point in getting a Ph.D. It is a major waste of time and ressources.
    *********************
    Because you like to learn, to think, to analyze. Those skills sets are valuable for a wide range of jobs not just being a faculty member at an R1 institution. You can be a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution. You can be a researcher in industry or go into administration. Science policy is also a place to find jobs. You can also be a science writer or be an editor. You can be a patent examiner or agent.

    You can also be a consultant for companies. I have had a number of friends do that & paid very well for it. I know of people who have PhDs in the life sciences with minimal programming experience becoming programmers for companies. Why? They think well and learn quickly.

    In other words doors are open.

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  15. Fastest way to get a consultant job is to get an MBA. Software development jobs at top-tier firms (Microsoft, Google) can be had with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science.

    A PhD simply does not pay. That includes those physicists going to Wall Street -- much faster to get a Masters in Finance than a PhD in Physics.

    What a PhD does give you is flexibility. You can delay the finality of making a career choice for another X years. The problem is that you pay dearly for that flexibility.

    A PhD may get paid as much coming out of grad school as someone who's been working for 5 years. But during those 5 years, the PhD has been earning a stipend, while the working counterpart has been earning a real salary, with benefits.

    Do a PhD for fun. Do it for the experience. Do it because your parents both have PhD's and you want to be called "Dr."

    But if you have professional expectation, then there's often a faster way to get to your career goals.

    But then, sometimes there isn't. For example: big pharma. Of course, big pharma has been slowly moving research overseas ...

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  16. As some people have mentioned it here, the cartoon is taking about an advisor recruiting grad students, and not a department recruiting new faculty. In this sense my experience is that such a Profzi scheme is quite likely to be found at universities in developing countries, where much of the aging faculty are there for bureaucratic reasons, and their main concern is ensuring a good pension and leaving an impression of successful research

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