Friday, August 11, 2017

Don't fall for mean Facebook trolling

Considering the median industrial starting Ph.D. makes $100,000,
I guess 50% of Ph.D.s are doing it wrong.
There is a lot that could be said about the Che/e/ky Sc/ien/tist organization, but I think it's really a terrible thing to post something like this on Facebook that's basically designed to troll new graduates.

If you go and find this post, you'll find the proprietor of the organization pushing the fact that new STEM Ph.D.s do indeed have a median industrial salary of $100,000. (It's interesting to note that the median starting salary for industrial Ph.D. chemists is $88,000. I guess if you're the median starting Ph.D. chemist, you're doing it wrong. (eyeroll)) All of these numbers are courtesy of the 2015 Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is the latest data that we have. It's a very clever twisting of facts in order to provoke an emotional response.* 

The Ch/e/e/k/y S/c/ien/tist folks have never been subtle, but the language that the author uses has become increasingly purplish, what with titles like "The Conspiracy To Trap Postdocs In Academia." I guess when you're charging $300 to join your Facebook group, whatever drives traffic is what works. 

(Instead of posting poorly sourced screenshots, why don't they link to the actual data? That just drives me bonkers. Also, isn't it already clear that if earning a lot of money is what is really important to you, either you're going to have to seize one of these key industrial entry-level science positions (of which there really aren't very many), or that you're going to have to take on other, more business-oriented roles that pay more? I really don't understand the point of beating people over the head with Facebook posts, which seems to be what the CSA's public posts are all about.)

(A previous post about this organization is here. It's a free country, but if I had $300, I wouldn't spend it on a Facebook group, I'd try to buy thirty industry folks ten bucks worth of coffee and see what advice they had to offer me, and whether or not they liked their jobs.) 

*Does anyone have a guess as to what the other ends of this histogram looks like? If that's the 50th percentile, what's the 90th, I wonder? What's the 10th? (wait, I can guess.)

23 comments:

  1. Do nationwide median salaries even mean anything? There is so much variation by industry, job role, and location that I can't imagine these averages are useful for anything except maybe long-term trends.

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  2. You mean science isn't like Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average?

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  3. CJ: I am astounded by this article as well the previous one as you state, an year back! Same date and month too!

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  4. CJ, Thanks for bringing this up, glad you've addressed it. I'm now very curious to see if Isaiah will come here to comment on this post...

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  5. This post made me think of the following. In the late 1960s or early 1970s an underground newspaper published a photo of a well-dressed middle-class family (mother, father, son, and daughter). They were smiling broadly and pointing at the camera. Below the picture were the words YOU'RE SCREWED!

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  6. CJ, thanks for bringing this up. I am an associate. While I agree with just some of the concepts, I think people need to know about this and make an informed decision before handing their hard-earned stipend over.

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  7. how many people actually pay be in this group? Seriously, I am not on FB so I have no idea.

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  8. I am an "associate" and have not thoroughly used the service, but have dabbled what is available here and there. I think if you have absolutely no networking skills it may be a useful site, because you can learn them from the videos and other resources. Plenty of reasonable videos to watch and ideas to be heard. If you are already outstanding at networking than the site may not be as useful.

    I guess I see the site as partly an indictment of the academic system to producing PhD's. The stuff Isiah says against academia and the need to network for an industry position are basically true, Isiah's business is the expected result of a system that produces far to many scientific research workers for the good jobs that are available to them.

    Isiah is a businessman with a PhD, what do you expect?

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  9. I’m not on Facebook, I’m not a troll, and I’m not even in the workforce any more. But I am a multimillionaire, and I didn’t make half of that money from my day job in chemistry, although some sweet consulting gigs opened my eyes and got me started on building wealth using real estate appreciation and capital gains exclusions for primary residences. I used to be a passive investor in the stock market and just happened to distribute 401 K and similar contributions into aggressive funds that did very well over a crucial decade. Later I took the time to learn what I was doing, and that has paid off very well. I remember taking home $444 a month as a graduate student because I loved what I was doing. But I literally ate baloney sandwiches three times a day at the end of the month, and couldn’t afford heating oil. The Facebook guy does seem to be trolling, but if you honestly compare the personal, life investment required to reach the first real job as a Ph.D. chemist with experiences in econ, engineering, or business, a look at the bottom line might suggest many of us were doing it wrong. I certainly was. But I was smart enough, thanks only in part to my scientific training, to remediate in time for a secure retirement forced by medical issues I couldn’t have anticipated when I was in graduate school.

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    1. " some sweet consulting gigs opened my eyes and got me started on building wealth using real estate appreciation and capital gains exclusions for primary residences. "

      I don't think you need to be in a sweet consulting gig to realize that using real estate appreciation and capital gains exclusions will make you richer. It's having the capital in the first place... Which you certainly don't get any closer to having while you spend years in graduate school.

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    2. Right. But an unplanned $300 K from a consulting gig changes the real estate market you can get into from a place with negligible appreciation to a much better prospect.

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    3. Okay, so what you are saying is we should all go out and find $300K. Thanks I hadn't considered that approach!

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    4. Martin Shkreli, is that you?

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  10. "But an unplanned $300 K from a consulting gig changes the real estate market you can get into ..."

    So your advice is "be more lucky"?

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    1. No, the exact opposite, my advice is pay attention to your finances because one day the music will stop. I think personal financial planning is taught in gen chem in the chapter on electronegativity.

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  11. As far as I can tell, the substantive argument of CheekyScientist is that 'networking' isn't just a means of being preferred for the few entry-level PhD positions out there, but is actually capable of convincing prospective employers to create new positions for the well-spoken individual in front of them. I do not know if this is actually true. They provide no data, which makes me think they are just exploiting the desperate and vulnerable. I am open to changing my mind on that should some actual evidence be produced.

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  12. My own paranoid suspicion is that 'networking' is not something a person can actually do, but is a fig leaf for nepotism and a sublimated class structure where jobs are handed out without open competition. I could be wrong but I haven't seen any data.

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    1. The corollary of that would be that the system is pretty much closed to outsiders. I know I've seen outsiders entering systems (I know, anecdote is not the plural of data...). I also know that the entering outsiders I've seen have generally used social skills to do so.

      None of this says nepotism/classism doesn't exist, and it doesn't even offer a robust proof of networking as a general phenomenon, but my limited observations are consistent with networking being a useful pursuit.

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    2. It's a sign of a system in decadence. Science is dying. Chemistry is dying. We never got our flying cars, we never got our moon bases, we never got fusion power, even solid-state room lighting took forever despite being promised since before I was born. And maybe there's a reason things seem to be stalling out. Maybe it's this sort of shit.

      It wasn't always like this, I think. A social, popular guy like Richard Feynman actually stood out in science, because he was different from his peers. Being a cool bro or hottie didn't disqualify anyone, but it was not a job requirement.

      The end point of a popularity contest is an aristocracy where positions become detached from actual duties and competance thereof. I can cut a ribbon as well as any member of House Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but that doesn't qualify me to become Prince of Wales.

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    3. Just another anecdote to add to the pile, but I've definitely "networked" as an outsider. I've been pretty lucky to have good jobs "fall into my lap" as some have put it, and I've never had a gap in employment because there's always someone who seems to be ready to put me to use. I thought for a while that it was good luck, but I realized after a while that it was that I made an effort to 1) be helpful and as nice as possible to people and 2) did so with as many people as I could. I don't think I ever looked at it as trying to get quid pro quo off anyone, but I have always been pretty comfortable and confident that if I ever got laid off I could have *something* lined up inside of a week, even if it was just temporary.

      I don't think "networking" is something you do just when you need work, and I don't think it's a silver bullet, but sustained effort to be a decent human being to a wide array of people pays off after a while if you need a job to "appear" for you.

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    4. Anon 12:27 - the issue is that in oversaturated markets (like the chemistry job market right now), networking becomes the ONLY way to get a job, rather than being competent or having domain expertise. And that, in my opinion, is how you know the system is broken. As OldLabRat also says, that's also a sign that the field has matured and that it may also be dying. And therein lies the problem - when you're a hiring manager who has to decide between 100's or 1000's of equally qualified PhD candidates for 1 available position, how do you do it? Some heuristics are to just only consider people from Harvard/Stanford/MIT/Caltech (and we know that people do this). Another is to throw your hands up in the air, toss all the resumes submitted online in the trash, and only go with those that are submitted to you by people you know (i.e. 'networking'). Neither of these is fair, and that is what is happening right now.

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    5. Anon 12:27 - if you're capable of being truly 'helpful' to people in the field, than you are not an 'outsider'. It's great that you can do that and it will help you keep your career going. But it's not helpful for the new jobseeker: and so it gets vulgarized into the idea that one should buy people drinks and kiss up to them in the vain hope of being given that first 'in'.

      And when a person with real skills and many years of experience is being told that their only hope of getting a job is to play popular kid, it's not just degrading, it selects people on an irrelevant criterion and destroys the field for everybody.


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