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An Unhappy Field?

Blogging has taught Science Professor some interesting things about academia, the most important one being that "people in the biomedical field seem to suffer a lot more than those of us in just about every other STEM field." About 87 percent of the e-mail Science Professor receives from her blog is from "bitter, troubled, distraught biomed grad students, postdocs, technicians, and early-career faculty." While others write to her about their problems, they tend to be simple frustrations, compared with the sort of "I'm being tortured, abused, deported, sued, and I fear my academic career is over" e-mails she gets from biomedical researchers. What could be behind this phenomenon, Science Professor asks. It could be that her data is flawed; that there are more biomed researchers out there, hence more unhappy ones; or that biomed is, in fact, a "total rat race" where the postdocs are less respected and well-paid than in other fields, she suggests.

Mike the Mad Biologist says the basic problem is funding — too many biology PhDs and not enough money to go around leads to an "immensely cutthroat environment … that is psychologically damaging." Despite the surplus of people, tenure is still valued above all else in the biomed culture, which means anyone who doesn't get tenure or leaves the tenure track is viewed as at least a partial failure, Mike adds. One way around this is to give PhDs school training that would allow them to go outside the tenure track and still have a good career, he says. But the lack of funding means this probably won't happen, and biomedical researchers will continue to be miserable.

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