Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good advice for aspiring pro wrestlers is good advice for chemists?

Tell me, young chemist, do you have a plan B?
Credit: unlimitedradio247.com
An interesting set of comments from Jim Ross, the longtime WWE commentator, speaking to a group of  aspiring pro wrestlers:
He was blunt about their chances – “the odds of anyone in this room making it to WrestleMania are slim,” noting that there are about 1,500 players in the NFL while only 200-250 (a number that seems high to me) on the WWE roster. “Numerically,” he said, “you have a better chance making it on any NFL team than on the WWE roster.” But, he said, “notice I didn’t say there was no chance. The question you have to answer is ‘How do I maximize my slim chance?’” 
...And he repeatedly encouraged aspirants to “have a Plan B. You need an education or a skill – an electrician or a plumber. Having a Plan B is essential. You need to ask yourself ‘What do I do to maintain a good quality of life in a changing economy?’” He noted how many times he had had his heart broken when the time had come for a wrestler to leave the business. He said “now that they can’t do it anymore they have a feeling of hopelessness. They say to me ‘This is all I know.’ I swear to God I have heard that a thousand times.” 
I don't think that it's harder to get into the NFL or WWE than it is to become a chemist employed in industry. At the same time, I find it a little frustrating that prominent people in sports entertainment seem to be more honest about the chances of any one person at the bottom of the food chain making it than the median prominent chemist would be to a group of graduate students.*

As much as I might hate to admit it, "What do I do to maintain a good quality of life in a changing economy?" is a question that both aspiring and current chemists should really ponder for themselves. While I would like to think that "being excellent at your job as a chemist" is enough, it doesn't always seem to be.

Best wishes to all of us.

*I should note that professional wrestling's career ladder (especially the minor league circuit) is famously much more brutal and prone to abuse than the worst of chemistry. 


UPDATE: Well, this is embarrassing. I meant to say, "I think that it's harder to get into [pro sports] than it is to become an industrial chemist." From a numerical perspective, anyway, there are more jobs in chemistry (I hope) than there are slots for rookies in the NFL or WWE. Sorry, sorry. 

15 comments:

  1. Is that Stone Cold's theme music?? WHAT?? Oh my gawd, he's got a distillation column!!!

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    1. A steel-cage wrestling match with only laboratory implements being thrown in periodically would be pretty awesome.

      First item: lab stool.

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    2. 2nd - a 1 1/8" wrench? Or maybe a fire extinguisher?

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  2. A tertiary alcohol just isn't made to withstand that kind of punishment!!

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  3. What'cha gonna do brother when Kugelrohrmania runs wild on you?

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  4. Do you smell what the Swern is cookin??

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  5. “have a Plan B. You need an education or a skill – an electrician or a plumber. Having a Plan B is essential. You need to ask yourself ‘What do I do to maintain a good quality of life in a changing economy?’” He noted how many times he had had his heart broken when the time had come for a wrestler to leave the business. He said “now that they can’t do it anymore they have a feeling of hopelessness. They say to me ‘This is all I know.’

    I could have had this conversation with any number of laid-off chemists. NOTICE Plan B was not become a chemist.

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  6. Instead of a wooden bucket of salt, would Mr. Fuji carry around a desiccator full of P2O5 to toss into the eyes of Yokozuna's foes?

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  7. Mr. Perfect never gets a yield below 100%

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  8. "At the same time, I find it a little frustrating that prominent people in sports entertainment seem to be more honest about the chances of any one person at the bottom of the food chain making it than the median prominent chemist would be to a group of graduate students."

    This is pretty much true of every graduate department though, right? This is the very definition of graduate school. The Chronicle just ran an article on adjuncts in the humanities who wind up living on food stamps and you would think that of all students History and English people would know the state of the job market, but even they (many of them at least) don't. And many of the ones that do don't care. They still want their chance at hitting the lottery of a TT position.

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  9. *I should note that professional wrestling's career ladder (especially the minor league circuit) is famously much more brutal and prone to abuse than the worst of chemistry.

    [citation needed]!

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  10. So the academic elites are gong to swallow their pride and tell their grad students that they should consider trade school and be an electrician or plumber after while/after busting their ass getting papers, prestige, and grant money? How can any P.I., even with the most noblest intentions, accept this?

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  11. I wonder how effective the message is getting though to the wrestler wannabes. We all know of NFL players that, knowing full well that the average career length is 3 years, blow through all their money as if it was never going to stop and once they are cut from the team, have absolutely nothing to show for it.

    Even if the message were communicated to us, would we listen? Or would we still think that we have what it takes to make it because we believe in ourselves? After all, we all did well in high school, which is why we got accept to the university. Then we did well there, which is why we got accepted to graduate school. So now someone is going to tell us we may not do well and we are suddenly suppose to believe them?

    Or how about the (most likely made up story) of the sergeants talking to their platoons as they were crossing the English Channel the morning of the D-Day invasion. The sergeant said that 90% of the men were not going to survive the day, and everyone looked around the boat, feeling sorry for all those other guys that weren't going to make it home.

    The honesty of the message may increase, but I think it will fall on deaf ears.

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    1. The problem with all these jobs (NFL, wrestling, chemistry/biology/physics PhD) is that they require single-minded attention. At the undergrad level, you could get a second degree (I knew an Aero/Astro who got an Economics degree at the same time when the employment for that field was looking grim), but once you decide to be any of these things, they require all of your attention to be (potentially) successful at them. Using part of that attention to set up a fallback position makes that position more likely to be necessary.

      It seems like networking and backup plans are covering for the implication that there is a structural flaw in the employment market for chemists. Given that most of the actors have differing motives (professors and schools want more PhDs to do research and get grants, employers want more PhDs with particular skills so that they can do work with a minimum of training but don't want long-term employment, students like science and want to get what they perceive as stable, relatively high-wage jobs), it doesn't seem like a ridiculous assertion.

      In addition, as the Midwest can probably tell you, we don't assimilate job losses well. People who were autoworkers have mostly not found anything else to use their skills. Inherently unstable job markets are really bad (for workers) when workers can't do anything else - if people can use their skills or find new ones, job losses (or the "your security is the ability to get another job" environment) aren't as painful, but I don't think that has been true.

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  12. John, the D-Day analogy is spot on. Certainly hope springs eternal for those wanting to be actors, rock stars and writers, but everyone knows that they most likely will end up waiting tables. They may even have been chasing their dreams for longer then we chemists spend in school, but the costs to taxpayers for them is much less. There are no CEOs or ACS hacks shouting we need more actors because of some imagined shortages.

    I wanted to be a chemist since age 10 and took my chances in grad school despite the very bad job market when I entered grad school in 1970. In the end I had a great 35 year career as an industrial chemist. However the job market today is not the economic down turn of the late 60s. Multiple R&D sites are now shuttered, jobs off-shored, the market is flooded with new grads and older chemist kicked out of their jobs and Society hates all things chemical. PIs and the ACS should have big signs in bright neon warning every future chemist that they may be waiting tables when all is said and done. Then it is buyer beware.

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