With autonomy comes responsibility, of course, and many people will count on you to keep the ship afloat and headed in the right direction. Occasionally women articulate to me that such responsibility looms large in their mind, that their aversion to academia is rooted in a fear of judgment and failure. In response, I share with them what my dad said to me when I once admitted these feelings. First, he reminded me of the first time he handed me the keys to the car, and I peeled out of the driveway without concern for the depth of my qualification. Then the conversation went like this:
Dad: “You got your own lab? Go for it. What do you have to lose?”
Me: “What if I can’t get grants funded?”
Dad: “So what, as long as you still get paid. Try again.”
Me: “What if I don’t get tenure?”
Dad: “So what, it is still a good starter job that builds skills for many other (higher paying) jobs.”
He was right about that. My friends who didn’t get that coveted promotion jumped into high-level industrial positions they could never have acquired had they started their career in that same company. You see, after six years running a lab in academia, they had project and budget management experience. They had done HR, PR, and built a valuable network of colleagues and collaborators. No age-matched bench chemist in industry could develop that portfolio of skills at the same pace.It is the last sentence that I would like to examine. Is this actually true? Far be it from me to doubt Professor Bertozzi's superior years of experience to mine own, but I find this to be a tiny bit skepticism-inducing. I suspect that it depends on the definition of "my friends" and "high-level". Also, is it really true that "no age-matched bench chemist in industry could develop that portfolio of skills?" I think there's plenty of argument to be made that industry is just as good at academia at forcing collaboration, and growing project and budget management experience.
(This draws me to another aside, and another CJ-like complaint about the lack of solid data about job cohorts: what happens to untenured assistant professors of chemistry? Where do they go? What do they end up doing? Do they actually go straight to "group leader" or "director" in industry? Rather than relying on the opinions of prominent chemical biologists or random bloggers, wouldn't it be great if we just knew, i.e. had a database somewhere?)
Readers, your thoughts? Is there enough anecdata out there to support this?