约拿单 I. 卡茨，物理学教授，华盛顿大学
你在打算成为科学家吗？你想揭开自然的奥秘、用做实验或计算的方式来研究整个世界是怎么运作的？把这个想法忘了吧！的确，科学很有趣，也很刺激。由 发现而产生的强烈快感是独一无二的。如果你很聪明、有野心，并且也很刻苦努力的话，你的确应该在读本科的时候选择科学。但这就够了，到此为止。本科毕业之 后，你将必须面对这个真实的世界。这意味着，你不应该哪怕是考虑去读科学方面的研究生。做点其他的行当吧：医学、法律、计算机、工程，或者其他随便什么你 能想到的。
为什么我，一个有终身职位的物理学教授，一个在科学事业上很成功的人，要来试图打击你们将科学作为毕生事业的勇气和信心呢？因为世道变了。我 1973年拿到我的博士学位，1976年就拿到了终身教职。美国的科学界现在已经不能提供一条合理的事业生涯的途径了。如果你去读科学的研究生，你大概一 定会期望着用你毕生的工作精力去做科学研究，用你的智慧和好奇心去解决那些重要而又有趣的问题。实话讲，你基本上一定会失望，而失望的时候，你大概已经错 过了选择其他任何职业的机会。美国的大学制造了两倍于其工作职位数量的博士。当随便一个什么东西，或一种人，满大街随便捡的时候，他就不值钱了。对于博士 科学家来说，掉价的形式是他们不得不用许多年做一期又一期的博士后，等待着一个工作机会的到来。永久职位不会比以往给的薪水少多少，但25年前一个博士毕 业后大约2年后就能找到一个真正的工作，而现在绝大多数的年轻科学家都得当5年，10年，甚至更久的博士后。他们没什么拿到永久职位的盼头，常常必须每两 年找一个新的博士后工作，然后搬家。欲知更多详情，请咨询”青年科学家协会”或读一读华盛顿大学月报 2001年5月的文章。
就拿我们系里最牛的两个准备竞争一个讲师职位的人来作例子。一个家伙37岁，博士毕业已经10年了，一直没找到工作。另一个最牛的家伙，35岁，人 人都认为他很聪明，博士毕业7年了才找到一个”永久工作”（其实不是永久教职，只是6 年后有希望获得永久教职而已，不过这已经让他稍稍远离那种每两年就要找新博士后工作搬家的驴拉磨死循环了）。还有一个例子，一个39岁的家伙，想竞聘另一 个讲师职位。他发了35篇文章。与之形成鲜明对比的是，一个典型的医生29岁就进入了实习阶段，一个典型的律师25岁就开始实习，31岁正式进事务所，一 个计算机博士科学家在27岁时已经能得到很好的工作了。计算机科学和工程科学是工业界需要人才的仅有的两个领域，因此这两个行当还是值得去读个博士出来 的。任何一个人，如果他有智慧和野心，能刻苦工作，如果他能在科学上成功的话，他也能在其他任何行当上成功。典型的博士后薪水是每年27000美元（生物 科学）或35000美元（物理科学）。博士生的奖学金比这个一半还少。用这么点收入你能支持一个家庭吗？嗯，够年轻的小两口住一个很小的房子。不过我认识 一个物理学家，他的妻子把他踹了，因为她是在厌倦了跟他不停地搬家却一点定居的希望都看不到。当你三十多岁的时候你就会需要更多的东西：一个大房子，附近 有好的学校，以及其他中产阶级生活所必需的设施。科学是一个职业，而不是一个宗教的呼召，也不是一个贫穷或独身的判决或者宣誓。
显然，你走科学道路并不能使你发财–你没有选择去读医学或法律，而一个医生或律师典型的收入是科学家的2-3倍（这还得是那些运气忒好的正教授科学 家们）。我也做了这个选择。我成为一个科学家是为了有自由来解决那些让我感兴趣的问题。但你可能并不能得到这种自由。作为一个博士后，你只能按照别人的想 法来工作，可能被当成一个技术员来使唤，而不是作为一个单独的科学家来合作。最终，你可能被彻底排挤出科学界。你可以得到一份很好的工作，比如计算机程序 员，但为什么不在你22岁的时候做这份好工作，而要在科学界的人才市场上面悲悲惨惨地混上10年先？你再科学上面花的时间越多，你会发现你越难离开，而且 你对其他行当的雇主而言变得越来越没有吸引力。也许你脑瓜足够灵光，以至于你能跳出博士后的陷阱。有些大学会被你打动而在你博士毕业2年后给你一个可能的 永久职位。这是可能的。但是科学劳动力市场的整体掉价意味着最灵光的脑瓜也得被拴在博士后磨盘上当驴转上很长时间。想想上面举过的例子吧。许多看上去非常 有才而且有傲人的成绩和推荐信的人，后来发现研究上的竞争比其他一切的奋斗都要困难。
假设你最终拿到了一个永久教职，一个终身教授职位。现在你不必为每两年一次的工作而奋斗，取而代之的是为研究经费而斗争。你会又一次地发现，这个世 界上的科学家有一大箩筐，而你自己又不值钱了。现在你焚膏继晷地写研究计划，而不是去做研究。更糟糕的是，因为你的研究计划会被你的同行竞争者来审阅，你 就不能按照你自己所好奇的东西来写。你得把你的努力和聪明才智浪费在怎么咬文嚼字地让那帮混蛋不要挑刺上，而不是去解决重要的科学问题。这是两个截然不同 的事情：你不能把你过去的成功写进研究计划，因为那些是已经完成的工作；而那些原创性的天才想法还没有被证明。一句谚语说，原创性的想法是研究计划中的死 神之吻（乍看有益但实则会导致毁灭的行为），因为这些想法根本就没有被证明可行（废话，被证明可行了你还写个屁的研究计划），因此它们会被认为是垃圾。因 此，当你费劲千辛万苦终于到达了那”应许之地”的教授职位上，你会发现这根本就不是你原来想要的。那么，你能做什么？对任何年轻人（即任何还没有取得科学 界的永久职位的人）来说，首要任务是去找一份其他的工作，这讲是你避免失望的痛苦。美国年轻的一代已经觉醒，看到了科学界黯淡的发展前景以及无法拥有一个 合理的中产阶级生活，因此他们已经不愿意做科学家。如果你还没有觉醒的话，赶紧加入他们的行列。把博士班留给印度人和中国人吧– 他们的家乡情况更糟。在我所认识的人中，人生被读物理博士所毁的人数比被毒品所毁的人还要多。
如果你身居高位，能够领导科学界，那么你应该尝试着去劝说那些发放研究经费的部门少招些博士生。大街上论吨撮的科学家完全就是他们的资助政策的后果 –几乎所有的博士生都是由联邦基金支持的）。那些基金会总在抱怨很少有年轻人对科学感兴趣，而造成这种结果的原因正是他们毁了科学作为事业。他们本可以扭 转这种局面，只要他们少招些博士生，让博士生的人数与教职的人数大致相当就可以了，但他们不干，甚至他们根本不屑于严肃地讨论这件事（许多年来，NSF到 处宣扬他们虚假的预测，说科学家短缺，而多数基金会好像真以为是这么回事）。结果就是，最好的年轻人，本该去做科学家的，对此唯恐避之不及；而博士班里是 一帮弱弱的美国学生，还有一帮被美国学生签证所吸引来的外国人。
Don’t Become a Scientist!
Jonathan I. Katz
Professor of Physics
Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.
Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it! Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.
Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.
American universities train roughly twice as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs for them. When something, or someone, is a glut on the market, the price drops. In the case of Ph.D. scientists, the reduction in price takes the form of many years spent in “holding pattern” postdoctoral jobs. Permanent jobs don’t pay much less than they used to, but instead of obtaining a real job two years after the Ph.D. (as was typical 25 years ago) most young scientists spend five, ten, or more years as postdocs. They have no prospect of permanent employment and often must obtain a new postdoctoral position and move every two years. For many more details consult the Young Scientists’ Network or read the account in the May, 2001 issue of the Washington Monthly.
As examples, consider two of the leading candidates for a recent Assistant Professorship in my department. One was 37, ten years out of graduate school (he didn’t get the job). The leading candidate, whom everyone thinks is brilliant, was 35, seven years out of graduate school. Only then was he offered his first permanent job (that’s not tenure, just the possibility of it six years later, and a step off the treadmill of looking for a new job every two years). The latest example is a 39 year old candidate for another Assistant Professorship; he has published 35 papers. In contrast, a doctor typically enters private practice at 29, a lawyer at 25 and makes partner at 31, and a computer scientist with a Ph.D. has a very good job at 27 (computer science and engineering are the few fields in which industrial demand makes it sensible to get a Ph.D.). Anyone with the intelligence, ambition and willingness to work hard to succeed in science can also succeed in any of these other professions.
Typical postdoctoral salaries begin at ?,000 annually in the biological sciences and about ?,000 in the physical sciences (graduate student stipends are less than half these figures). Can you support a family on that income? It suffices for a young couple in a small apartment, though I know of one physicist whose wife left him because she was tired of repeatedly moving with little prospect of settling down. When you are in your thirties you will need more: a house in a good school district and all the other necessities of ordinary middle class life. Science is a profession, not a religious vocation, and does not justify an oath of poverty or celibacy.
Of course, you don’t go into science to get rich. So you choose not to go to medical or law school, even though a doctor or lawyer typically earns two to three times as much as a scientist (one lucky enough to have a good senior-level job). I made that choice too. I became a scientist in order to have the freedom to work on problems which interest me. But you probably won’t get that freedom. As a postdoc you will work on someone else’s ideas, and may be treated as a technician rather than as an independent collaborator. Eventually, you will probably be squeezed out of science entirely. You can get a fine job as a computer programmer, but why not do this at 22, rather than put ting up with a decade of misery in the scientific job market first? The longer you spend in science the harder you will find it to leave, and the less attractive you will be to prospective employers in other fields.
Perhaps you are so talented that you can beat the postdoc trap; some university (there are hardly any industrial jobs in the physical sciences) will be so impressed with you that you will be hired into a tenure track position two years out of graduate school. Maybe. But the general cheapening of scientific labor means that even the most talented stay on the postdoctoral treadmill for a very long time; consider the job candidates described above. And many who appear to be very talented, with grades and recommendations to match, later find that the competition of research is more difficult, or at least different, and that they must struggle with the rest.
Suppose you do eventually obtain a permanent job, perhaps a tenured professorship. The struggle for a job is now replaced by a struggle for grant support, and again there is a glut of scientists. Now you spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. They’re not the same thing: you cannot put your past successes in a proposal, because they are finished work, and your new ideas, however original and clever, are still unproven. It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal; because they have not yet been proved to work (after all, that is what you are proposing to do) they can be, and will be, rated poorly. Having achieved the promised land, you find that it is not what you wanted after all. What can be done? The first thing for any young person (which means anyone who does not have a permanent job in science) to do is to pursue another career. This will spare you the misery of disappointed expectations. Young Americans have generally woken up to the bad prospects and absence of a reasonabl
e middle class career path in science and are deserting it. If you haven’t yet, then join them. Leave graduate school to people from India and China, for whom the prospects at home are even worse. I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs.
If you are in a position of leadership in science then you should try to persuade the funding agencies to train fewer Ph.D.s. The glut of scientists is entirely the consequence of funding policies (almost all graduate educationis paid for by federal grants). The funding agencies are bemoaning the scarcity of young people interested in science when they themselves caused this scarcity by destroying science as a career. They could reverse this situation by matching the number trained to the demand, but they refuse to do so, or even to discuss the problem seriously (for many years the NSF propagated a dishonest prediction of a coming shortage of scientists, and most funding age ncies still act as if this were true). The result is that the best young people, who should go into science, sensibly refuse to do so, and the graduate schools are filled with weak American students and with foreigners lured by the American student visa.