Two jobs for underutilized early-career scientists: links to some history…and an Existence Theorem.

The previous post focused on difficulties early-career bio-scientists face today in finding jobs that fully use and reward their training. I mentioned in passing that similar challenges might confront young scientists in other fields. A decade ago, the Bulletin of the AMS ran a series of articles on supply and demand for atmospheric scientists; you can find the links to the debate here. In the 2008 time frame, John Knox also touched on the subject, with an emphasis on undergraduate education. See, for example, this link.

These materials merit a read and thoughtful reflection.

An additional aside…in my earlier post I suggested that early-career scientists might contemplate ways they could contribute to either K-12 education and/or the policy process. Beleaguered scientists in the midst of a job search might be forgiven for regarding such a suggestion as cavalier. Who has time for all the work that entails? And what’s the reward at the other end? Certainly there’s a lot of effort involved in coming up to speed on such careers. And it doesn’t look as if anyone’s getting rich. Moreover, it’s hard to contemplate such a makeover while either seeking a job or working full-time at one.

Given such natural skepticism, let me offer the example of Matthew Carr as something of an Existence Theorem…proof that someone has shown it’s possible to go this route and achieve a good outcome.

Some years ago, Mr. Carr received his Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Washington. Hesitant about pursuing a traditional academic research career, starting with a postdoc position, he chose instead to teach science at a private middle school in the state of Washington for a year or so. From that position he applied for and won an AMS-UCAR Congressional Science Fellowship. He served from 2004-2005 on the minority staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Following his year on Capitol Hill, he accepted a position with the Biotechnology Industry Organization, where he remains today, as managing director of their Industrial and Environmental Section.

Very cool.

Might seem to you that the odds are against such a success. Maybe so. Matt’s not your ordinary guy. And he would probably be the first to tell you that these transitions weren’t easy.

But he’d also say they were worth it.


The AMS, through its Education and Policy Programs, can provide advice and resources to Earth scientists interested in such career paths.

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2 Responses to Two jobs for underutilized early-career scientists: links to some history…and an Existence Theorem.

  1. John Knox says:

    This is great, Bill. As I’ve said to several audiences, there’ll still be lots of success stories in our field. (Of all types, including unconventional success stories, e.g. what Matthew Carr has done.) But it also seems possible that there will be fewer of the conventional success stories *by percentage* than in the “golden age” of ramping-up academic departments and expanding federal grants in the Sixties. If scientists live and die by citation counts, as you said in your introduction of Jane Lubchenco at the AMS annual meeting, then it may well be that a fair number of this generation’s scientists will “die” (as mathematician Paul Erdos said disparagingly of anyone who left the field of mathematics). But they can and should be resurrected in areas such as education, without blame and without shame. Which means that the legendary judgmentalism of the academic apprenticeship process, in which the summum bonum is nearly always a tenure-track job in the same discipline and specialty at a top research institution, must change, or else… Postscript to previous post: Michelle Amaral, the focus of the Washington Post story that triggered your initial post, received her Ph.D. and did her post-doc at my alma mater, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a world-class medical research institution (#26 in NIH funding).

    • William Hooke says:

      thanks, John…for your comment, of course, but more importantly for all the work you’ve put in on this topic and on counseling and encouraging your students over the years in the face of these trends.

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