What a long strange trip …
Janet has an interesting piece on her career change (from chemistry to philosophy) and this has prompted me to think a little about the path my career has taken since I began as an undergraduate twenty-one years ago (!).
- Get an undergraduate degree in zoology with a minor in biochemistry. By sophomore year be sure that you are going to obtain the PhD, work on mammalian evolution, and get a teaching job somewhere in Ireland.
- Begin a PhD project on the genetics of hybridization among deer species. Abandon it after six months because, let’s face it, running gels is boring. Develop a project on morphometrics of mustelid carnivores that your thesis director doesn’t really understand, but lets you do anyway. Spend large amounts of time with museum collections. Start to smell of moth balls. Publish papers.
- Finish the PhD in three and a half years, not before getting a postdoc in Arizona. Wonder where the hell Arizona is. Accept that you will be spending the next two years working on fish (whom you, being a true phylocentrist, see solely as a food source).
- After a year in the US, realize three things more or less simultaneously – (a) your postdoc has been cut to a year because of budget issues, (b) you like Arizona, and (c) you are about to get married to a girl from Michigan and thus will not be getting that teaching job somewhere in Ireland. Embrace the change.
- Teach undergraduates biology for the first time. Realize you hate teaching biology at the introductory level. Also realize that many students – even biology majors – know little about evolution and in many cases, actively deny its occurance. Decide that this is something work following up on.
- Begin a series of non-tenure jobs teaching science and culture. Develop a series of courses in the history of biology. Realize that teaching history of science is (a) fun and (b) a great way to teach science to sciencephobes. Begin to write book reviews and dictionary entries in your chosen area.
- Consider a graduate degree in HPS. Reject the idea because (a) it would involve GREs and suchlike, and (b) wise people tell you that there is absolutely no reason to go get another PhD. Rejoice at the money saved.
- Finally (in 2000) get a position at a place that allows you teach what you want, research what interests you (science & history) and generally provides a great environment for personal development as a teacher and academic.With the pressure of tenure off your back, begin to network and publish.
- Complete shift in career by realizing (1) you spend a lot of time teaching history & philosophy, (2) you rarely attend science meetings anymore, (3) your role models are historians, (4) you publish more outside the sciences than within, and (5) you accept all of this.
I usually end up telling students that there is no such thing as a terminal degree in that they never know where they will be in the future. Had someone told me in 1985 that I would end up doing what I’m doing, where I am doing it, I would have laughed.