“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky”

Today I end a 5-year run at Deep Sea News. I’m sad that I am unable to continuing committing to this great group, and indeed science and science communication more generally. Over the last year as I’ve struggled personally and professionally, the six other scientists here have been great friends and not just bloggers. It was clear to me during the last few years and especially the last year that a lifestyle involved in science was incompatible with the life I wanted to lead as father, husband, and family provider. I’ve committed 5+ years to science communication and nearly a decade to science with nothing to show for it but publications. Meanwhile, our family has not progressed. We have no money, no savings and mounting debt. It’s a situation that has put me in a position that prevents me from doing anything for which I cannot attain a few dollars. Thus, the work I gladly did freely for so many years when I had salaried employment has become a burden to me now. While I’ve had modest success transforming some this into a consulting and freelance career over the last couple years, I can never get ahead anywhere. I see no future for me, and frankly that sucks when it’s all I’ve known for so long.

But I do have a plan forward. One that will hopefully employ me for the long term and turn into a family business. I’ve been making beer and it has been well-received here in my corner of Sweden. I’m partnering with a hotel and will be starting a local microbrewery. I’m very excited about this. It the culmination of my nearly 5 years experience cooking and baking, and decade of science and experimentation (and not to mention seeking funding). For those who are interested you can follow @BryggFangelset on Twitter, like us on Facebook, Circle us on GooglePlus and of course subscribe to our website for updates. Bryggeri Fängelset means “the prison brewery”, it will located in Hotell Fängelset in Västervik which was a prison built in the 1870s and in service until just 8 years ago when it was converted to hostel and hotel. Stop by and say hi and get a beer on me if you are in the area!

Below is a longer history of my experiences and an apology. I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing so much. I mean, I always have been over-sharer, but it would be just as easy to walk away and leave it there. Perhaps I feel it justifies something and I do feel I owe it to the Deep Sea News and greater Science Online communities who have been so supportive of me for such a long time. Of course, it is only my side of the story so take it as it is. It is a sort of stream of thought and may not be well-edited.

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On January 27th, 2007, I placed my first comment on a science blog. I didn’t know it was a blog, I thought it was just a website, nothing too unusual. I had done a google search probably, looking for information and pictures of shrimp. Except that I remember visiting Deep Sea News before that when it was just Craig and Peter on blogspot, it had appeared in my searches before. By this time, I was a PhD student at Penn State at the time and had just submitted my first manuscript for review. It was a taxonomic description and phylogeny to a new species of shrimp I found while doing my community ecology research at deep-sea hydrothermal vents (it was accepted but the slow publishing process took till 2009 to get published in print…). It was a very positive time in my life, research was going well, I had just gotten back from an extended research stay with an anemone expert and we would describe 5 new species of hydrothermal vent anemones. I had gotten the hang of research and publishing and was confident in moving forward and gotten over my first pub submission fear. All this would change dramatically for me by Fall of the same year…

I started leaving more comments on Deep Sea News, often correcting Craig or Peter, and before I knew it Craig wrote to me one day and asked if I wanted to start contributing to site. My first post was about a new paper on marine geology. I was thrilled when the paper’s author, who was in the hydrothermal vent science community, commented on the post to tell me it was a good summary. I wrote a weekly post until sometime in June. I left because at the time, Craig and Peter wanted to make me a full-on member of Deep Sea News with my log-in and contract and everything – but ScienceBlogs, the host for the blog network DSN was a part of, wouldn’t let them add a third blogger apparently.  I actually left Deep Sea News for a little over a half year and started The Other 95%, which rapidly grew a large following and helped me to experiment with and find my blogging voice. By the end of the year, though, ScienceBlogs after seeing my material, allowed me into the club as a member of DSN and I officially started in January, 2008, right after my first Science Online Conference (Well, actually the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, at the time). I have stayed with DSN since then as we’ve moved from ScienceBlogs to Discovery Channel and finally settling in here at our web address, foregoing any profit-making in the name of science outreach. I blogged here and The Other 95% until May, 2010.

Deep Sea News has meant the world to me. After Peter left, Craig and I formed a core relationship that I’ve treasured very much. It has been very rewarding for me personally to work with him and over the years as we’ve grown in size with the addition of our close blogging buddies Miriam and Rick and added new voices like Holly, Al, and most recently Kim. In my opinion, the future of Deep Sea News lies in adding new voices, diverse both in gender/race/ethnicity/sexual orientation as well as in topical areas. I’m VERY proud of what we’ve accomplished at this blog and the informative, entertaining and irreverent environment we’ve cultured here, and most importantly our readership which has grown dramatically during my tenure here and continues to grow. We’ve always had a loyal following. As I was going through the my earliest comments and posts, I was heartened to see that in the 5+ years some of the same commenters are still here with us and while many no longer comment, I know many of them are still reading.

Sadly, and regrettably, the future of Deep Sea News will not include me. This is of my own doing and it’s a very hard thing for me to write. I love everything about this blog and the people who make up the DSN community. I’ve literally built the website, teaching myself CSS and html to do it, and have invested my own money, time and many emotions into building the brand as well as the medium. To people close to me, it’s no secret I’ve been struggling personally and professionally for several years. It started, as I mentioned above, in the Fall of 2007. I quickly found out my choice of committee was poor, and arrogantly arranged by myself. I didn’t listen to people I should have and put a real asshole on it and my advisor, who once seemed very supportive of what I was doing, completely changed direction and challenged me at every corner. He was literally trying to get me to quit. I conditionally passed my orals and wrote an essay, staying home over the christmas holidays to do this, for asshole committee member who took his time reading it and decided that it was insufficient on the grounds grammatical errors and not citing enough of his own papers.

I was devastated when my once-trusted advisor stabbed me in the back and forced me out of his lab. This was so sudden that I am still so very very very bitter. There was no warning, no slow degradation of our relationship. He was resentful of my online activities and the time I was spending my family. He saw that I was, myself, changing because of fatherhood. I had my first child in grad school in 2005 and I’ll never forget his response when I told him that we are expecting our second: “Well, looks like you have more time on your hands than I do”, as he turned and promptly walked out of my office. There was no going back after this. By March, 2008 he gave me the ultimatum: stay and he’ll guarantee I will fail, leave and write up what you’ve done for a masters degree. I should note, I was in grad school for 3 and a half years at this time, had 2 accepted first author manuscripts (in taxonomy though, which I was told was not “real science”), another submitted as a coauthor and have gotten a small grant to support my taxonomy work, in addition to presenting at several national and international conferences.

The point is, I felt I was doing everything right – and most people were shocked to hear about my dilemma. But I did what I had to do, which is what I’ve done every day now for the last 7+ years, and that is what is best for my family. Which gets to the root of the problem I’ve continuously had during post-parenthood scientific career – at least, as I’ve seen it. By continuously putting my family above everything else, I’ve been made to feel like a complete failure. It hasn’t been just my former advisor…. it is code written on the wall everywhere I go. And it’s frustrating because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Do I just see it everywhere now, this ‘familyism’ in academia, because of my failure to work more than 8-9 hours a day? Because my inability to hold “scientific meetings” with the gang at the pub after hours? I continuously heard it from future bosses as a researcher and then again at a second failed attempt  at a PhD “well, I know you have a family but…”; “never met a graduate worth anything that didn’t work on weekend….” ; “listen, I understand you’re situation isn’t traditional, but you’re going to have to do…”; and it goes on.

While this happening, and I’m not going to get into it any more than this, I found an amazing and supportive community online. All I had to do was write passionately about things I was passionate about. No one had to say anything, I could read the numbers for myself, occasionally see a colleague share something I wrote. I knew my voice was heard and respected and no one had to know a thing about me. I relished in writing for Deep Sea News. My best stuff was written as I was leaving my PhD and moving on to my first ‘job’ in science as a technician. I rose up quickly through the community and discovered I really enjoyed being a mentor within the community as much as just a science communicator. I worked very hard over the few years to make a career out of this and have had moderate success up to when I moved to Sweden. Things were actually looking up and I was solely supporting my family. But, never making enough money to actually get ahead, we were (are) constantly at the brink of catastrophe. I started taking on more work, like  an addiction; every couple hundred dollars was that much less I’d have to charge groceries and gas on the credit card.

I was completely broken by Spring of 2011 when I was working as a upper division biology lecturer, PhD student, research technician, freelance writer and property manager. I have no recollection of anything that happened for the first 5 months of that year. I literally did get any sleep, was constantly creating new lectures, teaching myself the material I wanted to teach my students, handing in freelance assignments late or not at all, while I kept up with research I failed miserably in the classroom. Granted, I hate classes and don’t hide that fact. I learn on my own through experience and research. But this did not bode well with my new PhD advisor at the time. So, what did I do? What I’ve always done when shit hits the fan. Quit everything in life and try to figure out something new to do. I fell back on science communication, consulting and writing until now. As I said before, it was moderately successful, but never enough that we could succeed as a family. Couldn’t afford medical care, barely made mortgages (in fact, many times I didn’t) and student loans, our house we spent so much time and money fixing up was now falling by the wayside, but most importantly I was turning into a monster. I was mean, angry, bitter at my life, sharp and sarcastic in tone with my wife and kids, drunk all the time and seriously depressed. I locked myself in the shed and drank whisky, played sad songs on the guitar and cried. I created pseudonymous personalities on twitter to vent out my anger and be a general jackass. I neglected my kids, yelled too much, was a little too strict and nearly caused my once rock solid relationship with my  to dissolve into bitterness. This was not the person I was or wanted to be. I allowed myself to slip into this monsterdom by giving up and giving in.

Leaving Wilmington was like leaving a nuclear war zone for me. I left behind the students, the OCD advisor who said he liked what I was doing with family and science communication and then decided no he wanted a younger more traditional student he could mentor instead of a colleague to work with, left behind the negativity I was feeling towards a career I had trained for since 2002 and resolved to repair my life. I think it was the fact that my wife didn’t want to be with me is what changed everything for me. After all I’ve been through, my wife is the one true constant in my life. My rock that I cling to. I felt the ‘system’, if you will, was trying to replace my rock with a pile of gravel. A pile insecurity – job, financial, future prospects – disguised as temporary security with trail of ifs and conditions. My wife wasn’t asking for ifs, and had sacrificed many of her dreams to allow me to pursue mine. How I could be such an asshole? Obviously, we patched up the holes and our relationship has never been stronger than it is at this moment. It is a great feeling. I can completely fail at everything else in life but I will never ever ever fail at being a husband and father again. And it saddens me still that I had to let it go so far. Though my children were young, 4 and 5, I can see even today traces of the scars of that horrible half year when I wasn’t there for them and yelled at them for the slightest thing.

Professionally, I’ve fucked up big time. I took money and assignments from people who were genuinely giving me a chance and trying to help me out. Assignments I was certainly capable of finishing but couldn’t. I allowed myself to get caught in a freelancer trap. The money I was making was decent and in steady supply could have supported us, but I was constantly having to chase the money because I couldn’t keep up with the bills. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing that ever happened to me. The moment you feel you’ve got a routine and things are under control, all the money disappears into rent, gas and groceries. And then it’s like what the fuck?? I just got $5000 and you realized the credit card payment that you had to put off for three months was now $1000 minimum payment for the missing months and late fees… I. Just. Can. Never. Get. Ahead! So I spent inordinate amounts of time finding more work which resulted in me never being to finish the work I already had and was often paid in advance for. I won’t name names, cause I want all the embarrassment for this to be laid squarely upon me, but I need to publicly apologize to these clients. I wish I could return the money but it was gone before I even got it… But I take full responsibility for my actions and am aware of the consequences, professionally and personally.

Moving to Sweden was the treatment for my ills, though certainly not the cure. For the first time in my life we’ve had some form of security and I feel that I can control my future, that it is entirely in my hands now and not up to search committees, advisors and funding agencies. Our family has affordable medical care, childcare and education – for the first time in our parental life my wife can afford to go to a job without worrying about daycare/preschool costs. We have family nearby, have been welcomed by our community and quickly made good friends here. We’ve never had friends outside the labs I’ve worked in. Never. This is the first time in our 13 year relationship we can depend on people other than ourselves and not a slave to moving vast distances like some kind of scientific mercenary for hire to bidder with a year support here and there. But this isn’t a cure because we still have to find a way to support ourselves and grow/prosper as a family together. Prosper – this is a new concept to me. I was so caught up in trying to survive I never had the chance to think about my future.

So here is where I am now. On a farm in the middle of a snow-covered forest of Sweden. I’m leaving Deep Sea News now because I’m leaving science behind, in general. I dedicated 12 or so years to scientific training, education and experience. Have tried new things, career changes, and I’m back to where I was an 19 year old leaving behind 4 years of culinary experience in Iowa (I had worked since 16, was kitchen manager by 18 and had a better salary here than I ever had in science) to pursue dreams of working in music. I’m back to where I was when I was a 21 year old who just got laid off from a recording studio in California and had no clue where to go next and decided to take classes at community college. I’m back to where I was in March, 2008 when I decided that I would drop out of the PhD program at Penn State. I’m back to where I was early in 2010 when I found out there wasn’t enough funding to keep me at my technician job at Duke. I’m back to where I was April, 2011, when I broke down at UNC Wilmington and left a second PhD attempt.

But therein appears to lie my superhero power. To not be defeated (at least not for long), pick myself back up and try something else. I have a family to support and can’t dwell on what could have been or should have been. I need to figure out how to bring in enough money to help my wife keep us afloat. The bitterness doesn’t leave, but it becomes manageable. I laugh about it now cause I left grad school in 2008 and my advisor stil makes up excuses for being too busy to get to the manuscripts I’ve left him with even then (which are 2 first authored papers of mine)! Surrounding myself with awesome people helps to reinforce my beliefs that this is better for me and my family. This has been very easy to do in Sweden where I’ve fallen into a community of entrepreneurial can-do attitudes who have been amazing at helping me get my brewery concept off the ground. It’s a stark contrast to the world of academia I found myself in before. It was all about challenging others’ ideas and abilities. I hope things change for science and academia, but they won’t. I don’t know if this was worth anyone’s reading, but now it’s out there. Maybe someone can feel empowered take back control of their life too. It’s hard, emotionally draining, but liberating.

So, on to the next chapter. I want to thank all the readers here at Deep Sea News, all the bloggers who’ve shared my works and have given me advice and support, my lovely fellow deeplings and in particular Craig for being more than a colleague but a close friend and confidant and co-schemer. I wish we could have done even half of the great things we’ve planned.

101 Replies to ““I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky””

  1. Thanks for everything you’ve contributed to the online science community, Kevin, and thanks for sharing your story so openly and honestly here. It’s clearly been a tough haul for you but it looks like you’ve got a bright future. And you’ve made me want to visit a brewery in a town I’ve never heard of in Sweden, so I think your latest venture will almost certainly be a success!

  2. Kevin,
    This is a sad day, but you are going to do great at the prison brewery!

    Thank you for all your posts here and at TO95%. I am very sad to hear all the struggles you had with advisors and committee members. Especially surrounding family. I struggle with that part too. so much of your story echoes in my own recent experiences trying to balance science, family and personal pursuits (for me it’s art, diving, photography). Like you I am often swerving too far to one side or another of that balancing point with the others suffering. Like you I cherish my relationship with my wife and being a good father and husband are the most important things for me to “get right”. For what it’s worth you made a hard choice, but the right one, choosing your family. Thank you for “over-sharing” – in this post you have said so well many things that too many of us face.

    Good luck, my friend! I hope to take you up on that beer offer soon. Of course you know if you ever need a place to crash for a Sea Shanty festival you’ve got a place, and the beers (or rum) are on me.

  3. You’re the greatest, man. Not good-bye, just another transformation.

    Kevin so much of what you said as a freelancer hit me too in the 2 years I tried being a freelance illustrator/full-time dad. It’s fucking hard to be broke and chasing the money while being a parent. I’m grateful for every client – but there were not enough and the market does not pay well enough. Thus my new full-time job.

    I felt like a failure (still do sometimes)leaving freelance. But realizing I was going to a job interview with every pair of pants having holes, with one pair of beat up shoes to my name – I know why I turned my back on freelancing.

    Science and art share the bitter spiral of being vital to innovation and economies, while neither pay sustainable incomes for years and years.

    I don’t drink alcohol; but I want to try your beer.

    Cheers Kevin!

  4. Hey Kevin,

    Thank you for being so brutally honest- one of the best things about “oversharing” is that it helps people realize they’re not alone with their problems. It takes a lot of courage to overshare. Just because it makes someone else happy, doesn’t mean it will make you happy (or keep your family safe), and just because the people who are giving you a hard time chose a different path (and will defend it unto death) doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Good luck, and we’ll be sure to drop by your pub if we’re ever in Sweden.

  5. Kevin,

    Thanks for sharing the hardest stuff and for being a pioneer despite all the setbacks you’ve faced. Your story is inspiring, scary, and enlightening. I hope you’ll return for a guest post to let us know how things are going. You’re still a scientist, after all. It’s just your lab that has changed!

    Best of luck, and lots of hugs from the Upwell crew.


  6. Thanks for oversharing this, Kevin. Your posts were always a pleasure to read. Though I will definitely miss your perspective here, I’m sure you’re going to better brews… Good luck, and hope one day I’ll taste your beer in Sweden. Take care.

  7. Kevin, you are a writer at heart and I urge you to keep it as a part of yourself. Whether it’s song writing, writing for your kids, or writing for yourself, I do hope you will keep putting words together one way or another. I’m sorry to learn of all the hardships and trials, but thank you for everything you’ve done and shared here… And now I have a reason to bug Matt to visit Sweden!

  8. Kevin, I knew a little bit about your struggles, but I had no idea that you had gone through so much. I am saddened (to the point of tears, several times while reading your post) that you had to start over again so many times. I still remember the bullet I dodged by choosing to do my Ph.D. in a different lab than the one we both interviewed in. And I am still bitter about the follow-up email I received from your advisor that informed me that he and his colleagues had decided that I would never succeed at science and should probably choose a different profession. That letter (and the burning anger it provoked) provides inspiration that drives me past my insecurities and recurring bouts of impostor syndrome, even today. I should probably dig that up and frame it…

    But this is not about me. Your writing has been constantly entertaining and educational, I’ve enjoyed it for years now, and I know that you’ll keep that passion and follow it wherever it takes you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings, I wish you and your family the best of luck, personally and professionally, and I hope to one day have a beer with you at the Prison Brewery! Cheers, my friend.

  9. Kevin – It’s been a while. Thank you for sharing this remarkable reflection. DSN or no, I look forward to following your journey on Fb. Let me know if I can ever be helpful.

  10. I am shocked at this announcement, but I want to wish you the best as you start fresh. I know this isn’t important, but I have followed what you write and your colleagues write for years. I have seen this blog change and grow and bloggers come and go, but this definitely the saddest for me. I hope you have a good prosperous continuation of your story. May you find happiness in everything you do. I hope you and your family are doing well, and I hope I see you again. Like everyone else has said If you ever need a friend I am here. How is it in Sweden? Tell your Family I said hello.


  11. I think we are all the poorer for the loss of your voice in Science – both on issues of scientific import as well as how we need to Grow Up as a community. I think there’s a lot here for our generation of scientists to meditate on as we begin to bring in the next. It saddens me, but I hope we can learn. I really really hope.

    On a brighter note, dude, you totally need to get in contact with Lars Gamfeldt and other marine ecologists out there, and make the marine science – your beer connection! Sweden needs awesome beer, and you, sir, are going to be a hit!

  12. best of luck and thanks for sharing! you’ll be missed, but i think this is the right choice at the right time. i learned a lot from you about life, though we only met a few times in ‘real life’ ;)

  13. Kevin while I am so very sorry to see you leave this endeavor, being in a similar situation I fully understand. I am so sorry that you could not find academic work, but you have the bad luck to live in a time when academe is seen as a business not a public good. Best wishes for the future, and I hope you write something from time to time.

  14. It’s sad to see you go, Kevin, but I’m happy that you’ve found a place where you can thrive. I truly believe that DSN is revolutionizing science communication, and you are a huge part of that. Best of luck.

  15. Never before have I read something so moving. The ripples of all the science you have shared will continue to spread from student to sci commer to reader, whoever they may be, even when you have left the pond. I hope your new adventure brings all the good you deserve and so much more.

    I look forward to tasting my first pint – Cheers and good luck!

  16. Hey Kevin,

    As the partner of someone who finished her last PhD years with a serious illness (she was in the E.R. the day before she defended!) I can certainly sympathize with your feelings and your decision here.

    Leaving academia took a lot of courage and the transition she had was really tough. The good news is that it got better. She now runs a one-person business, gets rest when needed, and has actually (a couple years later), found the time and energy to re-engage with her academic pursuits on her own terms.

    I’ll certainly miss your posts – and as a relatively new reader to DSN, I absolutely appreciate your contributions. I enjoy the site so much I’m reading it in-reverse; I look forward to reading your first post. Thanks.

  17. I second what DeLene said: You’re a writer, Kevin. You may not always do it, and you may (and I hope you will) find extraordinary success in other ventures. But I hope you’ll always be around to pen a few words, because it’s always been great when you have.

    Cheers, mate.

  18. I am so glad you wrote this blog post even though you felt it might be a bit “too revealing”. This is such a good example on how the science lifestyle can get the best of you and all aspiring and senior scientist should have this in the back of their minds. I believe that the science community has lost a valuable member today, but I completely understand your decision. I must say that I see large differences in the science “culture” you describe compared to my own local science community and I hope that the “U.S” will make PhD life more compatible with a personal/family life in the future. Nevertheless I asked my husband to read your post so he can be aware of the “dangers”. My life consists of science. It’s my work, my main interest and my hobby. His life consists of work (of course, we need to pay the bills as well) but his life quality comes from dedicating time to his non-work related interests. If science takes me for a downhill ride I hope that him reading this blog post will make him see the signals earlier and give me a wake-up call!

    I cheer you on with your new life and hope to find you writing again somewhere, sometime. P.S I found it so fun that you have started brewing. Beer brewing is the main non-science interest among all my male science friends! I hope to taste one day – Sweden is “right next door” from Norway :-)


  19. Kevin, I’ve been following you since The Other 95% days. I was sad when you came here from there, and now I’m sad to see you leaving here. But I TOTALLY understand. I wish you the best of luck.

    ….And I’ll still be following you, on fb at least, and checking out the new website.

  20. I’m so sorry you’re leaving Kevin. The blogging world won’t be the same without you. But I’m sure you’ll find success and happiness, and I’ll take some of that beer as soon as you ship international!!

  21. Kevin,

    as a half Swedish, half American deep sea vent PhD student, there is so much that you’ve said in your final blog that rings true in my mind. I am in the write up phase of my PhD now and am looking ahead to the next chapter of my career, but in truth, I struggle to feel positive.

    I look around me every day and see people barely making a living and working longer hours than city stockbrokers – and with less job security. The profession is appears to be dominated by people that have failed at being – well – ‘human’. The structure is set up by and for workaholics obsessed with their subjects – to the exclusion of all human relationships. They have few friends and no families. I see hardly any women beyond post doc level, because they are forced to choose between a career or family. A drop in publication rate is career suicide. On a daily basis I hear people bragging about the insane hours they work, yet I never hear anyone saying “but what about having a life?” Most PhD graduates will have to spend the next decade of their career as journeymen. Hardly a career environment conducive to fostering human relationships.

    The irony is never lost on me that it is often objectively discussed by my colleagues that countries that work fewer hours in the week often have increased productivity and yet this is ignored in science. Sleep and lunch are for losers. On research ships this is even worse, where safety is routinely ignored as scientists try to work 48 hour shifts without sleep. I’ve been on oil rigs and they at least understand the importance of rest and mental health.

    But I should count myself lucky, because I’m doing my research in the UK. We at least have free healthcare. In the US, the insecurity is greater and the macho workaholic culture is even more ingrained.

    I can’t but help think that science is missing a trick, because this hyper-competitive environment excludes so many talented people who are not prepared to make the anti-human personal sacrifices that are expected. Science today has more in common with the monastic life than any other profession, as people are expected to do little more than eat, shit and work.

    I’m sorry that you’re leaving the profession, but I’m not surprised given your personal and professional situation. As a half Swede, I understand the value of a state that is prepared to support its citizens and remove the barriers of insecurity that prevent people from achieving their full potential – to the betterment of the individual and society. I hope that one day Americans will realise this. For all the faults of Sweden, and I know that you will already be aware of some of them, I am proud of what has been achieved there and I’m glad that you have been given the freedom to flourish as a human being in that country. It’s just so sad that you had to leave your homeland to do this.


    I hope you’re at least proud of your contribution to the sum knowledge of humanity – something that few people can ever say they have done. I for one appreciate the science you have done (I’m doing vent population genetics and phylogenetics) and I hope that you’ll at least keep an interest in science – even if it is as an occasional hobby. I for one have already accepted that I may one day have to leave this profession for the reason that you have so well articulated. I so want to be a success in science, but there are also other ways to leave a positive imprint on human society. By raising up children to do better than previous generations for example. Or just by being a good person and letting the positive memes spread.

    You only have the one life and the important thing is that you and your family are happy.

    Lycka till!!

    And thanks for the inspiration.

  22. Kevin,

    Much sympathy for your plight. Academia (ok, and life in general) can be a clusterfuck, and it sounds like just about every bad thing hit you, but you still managed to turn it around. That, my friend, is an accomplishment to be proud of. All the best in your new adventures!

  23. Having also been traumatized by an advisor in grad school, I feel you. Grad school is frankly not a psychologically healthy environment and what was done to you is frankly rather effed.

    I’m sorry to see you go – as a small-time rarely-updating sea life blogger, all of y’all are celebrities to me (as silly as that may sound). I hope that your venture will be successful and that you and your family’s fortunes continue to improve.

  24. Good luck!!! I’m glad I got to see another perspective of science that you don’t get to see when everything is shiny and new. People often want you to think that the path you’re on is easy, shiny and will bring great glories (especially when you’re a undergrad ha) . But, hey, the realistic path is one that’s filled with hard work, failures and some successes. Many months ago, you played one of my favorite songs for me one night (Ring of Fire) online, and while I could tell you were sad and inebriated, I also felt like you had so many talents that you would have to find some kind of happiness one day. I’ve absolutely enjoyed your writing and your kindness. I wish you the absolute best of luck on your next endeavor. You influenced all kinds of people, I’m sure, but I can only speak personally – that your writings and online presence really helped to inspire me to be passionate – not just about science – but about anything I am interested in.

    Everyone has a great journey inside of them — and yours is already epic. :) Have fun in the snow!!

  25. I’m sorry to see you leave science blogging Kevin, but I understand your reasons for leaving science in general. Good luck with the brewery – I will definitely make sure to come taste your brews at some stage.

  26. I’ve enjoyed your posts over the years, Kevin. And sharing craft beer and music picks over the Twitter wires. I’ve also appreciated your open and forthright nature. It’s altogether too lacking in general a d especially in the sciences. Best of luck with the new brewing adventure! Never stop dreaming.

  27. Your two paragraphs about academia, your PhD adviser and “familyism” are absolutely true (I am a mother of two, and recently completed my PhD). I find that academia remains a boys club, a place for men to hang out and avoid “real life” responsibilities. I got out as soon as I finished my degree. Many of the men and women I met in academia had disastrous personal lives, dysfunctional relationships and screwed up kids. I will add that the women tended to have more stable heads on their shoulders. Consider yourself lucky to get out. While I am grateful for the knowledge and love of learning I continue to have because of the PhD, I find that reality is not welcome in academia. It is not a place for people who actually mature.

  28. You will be sorely missed, Kevin, but I’m happy you have a future to look forward too in a country that supports you and your family. The work/life balance issues you mention are a big reason I why I became a science writer instead of a scientist myself. Then on the writing side, it is so frustrating to do what feels like good and important work — and to not be able to support yourself accordingly. Creative folks have always been unlucky this way, but it’s worse, I think, right now, and especially in the United States. Someday, you may feel the itch to write again and feel you are in a place where you can afford to devote a little time to doing it. Remember us — and consider guest posting — when that happens. I wish you fair skies and calm seas on your journey.

  29. Kevin,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’ve cried and struggled and lost my mind, too. Even though I’ve now got a tenure-track position, I don’t still feel so much pressure and economics are still difficult. Not only is it arguably the worst job market for scientists in a century, jobs that exist seem to commonly come with tremendous pressure and little room for life to happen. I should say that I really like my job, but I cannot yet tell whether I am driving my stress or someone else is. I suspect the former, which is part of who scientists must be now. So many people here have said this much better than I and with more candor, reflection and quality. Still, thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences. It makes the rest of us feel less alone and that is good for everyone.

  30. “We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.” — Lone Watie from “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

  31. Good luck, Kevin. You have the passion and spirit to do well in the next phase of your life. Reading your blog,I was struck by the acrimony of your advisor and I can say I’ve seen the same thing at all supervisory levels across many universities where I’ve worked. The academic community needs resources to control and reverse the consequences of bullying, egos that are out of control, and expectations that don’t meet reality. Maybe it’s time we all band together to address this.

  32. Thanks for putting yourself out there with this post. I have felt what you call Familyism very strongly in my career. From a PhD mentor commenting that I was _____whipped because I spent time at home with my wife and our children, to the exact same denigrating attitude by colleagues because, as a faculty member, I go home after work to eat dinner with my wife and daughters instead of joining the gang at the pub.

    One irony is that there is a very strong movement that I have encountered that focuses on “women in science.” This culture deals with these kinds of issues surrounding women, but as a male father I am alienated from this culture as well. I support the notion of women in science completely, but I sometimes wonder if the stalwart crusaders every considered that- as a male- the expectations surrounding my work life strongly influence whether my wife and daughters flourish. How about “Families in Science??

  33. Good luck in your future endeavors Kevin! I completely understand your difficulties and frustrations with the scientific/academic world. I suffered through many years to obtain that magically PhD, only to be confronted by the uncertainty of moving from place to place following post docs until that tenure track position would finally be in reach. However, to move from place to place meant I had to either 1. leave the one I loved to follow an uncertain career, 2. attempt a very long and very distant relationship, 3. make him leave his stable and well paying job that I would probably have to be a dean to make an equivalent amount. I chose another option. I decided I didn’t want to move around hoping for a tenure track position, so I got a job at a community college. Gasp! I love teaching and I really love my job. What I hate is the reaction I get from former committee members, grad students, colleagues, and especially my advisor. In their eyes I was a once promising scientist (nsf pre-doctoral even) and now I’ve fallen to the lowest rung of academia. But while they are working 80+ hours a week, constantly applying for the next grant or revising the same publication for the millionth time, I work 30 hours a week and my starting pay was the same or more that my fellow grad students that went the college/ university route. I do not have to do research, publish, and I actually get summers and holidays off. I have time for hobbies and most importantly I’m happy. So Kevin, do what makes you happy and forget about what others expect you to do.

  34. Kevin:
    I’m not a loyal reader yet, but will go to your blog. Your story makes me value my thesis committee more than ever! I don’t publish much, do a lot of art and photography, and ended up at a small community college on an atoll documenting coral disease (sadly, not a long-term gig, have to return to reality soon). I feel for you, and wish you every success… like others, I don’t drink much (hardly at all) but I value beer as a solid good. May you make wonderful new friends.

  35. Bookmarked this page to remind myself that life is not only about a job (attaining a PhD, securing second year of postdoc, etc). I have been struggling keeping a healthy relationship while getting a PhD, and every time it comes down to a choice of revising that article or spending a day with my spouse I have to claw my way from the computer. It is an unfair choice. Frankly, a little tired of making it. Additionally, there is practically no time and money for kids until I am after 33-35, which is still young but not nearly the energy level of 23-25. I admire your choice to build relationships anew, and moving to another country to be comfortable.

  36. All the best Kevin! I will miss reading your articles. I hope everything works out in Sweden for you and your family. You deserve a break and I am sure one will come along soon.

  37. Congratulations, Kevin, and thank you for all your work at DSN. You had a really great five year run. Your style warmed up the blog and definitely helped it grow to what it is today. Your writing grew alot. You picked up some powerful skills and knowledge that will pay off, I am sure, and now you join the ranks of distinguished alumni! Good luck and best wishes for your family.

  38. Ideas for expanding opportunity and innovation in science careers

    by National Postdoc Union on Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 4:30pm ·
    1) Put an annual limit on the amount of total federal grant dollars that one person (principle investigator) can be given for research (this would not include small business, education and other types of grants). This would allow more grants to be funded, which would benefit younger scientists – give us a toe in the door by spreading the funding a little wider. It would also incentivize institutions to hire MORE scientists (especially more independent ones who can apply for funding) and also incentivize scientists to pursue PRIVATE funding as well as commercialization (entrepreneurism?) of products resulting from their discoveries.

    2) Expand the number and size of common core facilities for various research needs (analytical chemistry cores, sequencing cores, animal facility cores, etc.) and the number of stable career staff scientists positions (‘permanent’ with benefits) – but have them report not to an individual PI or faculty boss, but to the department as an institutional resource (not the property of an individual PI).

    3) Make the identity submitter of grant proposals and manuscripts unknown to the reviewers and decision makers as much as possible.
    4) Create/fund a much wider variety of permanent/stable staff scientist career track positions at institutions geared toward Ph.D.’s – particularly for core research service facilities (which should be expanded greatly).

    5) End the system of tenure for faculty, it’s a concept whose time has come and went.

    6) Mandate twice per year surveys for trainees (students and postdocs) paid on grants to be sent directly from the agency to the trainee and directly back to the institution. These should focus on career outlooks, career services provided at the institution, human resources grievances/complaints, and especially (the bulk of the survey) should focus on the quaity of mentoring they are getting. Mentoring scores should be utilized to evaluate future grants in which a PI requests funding for trainees.

    7) Mandate that all institutions eligible for federal funding allow postdocs (and possibly graduate students) to be sole Principle Investigators on grants which they write if they choose.

    8) Forbid the hiring of scientists/researchers/faculty based on marital status. This practice is nepotism: it is deplorable, without merit, greatly reduces innovation and productivity in science and probably also violates equal opportunity laws – certainly in spirit if not in letter.

    9) Remove “trainee” (student and postdoc) salaries/stipends from research grants and make them all competitive fellowships, or (but this second one has some problems) give the money to institutions to pay student stipends with so that individual professors do not do the hiring or control the trainee’s employment/salary/benefits directly.

    10) Fund “Innovation Incubators” for postdocs (but with independent researcher titles) to work in common labspace, no offices, and using core facilities to pursue our research without a faculty boss. These researchers could do a lot with such limited resources, as long as we have independence. We could pursue our own funding and even stay in those positions if we don’t feel the need to seek higher titles – just remain productive in that job indefinitely. Those of us who want a larger lab of our own can use the position to create preliminary data and apply for grants to do it – either to “earn” more lab space at the same institution or apply for positions at other institutions.

    11) Limit the number of employees that an individual faculty scientists (or “permanent” scientists in federal agencies and national labs) lab can have – limit on grad students, postdocs, and technicians. Possibly only limit trainees (grad students and postdocs). This will allow faculty scientists to actually focus more on science and less on administration of large laboratory empires. Often the lab bosses are disconnected from much of the research going on in the largest labs. This causes an ackward situation whereby the indepdent scientist (postdoc, etc.) who conceived and conducted the research must add the boss to a senior position on the grant or publication artificially, thus making it impossible to distinguish whose ideas they were and who did the work, further exacerbating the difficulty for the employee to get their own independent position and lab. This situation has a severely negative impact on the innovation per dollar of federal funding.

    Like · · Share
    3 people like this.

    National Postdoc Union ALSO: all employees should be paid the full amount budgeted in the original grant. When they write grants, the ybudget X amount for a postech, for a studentech, etc. However, they don’t advertize the salary and try to negotiate it down. That’s a farce because the agency GAVE them that money FOR the person they hire, so that person should be paid all of it.
    July 22, 2012 at 4:31pm · Like

    National Postdoc Union Anything that gets faculty out of their offices and into the labs is a plus. I think limiting the size of labs can help with that. Instead of being incentivized to constantly grow their laboratory enterprise with more and more students and postechs/postemps/postdocs…. once faculty reach the funding limit, the result could be “ok, you have money, now GO DO SOME RESEARCH WITH IT!”
    February 7 at 4:02pm · Like

  39. A number of these are great. Some are not (for example, would your #8 eliminate spousal hires as part of a negotiating process, and thus further exacerbate the ‘two-body problem’ that we have fought for so long to address?).

    Which do you think would address what happened here, and, in particular, the cultural problems of academic science? #9 seems like it might, for example. But that’s indirect, and certainly doesn’t address the family-ism that is so rampant (and, as I mentioned above, #8 would only make that culture worse).

    Furthermore, how can something like the NPU (and really, as this is about things experiences as a grad student, there needs to be an equivalent body for grad students) actually affect change?

    I ask as, I really want to try and figure out how we can stop this sort of eating of our young. What are concrete and *realistic* actions that can be taken now by members of the academy at all levels?

  40. I have been the victim of what might be over-compensation for the “2-body” or “familyism” problem – at LEAST twice at the same institution, probably many more times. Nepotism (which is what spousal hiring is) is a poor and unethical “solution” to the issue of two married people wanting to have … not just a career, but the holy grail of career positions each. Isn’t it a bit narcessistic to think that all couples automatically each both deserve tenure track positions upon request?

    Consider these scenarios:
    1) The department decides not to hire the primary recruit and the spouse. What of the spouse? So now we have a home
    with one spouse bringing in a new faculty salary, both of them are likely covered under the one person’s healthcare plans
    and other benefits. The unemployed spouse has access to their spouses lab, University resources (core facilities, library,
    etc.). They have a home and bills paid. With these resources, they can likely continue much or at least some of their
    research endeavors, continue to apply for positions at that or a nearby institution as they come up and likely even write
    grants submitted through the department as PI on a guest appointment of some sort and possibly even leverage a position of
    their own with said grants. Hell, their spouse might even be able to hire them as a postech, adding an additional small
    salary to the home. What of the top candidates who were not the trialing spouse? Well, one of them will get the
    opportunity of a lifetime they have been dreaming of: a tenure track position and a lab of their own. Happy day! Rightly
    so, they’ve EARNED it!

    2) The department decides to hire the primary recruit and the spouse. Yay, happy day for the cute couple. What of the
    spouse? Well, they’ve now got the holy grail of all science positions, a tenure track faculty position with a lab of
    their own, healthy startup package (around a million or more invested in the average hire including startup package,
    salary, benefits, etc.), the home how has TWO faculty salaries – and all is “right with the world”. HOWEVER: What of the
    candidates whose qualifications outweighed those of the spouse. who don’t have a leading spouse of their own to leverage a
    position for them? Well, they’re unemployed. No salary, no benefits, no way to pay their bills, etc. Not ONLY that: BUT
    they NOW also have no way to continue even the smallest shred of their research. They languish for a year or more longer,
    not being able to publish or apply for most federal grants or generate preliminary data. Some of their projects fall to
    the back burner of their collaborators, some may even be scooped in the mean time. All the while, this person looks
    “unproductive” and they fall under the trap of the self (or departmentally/societally) fulfilling prophecy that they are
    not qualified because they’re not being productive – thus making it even harder to land the next position.

  41. As for the other elements of the science career prospect improvement plan (and I would say, innovation improvement plan): They all synergistically work together to create a much better academic science enterprise. More core facilities help provide tech jobs for scientists who are interested in those sorts of careers (stable and not dependent on individual faculty grants or whims) and also provide resources for less funded or earlier stage/younger faculty. More core facilities and a larger % of university research space being common use also reduces the pressure for each individual researcher to bring in tons of money to replicate things as if they are starting their own company or lab independently (which, being tenure track faculty is FAR from starting a business – I know). Thus, with less funding pressure on individual researchers, the funding RATE can be increased and more researchers can be funded with the same amount of funds. Thus, it makes the suggestion of limiting total annual funding per researcher a lot easier to manage. The latter also directly helps create career funding for MORE researchers, thus more scientists can have careers in science research. Eliminating tenure directly helps younger scientists get their foot in the door, and allows departments to stay fresh and till the soil, as it were. Removing trainee funding from grants and forcing institutions to let postdocs be PIs of grants they write provides obvious and necessary academic freedom and the opportunity for these scientists to begin funding their own research and thus establishing their own research careers. It also helps postdocs and grad students break away from bad “mentors” (I don’t use the term mentor for faculty, only faculty boss which is more accurate and less subjective). Anonymous grant submissions (where the reviewers do not know the identity of the submitter) also helps younger, less established and possibly more controversial researchers have a better chance of getting funding based on the RESEARCH rather than the old boy network or politics – so, this is an obvious benefit to young scientists and to science and innovation overall. Limiting the size of labs (number of students and postdocs under any one faculty or researcher) accomplishes a number of important things such as: 1) preventing faculty from holding onto students or postdocs too long intentionally, 2) preventing a few labs from sucking up all the resources/grants from a particular field, 3) allowing space for newer researchers to enter particular fields and sub-fields, 4) helping those FACULTY by providing them with a justification to actually get in their own labs and do some research. Once they’ve reached the max (also note the other ideas above to alleviate the need for such large grants), it no longer makes sense to stay in their office or at meetings to get more grants. You got the money, time to do some work now. …… ok, speaking of work, I have a ton left to do for today and it is time for me to get back at it. If anyone is interested in my science reform ideas further, maybe the NSF should hire me to formulate a policy and submit it to Congress! :)

  42. This kind of post makes me feel a little bit sick; sounds like so many people who expect things to be handed to them because they are good people and have a 40hr/week job.

    If one wants to be successful and have a strong career, especially in a field like academia, one has to work more than 40 hrs/week. If you only want to put in 40hr/week and go home and play with your family and never have to think about work and its responsibilities, find a mindless job. Immense dedication is required for work related success, and once you achieve success there are even more responsibilities that you must be prepared to meet if you are to maintain your career.

    If you can’t afford a family, including good education & health care for your children, wait on having them. Think things through before moving forward. You can’t always have everything you want or expect to have it all and moan about it when it doesn’t work out. And you can’t expect people to cry for you after you chose a path of supporting a family and of having a career in academia, both of which require more dedication and time than you were prepared to offer.

  43. I would note that not all spousal hires come at the expense of another candidate. These positions often represent new lines – often at least partially funded out of a different pool from the department’s faculty lines. I understand that spousal hires create issues and I feel conflicted about them sometimes myself but I also see their benefits to departments. It’s a tool to help recruit and retain good faculty. It can also be a tool for growth in departments when they don’t cut into faculty lines. I think the idea that “spousal hire = no job for someone else” is too simplistic, at least broadly – I’m sure it happens but that isn’t what I’ve observed.

  44. If they spend money on the spousal hire, that money could be spent on a real legitimate open search for other more qualified candidates (which they would get in a national search, just based on statistical probability if nothing else). So yes, in EVERY case it represents a lost opportunity for someone more qualified and who has probably worked a lot harder to earn the position. I guess one could argue that if it is a courtesy appointment where no money is involved, it’s not a lost opportunity – but still, they wouldn’t do that for ME (I am unmarried, which is very hard to be in this country) so it still really is working against my career prospects. Nonetheless, getting something because of you you’re related or married to is ENTIRELY unethical and should be illegal. (may actually BE illegal – equal opportunity employment laws and all that?)

  45. The best of luck in your new adventure and my sympathy goes beyond that because I feel I am hitting the wall as well as my postdoc is finishing.
    Lack of options in permanent jobs as well as lack of funding in combination of “new and better” policies from federal agencies are killing the science community everywhere. Young scientist without options means a waste of resources but even more seriously a waits of social well-been in the long term.


  46. A lot more has been written on this that I could easily cite in one reply, so, this search is a nice starting point. The essentials are a) it is rarely as black and white an issue as you are laying out and b) forcing people to chose an academic career or having a family as you suggest is actually one of the things at the root of problems like Kevin was citing. Also, c) much of the time, that spouse is a smoking hot scientist (and I’ve seen numerous instances where their science is even hotter). Essentially, I think the hard work that university’s have put in to improve our culture shouldn’t be first on the firing line when considering reforms to the system. There’s a reason that we’ve moved towards it, and a number of very sensible policies in place at some – but not all – universities to prevent its abuse. Things like fair pay for work and addressing the abuses that are swept under the rug at the current time are far more promising and more necessary places to deal with now.

    Like I said, a lot of your proposals have great merit. Figuring out the most achievable and most pressing is going to be key. So, how do we do it?

  47. Really VC? Only people who sacrifice family, work-life balance, and perhaps sanity are the ones who should be allowed in academia? They are the only ones whose ideas are worthwhile? Because that is what you are saying– it’s ok to exclude those who can’t meet an arbitrary (not talent-based) threshold for number of hours worked.
    I hardly think the dichotomy you describe (work significantly >40 hrs per week OR “never have to think about work and its responsibilities”) is reality-based, and frankly it’s condescending.
    It seems to me that diversity in all senses of the word (gender, race, ethnicity, academic background, age, and family status, to name a few) ADDS VALUE to a work place, especially one focused on the innovation of ideas.

  48. Makes you feel a little bit sick? So, you think the system should be set up so that academics have to work as much as they possibly can just to get/hold a job? You think that situation is healthy for those individuals, will attract top flight scientists in the future, or make the institutions they work for better? A bunch of disgruntled employees that wish they have time for their family, but have to put in 80 hrs/week or they will be out of work? You propose that if they don’t like it they should go “find a mindless job”. So its either work constantly in academia or go find a mindless job? Don’t you think it is possible that there is some middle ground? Don’t you think academics should benefit from workplace laws? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to send my kids to a university populated by strange anti-social single males that don’t think about anything but their work – and I bet the rest of the tuition-paying public doesn’t want that either.

  49. It is preposterous to maintain and impose this sort of archaic thinking about academia. This isn’t the 1950’s. Women are increasingly seeking positions in the sciences and in academia in particular. This fundamentally shifts the practice of academia, as formerly, stodgy white men could work 80 hour work weeks while their wives stayed home, bearing their children and managing their family. The purchase of a home and the support of a nuclear family could be achieved on postdoc or professor pay. This way of life is very much a thing of the past, and academia must evolve to accommodate the changing face of the highly educated.

    The idea of “waiting on having” children until you can afford them also identifies you as completely out of touch with what life is like for the modern early career scientist. The academic path is one of ridiculous poverty. Graduate students make between 10 and 25K per year, postdocs in the biological sciences are lucky to net 45K. Asking what are apparently intelligent people to work endlessly on that kind of pay is beyond insulting. We are not monks and martyrs. Furthermore, postdocs are not guaranteed maternity or parental leave, and things like giving birth may not be covered by insurance, if you have it/can afford it on the pittance that is postdoc pay. If a student enters a graduate program immediately after undergrad, takes 2 postdocs, and waits until they achieve tenure to bear children, they will be 40 (And that is assuming they follow a traditional path, with no time away from school). Biologically, not the hottest time for women to be having children.

    Academia must change to reflect societal change, and to stop the bleed of good men and (especially) women out of science.

  50. You clearly didn’t even read the two scenarios. At no point did I even come close to suggesting that people choose between family and career. It is unrealistic to believe that when the vast majority of us can’t get ONE of these cushy tenure track positions, that two married people should be able to find TWO of them at the same institution/department. Thus, spousal hiring is a completely artificial system which is unfair for us who would be THRILLED with ONE such position. Why not ask the spouse of the person being recruited to “endeavor to persevere”? That’s what YOU and the rest of academia are telling ME and the vast majority of OTHER scientists to do. Why should one’s marital status entitle them to preferential treatment?

  51. Thank you for sharing your story. The message of putting family, security, and happiness first is not heard enough.

  52. I haven’t read all the comments so perhaps this has already been noted, but tacit in this post is some of the class disparity in science and success (really any field but we’re talking about science). I often contrast the class differences between my wife and myself. She came from wealth and her parents paid for her private schools, K-12, her undergraduate and graduate education. She has 0 debt. I funded my own college education, paid for my time on internships with credit cards that I’m still paying off now. The result is that I have considerably more debt than my wife. When I hit the wall of my post-doc ending, we have no luxury of living off savings because all our money goes into debt. I too must put providing for my family first. I don’t know Kevin’s situation, but in my imagination it’s similar. That his and his family’s debt aren’t from buying a yacht on credit, but a slow trickle of pennies that never would have needed to be spent if family money supported them instead, like it did my wife and many others. The advantages of wealth cascade throughout our lives, and I can’t help but wonder if Kevin didn’t have debt, maybe he could stick it out a bit longer and stay in science. But at the end of the day, we’ve all got mouths to feed and bills to pay. To accuse him of just not working hard enough seems ludicrous to me. I don’t think that being wealthy is a simple pass to success, but it only confirms the basic notion that those who come from privilege will probably not have to work as hard as those who come from poorer circumstances to succeed in any given field.

  53. Excellent point! I am a first generation college student from a very middle-income family, who applied to a single in-state university when I finished high school. The idea of applying to a more prestigious out-of-state or private school was unimaginable to both myself and my family (and lets not pretend like this doesn’t matter for success in academia…) Navigating college without much guidance was hard enough, but trying to figure out how to position myself for graduate school was nearly impossible (to be frank, it took until the end of my sophomore year to be informed how one becomes a practicing scientists and university professor.) Professors were incredibly intimidating, the concept that you could actually work for them was something I didn’t even consider! Luckily, my university had a program which encouraged willing and excelling students to do research (and actually paid them, something that was a must for me, as I paid my expenses through college).

    Economic disparity certainly plays a role. The student with family income that allows them to volunteer in labs, pay to do field courses, etc. certainly has an upper hand as them move through the academic system.

  54. Looking forward to your successful brewery my friend. Best of luck in Svederhosenlandia!!!!!!

  55. Dr Multiple Resolutions Dude, get a fucking grip. The things that you think went wrong for you personally, and the convenient solutions that optimize your own outcome, are a limited way to solve a problem. Regarding spousal hiring, beyond the obvious 2-body problem… Nobody has a “right” to professorial employment at University of State. Full stop.

    The other trolly pants dude- sure, academics is hard and isn’t for everyone. And there ARE a lot I whiners. Even lazy and stupid ones. But that still leaves a truckload of hard working, smart, contributing scientists who also want a smidge of balance. Don’t be a dick about that. We’re out of whack in science right now and it is an industry built upon extensive exploitation of the young apprentices. We should not continue to reinforce that.

  56. Hey, I don’t actually read this site, but someone sent me to this post. I just wanted to say that you’re fucking awesome, and I love that you shared this with people. I have recently decided to quit grad school after a load of shit hit the fan and I slumped into a depression I thought/think I can’t get out of. Hearing other people’s stories has really helped me, and I hope I can figure out my way like you have. Best of luck with the brewery and healing all of the grad school wounds!

  57. Great post which rang true with me, it took me a very long time to find out my true career, and although I love it I still struggle with “having it all.” The best advice my Dad ever gave me is “family first.” Best of luck with the brewery and your impact on this community has been immensely important and will continue to make a difference.

  58. My point is that the money used on spousal hires often does NOT come from money that would have been used for other hires. Schools often use different pools of funding to enable spousal hires and not hiring those people does not free up a position for anyone – the money might go to entirely different institutional uses. Whether those uses would be better or worse than another hire – who knows? It’s pretty rare that a spousal hire gets a position someone else could have gotten. It happens I’m sure but just saying “get rid of spousal hires” is a simplistic way to open up the job market. I say this as someone who does not unreservedly think spousal hires are a great idea and who will never be in a position to be part of a spousal hire. I just think the animosity directed at these hires is damaging. We want to improve the climate in science – as this post clearly demonstrates we need a better climate both so we don’t destroy those that follow this path and so we get the best science done. Attacking other job seekers just feels too much like we’re turning on each other rather than working to make the system more humane for everyone. I really do understand the anger and frustration but don’t think the response on this issue is constructive.

  59. It is money that COULD be used to hire on an open, honest and ethical national search – and SHOULD be used as such. Why would an institution ever not want to use every penny to recruit the absolute best they can get from the largest possible pool? Don’t they owe that to the people whose public funds they are using?

    Nepotism is always wrong, immoral, unethical and has many victims regardless of how one attempts (and always fails) to justify it. It also sets a terrible moral example for the public and younger scientists “you just gotta marry into it”.

    It also is not a legitimate justification for recruiting the primary spouse (married to the trailing spouse). There are some things that should just be off limits. What next? Would you offer those candidates jobs for their friends and other family members? Cars? A beer budget on the school’s dime? What if they asked for some students to come over and mow their lawns or clean their houses? Anything goes to get who you want? What kind of ridiculous lawless oligarchy/monarchy are you running anyhow?

  60. This is very true. Once I had a family the unsupportive (and often combative and exclusive) scientific community that I had encountered began to feel empty in comparison. Although my personal relationships with individuals in science have been lovely, there was never much to them because we were all so busy. Getting hostile responses to submitted publications by anonymous reviewers, having people challenge your research in a disrespectful and public way at meetings and in job interviews…I started to feel like I wasn’t even wanted. After a break I got some perspective and realized I do have a unique perspective to bring to the scientific table. But as a new postdoc (with a new baby), I did not have the ego to see it. Now I am a lecturer with a benefitted gig and a halfway decent salary and that teaching perspective makes me realize how much a mentor would have helped the green shoot of a scientist that I was. But where could I find a mentor? Most of the tenured profs were running around crazy keeping balls in the air. It did not look like a wonderful life to me. My job now allows me plenty of family time, but I honestly feel like there are many in my department that I have to hide my happiness from. If they see me smiling they will say something mean and condescending. I think I confuse them. Refusing to join the circus is different from not passing the audition for the circus.

  61. I’m really glad to see this post as well as the discussion it has generated! I finished a B.S. degree in 2009, graduated with honors, and generated some really great academic references. Nonetheless my efforts to begin graduate school in the wildlife field have been met with little more than one brick wall after another. It seems that most potential advisors don’t have the time or desire to even formulate a response, much less an intelligent or polite reply to a potential graduate student.

    I’ve gone above and beyond run of the mill emails in an effort to secure a M.S. assistantship by attending professional conferences and sending actual letters. I’ve even gone to visit potential advisors in person. They’ve all told me they don’t have any room at this time, but keep in touch.

    It’s easy enough to give up on contacting professors individually in favor of waiting for an position posting. But everyone else sees these posts too, and they all apply! Even with applicable research experience, an excellent GPA, academic references, and GRE scores to match, it seems as though it is impossible to stand out as an applicant.

    It’s been really frustrating, but thus far I’ve just kept my nose to the grindstone and have continued working entry level wildlife research positions well telling myself one day my research experience will finally make my application stand out.

  62. I would not suggest graduate school. Lots of better ways to have a career in science – at least as good as grad school. If you are paying attention to these posts, it is clear that a PhD doesn’t help one’s career at all these days – just a waste of one’s 20’s.

  63. Thank you for sharing so much of your personal experience in “the walk of science”. Sad but true: I’m sure that most of us have experienced one or several of the things you mention at some point of our careers. Every year I see many talented and hard working aspirants quitting science because of the poor career prospects. As I always say to my students: science is beautiful, but academia is cruel; think twice, before entering the path of the scientific treadmill.

  64. Thank you for sharing your story! Sometimes I feel like I am the only one that has been literally chastised for having even a small life outside of grad school. While I have not quit my program…yet…I did make the decision to move out of state to be closer to family and work for somewhat “real” pay while I finish up my writing. It just simply became more and more ludicrous to justify paying the school every semester so that I could maintain an assistantship that essentially paid me less than minimum wage (it was probably my mistake for figuring up my “hourly” wage based on the number of hours I put in over the last 5 years). Now at least I can support myself and I am not longer going further into student loan debt. Of course this decision was met with great disdain, but luckily my “mentor” really needs my pubs, has no motivation to take them on herself, so has been willing to begrudgingly accept this arrangement.

    I came to this decision after 5 years of spinning my wheels with what felt like zero guidance or professional development except to make comments regarding my personal life. For instance, after a miscarriage where medical intervention was needed, I was told “now probably isn’t the right time to be having a child anyway if you want a career”. She also had the audacity to say that I “need to start telling (my) family ‘no’…” after taking 2 weeks off to provide end-of-life care for my grandmother. My family heeded her wish to stay home, and I literally administered meds and held her while she passed. Never mind that my adviser was not paying me, I had been funding myself through a teaching assistantship the entire year, was not committed to teach again for another 2 months, and had completed all of my data collection.

    And these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it came to unsolicited “advice”/criticism…where was all her good advice when I had questions about my experimental design, statistical analysis, question framing, professional development, mentoring??? I can tell you it was not and has not been there…in fact I was often met with weird, uncomfortable blank stares, followed by a “hmmm, I think you need to go back to the lit”. That’s when I would want to scream “For Christ sake lady, I HAVE BEEN through the damn lit and I still have these freakin’ questions…why the hell do you think I am asking you?!?!?!”

    OK, enough with my rant. I still struggle with what path I would like to go down once I am finished. Do I try to trudge the academic path because I still have an inkling of passion for science and the drive to create an experience for my own students very different than the experience I have had?

    But thanks again for this great post and I hope things like this perpetuate a continuing dialogue on the subject. I know of way too many great scientists that have thrown in the towel, and both research and students are missing out because of it.

  65. Your post really speaks to me BOTANIST.
    I was first generation to go to college and blindly thought in-state was the only option. I also completely had the same experience with not being able to work for free but I lucked into an undergraduate research project.
    Science doesn’t pay the bills really and I’m rethinking my future and hoping there’s something out there that will pay me a fair wage for my work and allow me to have a savings account to lower my anxiety.

  66. I couldn’t reply to the comment above but I just really wanted to say two (ok 3) things.
    1) I’m not running anything!
    2) That gets to one of my main points – there are systemic problems and attacking other job seekers is not the most helpful way to deal with these problems. Rather than worrying about the small number of spousal hires that are *maybe* (pt 3) taking positions from other job seekers, we should worry about the overall shortage and ways to address it. By the way I really like some of these ideas particularly the core facilities concept.
    3) These funds are often creating new faculty lines – not taking up existing ones – and in those cases they are actually expanding the pool of jobs available.

    Ok – I’ll stop – our comments on this topic aren’t the point of this blog post but I had to respond to the idea that I got to run even a minor principality much less a full-fledged oligarchy.

  67. BOTH of the spousal hires that screwed me out of a job (yes, I was more qualified than both on numerous metrics) were hired in positions for which there were fake advertisements posted. So, lots of others like applied like me, but for nothing since we weren’t sleeping with the right people, we could have been Linus Pauling and still not hired.

    That is 2 that I KNOW of (and have records to prove it), and that’s just 2 at ONE institution, and just 2 positions that *I* applied for. I know of MANY others who got their cushy tenure track or other faculty positions (good pay, benefits, startup packages, their own labs and better treatment than others with similar titles starting in the same departments) only because of who they were married to. Disgusting.

    Turns out, the departments are required by LAW to advertise and interview at least 2 people. Ask yourself: why would this be a legal requirement, if it were perfectly acceptable to just hire who they wanted based on marital status? Why oh why would the law require the wasting of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours by university staff AND hundreds of members of the public (other PhD scientists also probably living on public funds who are spending many hours preparing their applications in hopes of a career making position) if it was determined long before the advertisement that you must be named “X” and be married to person “Y” to get the job? Could it just be that there IS something deeply morally wrong with this kind of nepotism??? Could it be that the public wants the BEST person for every dollar spent on hiring, not one good person and whoever they’re married to???

    You’re absolutely clueless.

  68. PS: You responded to entirely the wrong comment [ad hominem attack removed editor]

  69. Have you considered blogging about your new path? I’m sure there are lots of people who would be interested to see how your non-science career works out. Good luck!

  70. Kevin,
    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus and wish you all the best with your beer-brewing endeavours. I’m saddened to read about all the obstacles and trials you had to face in academia. All the more respect for you for turning this around.

  71. I know I shouldn’t rise to the bait but this is meant constructively and then I’ll stop.

    Yes, I realize it was a different comment I replied to and I noted that in my comment (no ‘reply’ button for the other comment). Calling me a moron doesn’t help make your case. Nor does it help to call me clueless nor does any of the other mudslinging make you look good or make your people more sympathetic to your positions. The truth is, as I acknowledged in the first comment I made in response to the spousal hire issue, I am conflicted about spousal hires (and no neither myself nor my partner have ever or will ever benefit from one). They are at best an imperfect tool but I was trying to point out that your black and white scenario didn’t capture all of those situations. I have seen plenty of spousal hires and they do not always work as you’ve described (e.g. they don’t always interviews, where the money comes from is often different, …). In response you insult me and don’t listen to what I’m saying. You don’t have to agree with me but the responses could be civil.

    This brings me to why I’m responding to this comment at all. I’ve read your comments here and on other fora and it’s clear you are really, really frustrated with academia. I get that – most people here get that – and honestly I’m sorry for the difficulties you’ve dealt with. These are difficulties that so many of us have dealt with and continue to deal with and having a conversation about them is helpful. However, insulting people who are trying to engage in dialogue with your comments will not get you where you want to go. Activism for postdocs – that is powerful and it’s really impressive what you’ve done in that regard but lashing out with insults at people (even people you think are wrong) is not going to make your case well. Alienating everyone who’s ever struggled with two career issues will not make things better for you or any other person seeking a job in academia. What I’m suggesting is that junior researchers need to come together to seek productive change not tear each other apart.

    I don’t know if you’ll be able to read this as anything other than more fuel to the fire and I fully expected to be called a moron again. I really hope though that you can recognize that how you’re expressing yourself on these fora is not the best way to advocate for the changes you would like to see. Again, I think many of the issues you raise are important and there are some good, creative solutions in your proposals but why would I work with you on these if any disagreement means I get called a moron?

    Alright, this is really my last attempt to respond to this constructively and I wish you well.

  72. Well said, Mac. Aaron – as I’ve said repeatedly, you’ve got some great points, and some that there can be legitimate argument about. If you really want to affect change, the ad hominems, false equivalencies, and other bad rhetoric that you are using to attack potential allies who *get* what you’re after are not going to get you very far. Your overarching goals are good, and a lot of people are right there with you, although you’ll have to be open for debate and discussion in a constructive way. I’m delighted to find someone who has the drive to really pursue this. But if you’re going to wage war by trolling comment threads in this manner, you’re going to have some real problems advancing your agenda. Please, think about the best way to accomplish what you’re shooting for and how you can bring allies and support to the table. To affect change, one needs power. To gain power, you need either people or money or both. Good luck. But do some thinking about what helps what you’re doing and what hurts it if your goal is to actually make a change.

  73. This is the chief editor at DSN. Consider this to be a warning, I will not tolerate ad hominem attacks. In the future, I will remove not only comments with attacks in them, but all your comments, and revoke future commenting privileges here at DSN.

  74. My apologies. I cannot seem to remove the comments. I would be happy to remove the shorter one as well as this comment that I am writing now.

  75. I think this is extreme stance to take don’t you. The system needs to be changed definitely and their multiple avenues to seek a career in science. However, I would not take an all or nothing approach as you do. More importantly we should be clear about what barriers, issues, and sacrifices will occur.

  76. Professor M.:

    The entire system needs complete re-structuring if it is to be anything but a joke, if it exists at all, in the future. What say you to the reform points posted above?

  77. I would highly recommend ignoring Mr. Dossey, who has made his personal disappointments and failures into what he believes to be a universal and meaningful case against academia (while managing to completely miss some of the most important problems plaguing the system).

    Science can definitely be a high stress/low reward occupation, but looking past the tunnel of academia can help! There are private jobs out there that require a PhD, pay well, and have normal hours and expectations! Not to mention, simply having a masters or PhD opens doors to fields you many not have considered (e.g. banking, statistical modeling for private industry, etc). Being strategic about your job options from the beginning of your graduate career is a skill that should be taught universally (though few professors have the experience to guide students in such endeavors).

  78. Aaron,
    Have you ever stopped to consider that one reason why you don’t get hired is because you are perhaps difficult to work with? My partner is a professor and refuses to hire anyone who speaks negatively of their previous advisors in public. Now, he recognizes that those complaints may be completely justified and their previous advisor really may be a complete jerk. It is also possible that for some reason, the student and previous advisor just didn’t “click” for whatever reason and the student is being really unreasonable. My partner does not want to risk bringing someone with a lot of negative energy to his lab who will potentially trash-talk him in public just because the student has bad interpersonal skills. It absolutely pains me to read your rants here and on ECO LOG, as it seems to me that you are completely killing any chance you may have of succeeding in science. Again, your complaints may be completely justified, but neither I nor anyone else I have talked to who also subscribes to ECO LOG would ever want to work with you based on the things you post there (and have repeated here), regardless of your publication record. Getting a job in science does require self-promotion and you might want to rethink your promotional strategy. That’s not to say you aren’t allowed to say anything critical (you should!), but you might want to reconsider the way in which you present your criticism.

  79. Dear Kevin (and fellow Deep Sea enthusiasts),

    I have been a silent follower of DeepSea News for several years, and I wanted to open with personally thank you for the time you have given to the biological community and DSN.

    Reading about your personal triumphs and perseverance (that is how I interpret your story) I have found great personal solace. While just now attempting to start a professional research career centered on ocean ecology, my transition I have felt has been exceeding difficult in the not so distant past.

    In the rough un-focused period between making a shift from a position as Fisheries Observer into the search for focus in applying to graduate programs and looking for advisors, I lost a family member in an incident which was ruled a homicide.

    During that time I was completely lost and devastated, and felt like giving up on my core dreams. DSN became a great place to read about the biology and the community I wanted to be part of….than I stumbled on your posts of personal quest and perseverance, I and felt I could truly relate. It helped me out of the professional and personal rut I felt like there was no escaping from.

    Onwards from that time I have been lucky enough to be mentored by senior scientists, and guided by faculty whom cared about the welling being of their students above all else. Despite the abrasive person I was becoming, scientists whom I turned originally only for career help greeted me with compassion. It is my belief that those kind words and understanding by biologists from my undergraduate to my possible future have been what has best kept me on track.

    Thank you and the other deeplings for being part of the positive force, I hope to see a deep sea themed beer in the future!

    Sincerely – Brandon M Genco

  80. It is a really touchy blog. I read myself between the lines. When I started to my Ph.D. I was a tad older than other Ph.D. students as I worked 7 year before I decided to go back to the school. I started my first Ph.D. in Europe. Unfortunately, I was pushed to leave. I don’t want to go into details but I was too pretty to be a Ph.D candidate unless I consider my relationship with my advisor. I felt strong enough to bring this conversation to the dean’s office. At that time I thought I won because I was moved to another lab. The thing I didn’t know I am in the big boys’ club. Second year, I was illegally kicked out of new lab. He (my new advisor) was nice enough to tell me that he needs to protect his position and he has kids to take care of. That is how he decided to break my contract. It is not my country and town. If my visa expires I cannot stay. But, I didn’t wait for a second: found a lawyer (free) and sat on the table with the university. My lawyer negotiated with the university. She took a huge amount of money and gave some of it to me. The university told me that I can either stay and study with a new advisor or start somewhere with my data and money I was given. It was 2006. I wondered around Europe. Someone told me that there is a wonderful program for me in US. Woohoo ..It is great to be wanted. I came to US at a department essentially swimming in big boys’ ego. The person who brought me to the department couldn’t except me as a student (again the look).That is why, I had a wonderful advisor who hated women but alcohol. He called me out with names. He gave me horrible grades. At his imaginary lab we would do everything for him. A lab mate (or maid) had to repair his roof and the other cut his grass. It was like hell literally. I was suicidal. The only smart thing I did was to find a co-advisor who was not located in US. I believe he was the only reason I was not kicked. I worked alone on my project. My advisor didn’t have a project.So, I continued whatever I brought. It was horrible not having a support. In boys’ club you are required to liqueur up!! I was the only “pretty lady” that everybody wanted to see me getting drunk. In the beginning I went to the drinking club where they discussed the science(only time and place). But, I was sexually assaulted by a professor who was single and younger. So, it is not sexual assault. I was feeling so lonely and hopeless. My counselor and some support lady professors who I trusted SOOO much told me to shot up. They were afraid that I will be alienated. He was stalking me and I was afraid. I talked to my office mate who is a wonderful friend and father of three. He was also alienated because of his family. He had family problems as well(some money related, some stress). He couldn’t spend as much time as others who are -without kids-. He and I stated a letter to this professor and bcced this email to other professors. It worked: freedom for a while. We forgot/didn’t know one thing:It was the other professor’s weakness (I learned later when I researched to see why some girls left his lab). He had a history of outing with his students (married with a kid. But he claims he will leave her over 15 years). Being in a very close community he knew where I lived. He visited me drunk and it was not very pleasant (even physical assault happened). I returned to my counselor, ombudsman and the dean. Meanwhile, my advisor’s drinking habits became uncontrollable. I was told to go back to my country and start a new life. I didn’t listen to any of them. I wanted this piece of paper. The department told me to find a postdoc and go there until they solve my advisor’s drinking issues. I was so happy. I started as a postdoc and later realized that the plan is just postponing my graduation so the visa will expire!! Are these things illegal? Can I prove? I tell you yes but cannot be proven in the boys’ club. I still wanted the paper. I got back to the school and brought my committee together including the one outside. They couldn’t kick me out at that point. A week later I was assigned a new advisor who I never saw before. He was at least nice and a family father. I formulated a totally different and wrong dissertation bc my new advisor never worked on my topic before not even close. I still had all the pressure coming from the department and the predator professor. He asked me second time if I go out with him. It will make my graduation WAAY easier. But I recorded some conversations this time. I took all those to the university officials. The officials were so concerned that I was gonna be alienated if I pursue legally.At the end, I was given the diploma.
    I found a postdoc position without any reference coming from that department. I have written three articles and a book. But, still my project as a postdoc was high risk high reward. Two years later a budget cut!! I am late 30s and nearly unemployed. I don’t have any money but all the investments I made for the Ph.D. I have all these stories that I cannot use in my resume to tell missing insides. And this is the platform I broke the news three news later even to myself.
    At this point I don’t know what to do. I still don’t know whether it was worth? I left a good job behind. I was someone became nobody.
    I have been humiliated so long that I am still trying to bring my confidence back. But there is always hope. If I have been here and writing these I am very resilient. I will leave these days behind !!
    Thank you Kevin!!

  81. Thanks Kevin. I loved your post. Exposing vulnerabilities is a sign of strong character. Your words will be healing to many. Cheers!

    To all: There are millions of equally valid life paths. The academic career is simply another way of providing food and shelter for you and your children, nothing more. Don’t make it out to be more than it is. “Everything is bullshit but the open hand”.

    Approach your life in a spirit of kind service and detachment and you will find infinite strength. You will be impenetrable!

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