Saturday, October 23, 2010

Alright, fess up...

...which of you sent our collective secret to PostSecret?


  1. I'm not the guilty party, because I've already wasted my twenties *plus* half of my thirties in the same way -- and I'm not even near the goal yet. (The postcard-creator should at least feel lucky that he/she evidently lives in a country where a Master's is not expected/required before entering a PhD program -- there's a whole chunk of my twenties, and those of my peers, gone right there.)

  2. That's why I'm opposed to grad school for most people - you want to "find yourself" go to Europe or work in a record store.

    [Written while listening to "AB/7A" by Throbbing Gristle.]

  3. How can it be a secret if we're constantly telling it to our students? They just won't listen: every last one of them thinks, "It won't happen to me."

  4. NOW you know why America is about to lose the preeminence in science it has enjoyed since the 1930s.

    The next human to set foot on the Moon will be from China. They say they're going to do it by 2020. Knowing how these things go, I'll give them until 2025.

    When it does happen, the powers-that-be in the U.S. will do much beating of the breast. It will make a hollow and unconvincing sound, because it's their own damn fault.

    You and I have to take the consequences, and in more ways than one.

  5. Wait Froderick, I don't get it. Because it takes 6 years minimum to get the Humanities degree that will get you that 70-hour workweek for $30K, the US will fail to send yet another person to the moon, when we might actually do better to find a cure for cancer, or for, say, our own scandalous health insurance system?

    Je suis confused.

  6. But Frod, the US has decided to go to Mars!

  7. Marcia: Read "Pale Blue Dot," by Carl Sagan, which addresses exactly the issue you bring up.

    Alan: I doubt that the U.S. is in fact going to Mars, anytime soon. We simply do not have the brains to do it anymore: nor cure cancer, nor develop new sources of energy, nor even take care of ourselves in any important way.

  8. The poster could have saved themselves a year and made three times the amount if they had gotten a PhD in one of the business-oriented disciplines.

  9. Thirty grand for 70 hours? Lucky duck.

  10. @texpat76 - yes, but then they would have had to get a PhD in one of the business-oriented disciplines. Perhaps that was not what their talents fit them for.

    @Marcia, with a nod to Froderick - absolutely. People don't remember or grasp how much pure research drives improvement EVERYWHERE, and how much the research that sent us to the moon, 40 years ago (sob) has benefitted us in thousands of ways and been the basis for countless "practical" benefits. To say nothing of what we could learn when we're actually out there. But it's never going to happen now, or not in the US.

    Disclaimer: I am a classicist; none of that space-race funding was going to go directly to me or my students. But I am very far from thinking that it was money wasted, and it breaks my heart that the US is not ever going to do it again.

    When I was a girl I thought I was going to be an archaeologist on Mars. That was my dream job. The space program let me down :)

  11. @Merely: If you haven't read it, see "If the Sun Dies," by Oriana Fallaci. I guarantee you'll enjoy it.

  12. @Marcia: Back to the original point, see here:

    "Thanks for the great postdoc bargain"

  13. @Marcia: you are making the common error of seeing scientific research as a zero-sum game. It isn't: activity in one field stimulates activity in other fields, often in unpredictable directions. For example, if Wilhelm Roentgen had originally set out to do something to help doctors heal broken bones, he might have been working on formulas for quick-drying plaster for casts: he'd have never been working with electrical equipment, with which he serendipitously discovered X-rays.

    As Carl Sagan noted in “The Gift of Apollo,” the chapter in “Pale Blue Dot” I recommend you read (but it isn’t half as good as “If the Sun Dies,” partly because of Oriana Fallaci’s more lyrical prose, but mainly precisely because she wasn’t a scientist, so her arguments are free of self interest and therefore more credible):

    “What?, I sometimes ask myself in amazement: Our ancestors walked from East Africa to Novaya Zemlya and Ayers Rock and Patagonia, hunted elephants with stone spearpoints, traversed the polar seas in open boats 7,000 years ago, circumnavigated the Earth propelled by nothing but wind, walked the Moon a decade after entering space—and we’re daunted by a voyage to Mars? But then I remind myself of the avoidable human suffering on Earth, how a few dollars can save the life of a child dying from dehydration, how many children we could save for the cost of a trip to Mars—and for the moment I change my mind. Is it unworthy to stay at home, or unworthy to go? Or have I posed a false dichotomy? Isn’t it possible to make a better life for everyone on Earth and to reach for the planets and the stars?”

    Not that this argument matters in the slightest anymore. NCLB has given us a generation of kids who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough not to know how badly they’re being shafted, to paraphrase George Carlin.

    Ever read, “The Children of Men”? Remember the scene in the beginning, when the nurse in the obstetrics ward suddenly notices that no one is making appointments? It’s much like that in the sciences in American universities today. Almost no students entering science anymore are born in the U.S.A.: they have wised up to the exploitation that’s become the norm in the sciences in the last 2-3 decades, not that many of them still have the ability to practice science, anyway. Virtually all the entering students are now foreigners, or recent immigrants. This might not matter, as long as they keep immigrating: but of course, we’ve done our best to saw off that branch on which we’re sitting, too.

  14. Frod et. al., I totally believe in pure research. I'm just unclear on why the "space race" is connected to nationalism (why not let China go to the moon while we go somewhere else or do something else?). I see what you mean that it's not a zero-sum game, though -- point taken. AND I have a hard time seeing scientists as hyper-exploited (the 6 yrs/$30K didn't sound like a science Ph.D. to me), so I guess I have some reading to do. Off to explore the final frontier, then: thanks for the linkage.

  15. @Marcia: Because symbols count. When China puts the next human on the Moon, it will be seen to signify their ascendancy: they've just done something difficult that the U.S. is no longer capable of doing. And come on, with NCLB, we're not going anywhere else, anytime soon.

    This is called "the sport of nations." Winston Churchill appreciated its importance: it was the main motivation for the Afrika campaign. It was the only theatre of war in which British troops could engage German troops face to face and have a chance of winning, and the British public needed this to keep up morale during the long war over and on the European continent.


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