Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it! … If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

These are the words of Jonathon Katz, Professor of Physics at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. Contrast them with those of Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University, UK. Athene writes a joyous blog about life in science, and actively promotes the role of women. In her opinion:

fulfilling [one’s] potential does not always mean sticking around in academia in the vain hope that a job will come up. Those of us sitting in academia will probably only be making decisions about jobs in academia … but that’s a tiny part of the world. There are so many places where smart scientists can deliver novel ideas and academia is just one small part of the ecosystem our multitalented early career scientists should be exploring.

So who is right? Well, both, really. Certainly Katz is right that there are many more PhDs in science than there are academic jobs for them in the U.S., and in most Western countries. But Athene is even more right in arguing that there are many places where a scientific training can be a great help in establishing a career.

I want to add one more argument in support of Athene. The more scientifically trained people that there are to populate the ecosystem that she talks about, the more chance there is of establishing the vaccinating network of scientists that I talked about in the last post – vaccinating us against pseudo-science, dangerous misinformation, cuckoo views of life and the universe.

So, if you plan to study science, go ahead. Become a graduate student if you can. Enjoy the moment, make a contribution, and, even more importantly, make contacts. The use them as you get out there and spread the word!

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