The title of the article is: Nobel Prize winner behind Higgs-Boson says he couldn’t get an academic job today. (h/t Kip Manley)
My, oh my. Probably he couldn’t. Or at least not tenure. This following on the heels of my last post about things other than being good are important for getting funding (let alone a job). I remember when I was struggling as an asst. prof, seeing the likes of Prof Higgs taking up valuable lab space and having a lot of coffee and a lot of chats with colleagues whilst I was working my whatevers off. The article doesn’t talk about what stage he made his discovery, whether as a student or young faculty. What would or would not have happened to him is almost besides the point.
So, what is the point? Two things, I think. Firstly: standards change. Thats life, get over it. Funding is harder. Getting a job is harder (but you would be surprised at not that much in some fields – about 1/3 of my phd class got academic jobs). What you need to do for tenure hasn’t changed much since I was a jr faculty (really), but right now, funding is not as important as it was then. I see (and I am chair of the T&P committee in my dept) that the olde fartes are realizing that its not as easy to get money (yes, yes, I know this is not everywhere, but some MRU do perceive the problem). On the other hand, what you need to get into college is a boatload different from when I applied, back before the dawn of time. My MRU is tightening the requirements to become a full professor. That’s bizarre, but there it is. Yup, it is frustrating and anger and angst producing to be held to standards that others were not. Again, get over it, and stop wasting your precious life energy and bodily fluids on something that is, especially when you are at a point where you can’t change it.
Secondly, what needs to be, and how do we make it so for various things: the standards for getting a job, getting tenure, finishing a thesis, here and now. Things we can change. Is one big enormous major earth-shaking piece of work sufficient? Are you only as good as your last thing? Given point one, that things change, we all need to look at not only how they are changing, from the passive-this-is-being-done-to-me perspective, but also with the idea that you can effect change.
The discoverer of the Higgs-Boson was disillusioned with academics when he retired. I think thats pretty normal too. There is a lot of that in the Greatest/ Silent generation. The question is what do you do about that disillusionment? Stick your head in the sand till you are old enough to retire? Or do something about it? The world is going to change around you and its denizens maybe less worshipful, or even tolerant, of your incredible work from 30 years ago.
I’d rather try and make things better for those irritating gen-x-ers and arrogant millenials. I see a lot of good, and a lot of hope, even if I dont always get the music.
I guess that’s the theme for the end of the year: change is possible, and its worth working on.