I read with disdain and a shaking head the letter from the editor of the Feb. 27 issue of C&EN. I wish to write in response to your request for feedback.
Maybe I’m a rare bird, but I viewed every stage within my education as an opportunity, not as an entitlement. In the field of science, as in the trades, one must pay his/her dues and learn as an apprentice before earning journeyman status. For most U.S. postdocs, that means a minimum training period of five years for the Ph.D. and two years as a postdoctoral fellow of an established tenured or tenure-track faculty member.
As a postdoctoral student, I was happy to earn my < $30,000 salary (mid-2000s), because it represented more than a 50% raise over what I earned as a graduate student at a top-10-ranked chemistry department. Tongue in cheek, I’ll admit that seeing the astronomical salaries U.S. postdocs earn now, I’m a bit jealous.
Although I could claim to be an expert in one diminutive subfield of chemistry as a Ph.D. graduate, I was still a student, not yet a scholar. This maturation process did not occur the moment my thesis committee shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Chamberland.” The work I did as a postdoc, such as mentoring younger students, taking on a leadership role, reviewing manuscripts and grant proposals, and working insane hours were all part of the gig. It was the last training period for the career I had worked toward for 25 years. I understood that.
Do today’s postdocs expect more? Do they need to be called a scholar too? Who cares. Just put your head down and get to work. If you do something of value, people will recognize you.