Are you a neuroscientist? Happy in academia? Want to do science...
May 26, 2013 5:36 PM   Subscribe

So I have been working in an entirely different field for the last years and was never entirely sure about what I wanted to do with my life. I am certain at this point that I want to work in a field which involves, you know, nervous systems. Unsurprisingly, I am thinking of academia.

I was wondering if any of you neuroscientists / cognitive neuroscientists / psychobiologists are actually happy in academia? Is anyone of you still in academia after the long road to getting a PhD and likes it? What is your daily work like? I am extremely interested in neuroscience and read textbooks / papers and so forth about it on a daily basis. You know, I suffer from one of those severely dangerous interests in doing science.

Oh, and did anyone here get into science later in life?

As I did something completely different thus far, I would have to start at the undergraduate level. I have no university degree at this point. I have applied for and got accepted into a broad-based natural sciences bachelor's programme which would allow me to focus on neuroscience/pharmacology, areas I am particularly interested in (there is no affordable neuroscience undergraduate programme I could find in my language or in English). They're actually doing research on psychedelics at this particular university, too, which is one of a broad range of areas which particularly tickle my fancy.

Note: I am from Europe and the university system here is a little different compared to the US (I assume most users here are US-based?). You have to do a bachelor's (3 years) plus a master's (2 years) plus a PhD here in that order. So that's what I would have ahead of me.
University education is, at least, a lot more affordable in the country/countries where I would like to study. The universities I am interested in have tuiton fees of max. 2000€ / year (abroad), some have ~500€ fees or no tuition fees at all (most in my home country, including medical schools). So doing what I am thinking of doing is at least less financially draining than it seems to be in the US or UK, for instance.

In the following paragraph I will ramble on about medical school as an alternative with less paranoia about actually getting a permanent job with a degree one puts a lot of effort into. Not a creative idea, I know, but whenever I read about something life sciences related, I am constantly hearing people say: 'Go to medical school, it will at least get you a job.' Basically, the same type of advice people ranging from Charles Darwin to Vilayanur S. Ramachandran have had to hear. You may probably skip this. So would anyone actually recommending 'brain science' as a career, despite the downsides?

The only alternative to the seemingly insane path of becoming a scientist in academia with my particular interests in mind would be medical school. Clinical work also seems interesting, not that the road to becoming a physician seems that much easier, but it is, at least right now where I live, extremely easy to get a job as a medical doctor. The work seems extremely demanding as well, but I am looking at a long, hard road of ~10 years either way (academia or medicine). I am primarily interested in psychiatry when it comes to medicine which is a specialty with perfect job prospects in my country at the moment. I could still do research going this route as well (for the aforementioned psychedelic research, one of my interests, it would be the best route, as someone who actually does psychedelics research told me). I guess I should mention that one does not need an undergraduate degree to get into medical school in my country. I have good chances of getting into medical school. Plus, I would almost be guaranteed entry into medical school by simply waiting a year or 1.5 years longer (there's a system in place in my country which makes it possible to be admitted after simply having enough 'waiting time' which means having accumulated enough semesters of not being enrolled in a university in my country.)
posted by epibatidine to Education (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My personal experience.

I have a PhD in neuroscience. I did that in New Zealand, came to the USA for one postdoc (3y), then another (4.5y), published a reasonable amount. Started interviewing for faculty positions not long into my second postdoc and consistently got down to the last few candidates and never quite made it. In the mean time, grant writing took up more and more of my time, I was working 50, then 60 hour weeks and felt like I was moving backwards. Looking around, there were fewer and fewer jobs and more and more candidates. Money got tighter and tighter (and my postdocs were both at good medical schools with excellent mentors). I dunno, I took stock and got out about three years ago. So much happier and less stressed.

FWIW I have a friend who killed his post-doc with multiple science+nature papers AND taught a lot and still took 3 years to find a faculty position. It's tough out there.

I miss doing science, though.
posted by gaspode at 6:09 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The happiest neuroscientist I know got his PhD, got an MBA, abandoned academia, and now pulls down a fat salary doing easy work for big pharmaceutical companies.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:57 PM on May 26, 2013

See, you haven't even started undergrad, and I certainly wouldn't dissuade someone who has not even begun his journey! You could be fascinated by neuroscience, become a superstar undergraduate whose enthusiasm is nurtured by professors who give you great research opportunities, and you could end up harnessing your ambition to have a great career as you go from superstar undergraduate to hot shot productive graduate student on to being a professor. So there is no reason for us to dissuade you before you've even started. Besides, a university degree will be worthwhile in and of itself.

But all this talk I hear about getting a PhD in neuroscience reminds me of the anecdote about how JP Morgan was asked how he knew to when to get out of the stock market and avoided the crash of 1929, and he replied, "When the bell boy gave me stock tips." I don't know what it was-- maybe when Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works" became a best seller, when everyone became an armchair evolutionary psychologist, and when "advances in neurobiology" started being used as justification to advocate right wing Republican policies in David Brooks columns-- but somehow I think we have gotten saturated with neuroscience. It's what "everyone" wants to do, down to the person who hasn't even gone to college and appears on AskMe to ask about a career in it.

I can't claim direct knowledge of the state of the neuroscience job market, specifically, other than a knowledge of how tough the basic science job situation is, in general. But going into neuroscience now seems like the same as people who went to journalism school after being inspired by Woodward & Bernstein or those who went into "IT" during the era-- and already saturated job market seeing a flood of entrants who are coming in too late.
posted by deanc at 7:24 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Echoing that it's tough out there for a neuroscientist. If you want to be poised to be a top candidate (and I've been an observer on Ivy cog neuro tenure-track hiring committees) I'd actually suggest a more quantitative undergrad-- something like math or physics or engineering. It's weird, but that's the odd sort of thing that apparently makes a candidate stand out to top flight Ph.D. programs, then to great labs for a postdoc, then to great faculty positions.

Or if you get an engineering undergrad, maybe even a Master's, then you'll have something to fall back on that isn't the lottery of tenure-track academia positions.

If you're serious about a good academic career, I'd also drop the psychedelia stuff. That handicaps you... a lot. You might as well be doing research into homeopathy or psi with Bem at Cornell. That sort of thing is for already-established faculty who can afford to be a little crackpot-y. No offense, but you're probably not the next Darwin or Ramachandran.

(As deanc alluded to, the sad fact is that a lot of people consider themselves to be reasonably well-informed about cognitive psychology and neuroscience. They don't know that they're stuck a hundred-plus years ago, studying cognition through introspection. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You're going to run into that.)

In short, it's totally possible to make an academic career in neuroscience with a lot of hard work, a good background (i.e., solid undergrad) and a little luck. It also takes creativity. If you don't want to rely on creativity, or even luck, be an engineer or a doctor. (I say that lovingly, as a solid engineering-type.)
posted by supercres at 9:52 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be aware that a lot of basic neuro research requires one to kill animals by hand. This is no judgment, but I know a few people who started off wanting to do neuro, and ended up not being able to guillotine that hundredth rat. (They moved to other fields and are doing great.) I mention this just as one reality-check. There is a vast difference between the stuff that grabs you as an interested amateur and the kind of stuff your day-to-day will consist of if you become a specialist researcher. This goes for any long-term plan: if you pursue this dream, remain flexible, be willing to change plans as needed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 PM on May 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Have you done any work shadowing or work experience in a healthcare setting? Because although jobs as a doctor maybe easily come by, that's no use if you hate them. A broad-based natural sciences degree sounds like the more flexible option unless you really, really want to practise medicine. You should get some practical experience to help you decide.

Finally, if you are open to studying abroad, most US science phd programs offer the same levels of funding to both US citizen and international students. You can also get funding at postgraduate research level working in English at a number of European universities (although they may be somewhat restricted to EU citizens - not sure if that's an issue for you). This may give you a broader range of options once you have finished your undergraduate work.
posted by plonkee at 3:50 AM on May 27, 2013

I'm an academic biomedical sciences researcher in Europe and I love it, I'm good at it, and I have no idea if I can keep doing it beyond the end of my next job (which will be my second postdoc). Liking it almost isn't relevant any more in many European countries when it comes to staying employed in Academia. Note that this is somewhat different to the US, so take that into account when soliciting and/or reading career advice.

This will vary depending on which country exactly you're interested in but the European academic system is set up in most places so that you have a limited amount of time post-PhD where you can be employed as a post-doc, during which you need to get your IF>14 first author plus whatever teaching and research experience is necessary then gain your own funding and/or a tenured position to stay employed in the academic system. Where I current am in Ireland that time limit is either 4 or 6 years depending on which University, where I'm about to move to in Belgium it's 7 years post PhD. Some places take into account career breaks (e.g. having children), others say they do but in practise not so much. The other option is generally moving to industry in some fashion, often away from research, or leaving science altogether. I don't know what the options for this are in neuroscience specifically, but the people I know who have gone to industry recently (which is quite a few) often end up doing things not specifically related to their research field so it may not matter.

So think hard about how much risk you're prepared to take with your future. What countries are you likely to work in and what career structures exist in those countries? If you can't stay in academia what other options are there available in your locations and with the qualifications you're likely to get? You need to get a kick-arse PhD as your first step, how easy will that be? I assume you're European, definitely look into the possibilities for PhD projects or post-doc jobs all across Europe rather than just in your current location (Euraxess is a good place to look). If you're able to talk with current researchers in the subject areas and physical locations you're interested in do that, it's the best way to find out what kinds of opportunities really exist and what the job is really like. Use things like linkedin or nature network or whatever to find people to talk with, many researchers will happily answer email inquiries. Lastly, consider what you will do if you get part way into that undergrad degree and hate it or you're unable to get a MSc position or whatever, will it still open up jobs for you that make it worthwhile without following through the rest?

I don't want to scare you off. Biomedical research is awesome. I personally can't not try to carve out a career in this area. But the Academic career structure in Europe is also damn scary, don't go into it thinking you just need to work hard and enjoy your job to stay in it because there's a lot of luck and being brilliant involved too.
posted by shelleycat at 3:54 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a 5th year phd student in pharmacology. Going to share some thoughts. First, actually DOING science is way different than reading/learning/being interested in it. Doing scientific research can be soul-crushing at times. It is very likely to be the most frustrating endeavor you have ever embarked upon, and I don't say that lightly. Being good at science requires a lot more than intelligence. It requires insane perseverance. It requires you to be willing to fail all day, every day, sometimes for years on end. It is also incredibly tedious.

If I pushed myself to work harder I could have already graduated. I am delaying that until next May because all my friends that are graduating aren't finding jobs. I am trying to put a back up plan into place so that I can be gainfully employed in something when I am done.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love scientific research and consider this my passion. I am also fairly good at it (if that is even possible, honestly luck is hugely involved with success in science). But it's not something I can recommend. If you can see yourself doing ANYTHING ELSE I would do that.
posted by corn_bread at 6:12 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm going to try to give you a point of view from 2 different perspectives, if this helps.
This first perspective is as a person who used to teach biology (not any longer, left academia) to undergrad and grad university students.

Most students start out as an undergrad with a vision of becoming X in field Y. Along the way, though, many change their minds. Some of them get in front of a cadaver or blood or an animal, and just don't want to go on. Others find that they don't remotely like biology or science and that it has nothing to do with high school level bio or reading text books for lay people. It is okay to go part way through and completely change your mind as to what you are going to study. So if you haven't even started your undergrad studies yet, do go with a plan, start taking those intro classes, but give yourself permission to evaluate and change direction if you want to do so.

The other suggestion that I will give if you are planning to proceed onwards to grad school is to volunteer in a lab. Science in a text book has nothing to do with what you will do research wise. But you can do this as a first step to understand what life is like in a lab. It usually helps you get into grad school (you may have a publication or two and a recommendation from someone who knows you well). If you are in the lab as an undergrad, talk to grad students/postdocs to find out about their experience as a postdoc and what they would have done differently.

If you are debating whether to do med school, too, then volunteer at a health clinic and shadow people I did this last step and realized that I would have made a horrible doctor, people did not interest me as much as the science -- it is okay to decide a path is not for you before you invest years and years doing something.

Now part 2, and this is from the perspective of doing the PhD and also watching colleagues who often went on and did postdocs.

Be careful with this: " I am extremely interested in neuroscience and read textbooks / papers and so forth about it on a daily basis. Y"

The love of the subject matter is not the same as doing research, at all. You know the really fascinating information you may read in a paper about receptors? Each sentence may have taken someone ten years of work, doing the same experiment over and over and over again. You may also love research, but just realize that loving to read textbooks is not the same thing. You may not be able to evaluate if you do or do not love research until you are part way through your PhD.

You also may be underestimating the time that this takes (I noticed you are estimating 10 years from undergrad through grad school). To get an academic position in this field usually requires not just one but a *few* postdocs. During those postdocs, the "salary" is very low. You may not want to keep on having the low salary 10 years from now.

Even though I just said all this, I can't say whether you will or will not love the career or be successful, but these statements are just so that you can be aware of the challenging aspects of this.

I was wondering if any of you neuroscientists / cognitive neuroscientists / psychobiologists are actually happy in academia? Is anyone of you still in academia after the long road to getting a PhD and likes it?

Upon preview, I realized I didn't really answer this. I'm going to give a stab at the "happy in academia" although I only stayed there 2 years after the PhD.

I was lucky and got what I wanted (faculty position, small college and then a larger university). I had other job offers, too, including tenure track positions.

However, all the jobs were in very small towns in places that I did not want to live. For me, it was very very isolating. This was one reason that I decided I didn't want to do it anymore. But the one thing I never realized pregrad school was that you could get a job, but ...not be able to remotely pick where you wanted to live.

Don't know if this last part will help, but as mentioned above, people leave academia after completing the PhD. You don't often hear about this part and when I was a grad student, it was taboo to even think about a nonacademic career.

I asked an ask meta years ago and many people who responded also had PhDs in the sciences, including neuro, and gave their perspectives about other careers outside academia. If you go this route, keep an open mind because you may find yourself changing careers later on. It happens to many people after completing the PhD, or the second or third postdoc.

posted by Wolfster at 7:22 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Excellent answers so far. Keep them coming, please.
posted by epibatidine at 8:01 AM on May 27, 2013

IANANeuroscientist but a lot of my friends are. There is a wide range of job satisfaction - I know several "lifers" who are now doing postdocs with fancy fellowships and I also know someone who got their PhD in neuro, immediately left academia and now works at a high-end yarn store (and is much happier).

It is totally possible that you would end up being one of the people who thrives in this field, but it's really impossible to tell if you've never done neuro research before. Ultimately, being smart and interested in neuroscience of course helps, but it won't sustain you over the course of a PhD. The real question is whether you wouldn't mind or would even enjoy the process of doing research, because that's what you will be spending >90% of your time doing on this track.

If this is really a path you're interested in I would strongly recommend doing an internship in a neuro lab as soon as possible so you can get your hands dirty and see whether you can actually grow an appreciation for the work. You may not be able to do this right away - I'm not sure what your background is. If you are really starting from scratch, you may want to talk to some postdocs or PIs at local universities whose research you're interested in and ask what the minimum level of experience to do some work as an intern in their lab would be. (Mention any existing experience you have that might be relevant, like math or comp sci coursework or job experience.) The prereqs are probably fewer than you might think (some labs take on exceptional high school students, after all), but it might involve, e.g., taking a lab and a lecture class.

Anyway, do research as soon and as often as possible, and you will get a much better idea of whether this is really for you. (And as a side benefit, if you apply yourself and do well in research, the letters of rec you get out of it will be super valuable.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:43 AM on May 27, 2013

PhD molecular neuroscience with a great pedigree and ok publishing (and a MSc in pathology/immunology).

Been doing an industrial R&D postdoc instead of an academic one in neuroscience for the last 4 months.

It's really rough right now for tenure-track jobs. Things might change in 4 (BSc) + 5 (PhD) + 5 (postdoc) +5 (2nd postdoc) years. A lot can change in 15-20 years. For the better. For the worse. That's realistically how long it will be before you're looking for tenure-track jobs.

I have seen academic postdocs get tenure track positions. Say, 15%. 5% for a "good" tenure track position. That's tenure track. A lot of that is having absolutely killer publishing record - not necessarily the journals that they publish in, but the subject matter. The journals that they published in (multiple high impact) doesn't hurt, but they were almost always hired based on what the hiring institute wants to strengthen/develop and/or there were historical ties (candidate's PI was a former PI at the institution that the candidate got hired at, AND the candidate brought in a specific expertise that that particular university wanted to upgrade at that time - ie, 2-photon confocal microscopy building).

Out of my cohort of ~50 PhD candidates +/- a couple of years of me (just about all of us have graduated now), I see 1 as having a good/great chance. He's also working is ASSOFF at a competitive postdoc and he's also really really good. Four/five doing an academic postdoc now or imminently have an ok chance. Only 10-15-ish (including me) have dropped out of the race for tenure-track.


As for later in life, we had a PhD candidate follow my PhD supervisor from the States to (her return to) Canada. He started his PhD in his 30's, graduated just shy of 40. Been doing a postdoc for about 5 years now, doesn't feel like he has a lot of opportunities. However, everyone (ie., extant faculty) has always been telling him that his age isn't a problem when it comes to hiring.

There was a saying/meme floating around a bunch of years ago about how the most productive part of a scientist's career was in their mid/late 20's. There are a lot of reasons why that meme is accurate enough to be a meme but also highly misleading to be outright false. We can talk about this if you want, but this isn't the space.


I complained about my PhD candidacy but it was a great time in my life. It helps that I was in a "rich lab" for much of that time and given a lot of agency. From reading an upthread askme, I guess I'm the "senior NCO" type and I lead lab culture well.

The money is tight, but there are good grants that pay ok. However, minimum stipends are pretty minimum especially if you live somewhere with a high cost of living or if you're accustomed to a certain level of quality of life. I bought a lot of $2 bags of half-rotting fruits/vegetables from mom&pop grocery stores (trim off the rotten bits) and relied on "fish ends" (collars, tails, trimmings) and pounding on the cheapest cuts of beef ("country fried steak").

OTOH, there were a couple of years where I was netting $35k CDN (another at a "mere" 30k) with $5k in travel/computer each.

I was lucky to be able to do high-level research that was interesting to me. I also got to dictate what direction my research was in. Also got to play with a lot of expensive "toys." Worked a lot of long days, worked a lot of weekends, had months-long stretches of having no days off.

But, there were a lot of times where if I didn't feel like showing up, I could just not show up (or just for a few hours, or have someone "cover" for me) or if I needed a half day off once/twice a week to drive my dad to his chemo, I could (and I'd make up the time at night or something).

If I won a huge lottery, I'd go back to academia or start my own "company" to do curiosity based research.
posted by porpoise at 8:23 PM on May 27, 2013

On re-read of your question:

Are you based in Eastern Europe? Getting a tenure-track job in your home country may be very very very different than getting a job in Western Europe/North America.

European (Western OR Eastern) PhDs are... not as highly valued as North American PhDs, in North America. Even British PhDs are considered as second class.

I've seen a few Taiwanese who did their PhD/postdoc here at UBC go back to get "good" tenure track positions in Taiwanese universities.

N. American PhDs from good schools are accepted almost everywhere world wide. PhDs from, even good schools, outside of N. America may not be. At least in Neuroscience. Max Planke in Germany seems to be ok, especially if you studied under one of the names, but there's definitely unspoken prejudice/apathy for someone who's PhD/postdoc wasn't in N.America in a "competitive" lab.

You mention "psychadelic" research. I personally think that's a very important neuroscience field to study, but that's not going to happen without bullshit if you want to do it in N. America.

Also, "neuroscientists / cognitive neuroscientists / psychobiologists" is a HUGE gulf. HUGE. There are gulfs within each of those fields as well.
posted by porpoise at 8:36 PM on May 27, 2013

I am in the habit of encouraging anyone who wants to go into academia to reconsider, repeatedly.

I don't know the situation in the rest of the world, but in the US, the Republican party is intent on trashing just about every public institution around, including our once great system of public and private research universities (which also get a lot of public funding). The result is a much tighter job market for PhDs in many disciplines, not to mention fewer training opportunities. Whether or not research institution's in the rest of the world are under the same pressure, I don't know, but I do know that the job market in the sciences is pretty international, and the US was, historically, a major part of that market, so cutbacks here are likely to have ripple-effects throughout the world.

I once considered a career in neuroscience, and also in what is now known as systems biology. I decided to take another path because the job market looked brutal. That was 20 years ago. It seems to have gotten worse. A number of my contemporary's now have tenured or tenure track positions at institutions in cities one would actually choose to live in, so it is certainly possible, but it took a long time before it was clear they were on the right track. At least as many ended up taking another path at some point. Of those who do have decent positions, most seem happy with what they are doing, but distressed to see what's happening across academia, particularly the prospects for their grad students.

As others have said, there is a big gulf between reading about science and doing it. Those papers you are reading, are they reviews, or publications of original results? Have you read through the materials & methods closely? Have you thought about how much painstaking effort goes into performing just one experiment, the number of experiments you have to do to get a statistically significant measurement? The number you have to do to work out all the kinks in your protocol? The number of false leads that produce no result worth publishing? How about the anguish when something that took hours, or days to prep gets spilled, or contaminated, or otherwise ruined? Papers come when everything finally goes right, and even then, pulling them together and getting them through review can be another kind of trial.

How do you feel about applying the words methodical, exacting, repetitious to your daily work?

None of this is to say that you shouldn't seriously explore this as a career. There are still times I think I might have liked to stay on that course because I love figuring stuff out.

You don't say what you are currently doing, but in general I think life and career as much about what you make of them as they are the specifics of what you do. Why is it that you are considering abandoning what you are doing and going back to the start?
posted by Good Brain at 10:16 PM on May 27, 2013

You're getting a lot of US based advice which may or may not apply. For example, I'd just about cut off my left hand for a five year postdoc, 2-3 years is the norm where I am. And even that often involves moving countries in between and has a hard limit of how long you can do it. So it could be helpful to know where you are located and where you might consider moving to, then we can look at actual opportunities and requirements for those places.

I know I'm focussing on career track rather than subject matter, but that's because there's no point falling in love with what you're studying if you can't stay employed doing it plus right now you're too early to really know what you want to specialise in anyway. I thought I wanted to do neurophysiology when I started but I find that kind of lab work boring, so I specialised in intestines instead and ended up in cancer research.
posted by shelleycat at 3:05 AM on May 28, 2013

Response by poster: I live in Germany at the moment but am not considering academia here. I intend to study in the Netherlands. I consider staying in the Netherlands or moving to Belgium or the UK. I definitely do not want to move to the US.
posted by epibatidine at 3:35 AM on May 28, 2013

First, actually DOING science is way different than reading/learning/being interested in it. Doing scientific research can be soul-crushing at times. It is very likely to be the most frustrating endeavor you have ever embarked upon, and I don't say that lightly. Being good at science requires a lot more than intelligence. It requires insane perseverance. It requires you to be willing to fail all day, every day, sometimes for years on end. It is also incredibly tedious.

Just quoting this from above for emphasis-- if you're not even past undergrad yet, then chances are you don't have a firm idea of what the actual experience of research is like. Being in love with the subject material is obviously a sine qua non for succeeding in a research career, but it can also go the other way and make the activity completely unbearable. If you get into the field in order to glut yourself on cool knowledge about neuroscience, then it sucks when the torrents of information in textbooks and journal articles slow to an imperceptible trickle in your own work. You realize you've been working hard for a year, technically everything went OK, and you still don't actually know anything more than you did when you started-- and then you realize you could work your entire life and be unbelievably lucky to find out as much as would amount to a half-sentence in Wikipedia.

For a curious person, the ambiguity of data can also be crazymaking. Those cool pop-science articles you read that seem to offer all the answers... also contain multiple layers of plastering over gaps in data, points that kind of line up to make a curve but maybe they don't?, experiments that seemed to suggest negative results, but maybe it was just a problem with the materials, doubtful correlations that emerge when you tweak the statistics just right but not otherwise, and so forth. The public get to enjoy the shiny narrative, but the researchers are the ones who have to cope with all the icky uncertainty underneath. If you really like knowing about your subject, then that can be a deeply unpleasant experience.

I am not a scientist, but all the successful academic ones I know are people who actually enjoy the day-to-day work in the lab for its own sake, independent of the ultimate results. It doesn't sound as though you have much experience of this-- perhaps you could try getting your feet wet with some lab tech work or an internship, before you invest so much in pursuing this educational path.
posted by Bardolph at 3:42 AM on May 28, 2013

Academic Transfer has good information about research in the Netherlands for a start. I've seen jobs there listing ten years as the post-doc limit and as I mentioned before it's seven in Belgium. So it's not as dire as say Ireland and Scandanavia where you have four years to make the jump from post-doc, but the hard limit is still there. I've been told in Belgium that if I get a high enough publication from my next postdoc (like Nature Immunology or Cancer Cell) I should be OK, but if I don't it's not worth even trying to continue. I'll be at 6.5 years post-PhD then so this is probably my last chance.

The UK is pretty varied in both subject matter and career structure and there are more jobs there (although it's contracting) but also often has much lower pay. You'll get a working wage as a PhD or postdoc in the other places you listed but can't count on it in the UK.

One thing to do is look at PhD and post-doc position advertisements to get an idea of what kind of requirements they ask for., Nature Jobs plus the two I've listed previously are good sites for that. Then you need to talk with people working in those areas (both subject wise and location), preferably PhD/postdocs and PIs so you get both sides of the story. They'll tell you what subject areas are hot, what the career structure is, and how many people drop out. The Netherlands is fairly small so you should be able to look up all the research Universities and organisations and see what kind of work is being done as an example.

You also need to look into the rules about what is needed get a PhD in each place. Things like minimum number if papers accepted and strict maximum time enrolled both exist and vary by University and sometimes subject area. These things can leave you without a degree. Coming out of the PhD without first author publications should also be considered unacceptable and does happen occasionally. Again you need to decide how much risk you're willing to take which can only be done if you know what that risk is.
posted by shelleycat at 4:07 AM on May 28, 2013

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