Comments from various issues of ASBMB Today
Biomedical workforce viewpoints, August 2012
Scientific societies are increasingly concerned about three interrelated issues: (1) the putative overproduction of Ph.D.s; (2) the need to make graduate students aware of alternatives to the shrinking availability of traditional research/academic/tenure track opportunities; and (3) the need to tailor graduate programs to better prepare students for these alternative options. The August issue of ASBMB Today had no fewer than three articles focused upon these issues.
An anecdote may help to put our present-day concerns into perspective. The year was 1978, when tenure-track opportunities were comparatively plentiful and applicant pools manageable. As a newly fledged department chair, I wrote (a National Institutes of Health) training grant application. The application received a mediocre score (319) and this comment on the pink sheet: “The training record of the faculty is not impressive. Most of the graduates have taken positions in industry.” I protested to NIH that Congress, which funds NIH, might not like to hear that industrial employment opportunities were considered second-rate among those in the scientific community. I reapplied, and we were funded.
The point is that students have long been aware of career options other than the tenure-track route. Although my experience is anecdotal, I always felt that our graduates who chose industrial employment did so as their primary objective and that they were satisfied with their choices. To the extent that graduate students of that era chose nonacademic employment and thrived, those students must have considered themselves well prepared.
Of course, the graduate programs of today need to do more to prepare students for the wide range of career opportunities that exist for Ph.D. scientists. However, the faculties of the past have not been doing such a bad job.
Christopher K. Mathews, Oregon State University
Remembering Tuskegee, July 2012
I read with interest an article by Squire Booker about the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis. I limit my letter to links to the Nazi experiments. Other areas of difference are covered in my writings on the TSUS, i.e., Oslo Study, informed consent, nontreatment, misrepresentations by lead authors and women’s involvement (PubMed IDs 20599019, 12956140, 10724044 and 15868777). The TSUS does not appear to be analogous to the Nazi experiments and, thus, should not evoke “memories of atrocities.” Linking the Nazi experiments to the TSUS should raise questions/issues about the facts of the TSUS and the Nazi experiments. One clear difference is as simple as subjects were injected with infectious material in some Nazi experiments; in the TSUS, syphilis was not (PMID 16334509). Differentiation between the two research events is important because of the alleged negative impact of the TSUS on doctor-patient relationships in health care and on the recruitment of patients into clinical trials, particularly, in the black community. Moreover, the distortions of history, science, medicine and public health may affect the doctors and other health professionals, who make patient-care decisions to avoid patient mistrust.
Robert M. White