It's a sad but inevitable truth: enthusiasm ebbs and flows, never consistent or unwavering. This holds true for many things in life, but to scientists this is most pertinent to our enthusiasm toward our projects. Whether you're a grad student or postdoc (and maybe even a PI), you have definitely gone through a period when you're simply tired of your project, don't want to read another word or article about the same-old topic, lack the motivation to do any experiments, and in short find anything related to your work off-putting and depressing. One good point to keep in mind: You're not alone having this feeling.
When I was a kid, I didn't know that I would be a scientist. But I did know I would be a parent. Having children was a high priority in my life. However, during graduate school, I started to see the professional demands placed on graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty. When, then, would be the best time to start a family? There is not one right answer, as it depends on each individual's personal and professional situation. And you will probably never think you have enough time or enough money to start a family. I had my first son at the end of graduate school, and my second son four years later, shortly after starting a second postdoc. So, how is it going? Can I be a great parent AND be a successful postdoc? Can I have it all? The answer is Yes! And...No. And, both Yes and No, sometimes even at the same time. Let me explain:
One topic represents a common problem of science today: the academic faculty job market. The competition for an assistant professorship in cell biology in a middle-sized university in the United States results in a clash of approximately 300 applicants warring against each other for ONE position. In times of impact factor dominance, limited fellowships, and fewer grants, the focus has shifted from creativity to irrational productivity, sometimes measured by the number of CNS (Cell, Nature, Science) papers published. Even though the career transition from postdoc to assistant professor is broken now, how can you proceed to the next academic step if you really want to?
Based primarily on the 2012 NIH Workforce report this infographic represents current workforce sizes and annual fluxes before and after a PhD in the biomedical sciences in the US. The picture is not as dire as that painted for the UK by this 2010 Royal Society report, but many of these figures are based on estimates and self-reporting. We'll have to wait for the NAS Postdoc Report for better data. In the meantime, that report's chair, Greg Petsko, has divulged some interesting tidbits in his iBiology talk: the data on postdocs are so poor, many institutions can't estimate the number of postdocs they have within an order of magnitude. Hopefully, clear data on these job markets will empower trainees to make better-informed career decisions.