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More on postdocs

March 20, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 12

As a 50-year-plus member of ACS and a two-time postdoc, I am replying to your editorial in C&EN (Feb. 27, page 2) that asks: What does one call a postdoc?

In my experience this has always been “postdoctoral fellow,” and I am surprised this was not mentioned.

In any event, I still enjoy C&EN and your editorials.

Tom Tidwell
Mountain View, Calif.

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.

Stephen Chamberland
Orem, Utah


Feb. 20, page 18: The feature on spider silk misstated Bolt Threads’ relationship with Patagonia. The two companies are working to advance nontoxic processes for textile manufacturing, not on a new jacket. Also, Bolt Threads says its engineered silk development program is not focused on waterproofing technology.

Feb. 27, page 23: The feature about EPA’s struggle to keep its chemical inventory up to date gave an outdated title for Paul DeLeo of the American Cleaning Institute. He is the industry group’s associate vice president of environmental safety.

Feb. 27, page 35: The feature on patients navigating the health care system misidentified the advocacy group Project Inform as a part of another group, the Fair Pricing Coalition. The two groups are unrelated.



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