The ProdigalKids are too young for career plans, but would you discourage your kids from pursuing a career in science? In academia? What about a BSc/BSE with no plans for academia?
This came up in a conversation with some colleagues, and I was surprised at the split. About half said they would strongly discourage their child from getting a science degree, because they think future prospects for such careers are poor, and the other half saying they thought it was a good idea. After reading all the nay-saying online, I was actually surprised to see that so many of my colleagues are supportive of the idea. What shocked me the most actually was that a couple of my male colleagues said they would discourage a daughter but not a son because sexism. I really wanted to say "Newsflash--your daughters will experience sexism no matter what degree they get", but I didn't.
Most of the nay-sayers are worried about future job prospects, but I am not sure what other career paths they think would be better. I totally get that there are many more PhDs who want to do research/development/something very science-y than there are positions for them, but the overall unemployment rate for PhDs remains lower than the general unemployment rate (even if some/many(?) of those PhDs are in jobs that really don't require one). I believe people try to do what is best for themselves, so I am all for people (even my own kids) taking known risks for desired rewards. The keyword is 'known' here--I think it is really important to make sure people have access to information about career prospects and paths BEFORE they make long term decisions.
The science nay-sayers would discourage even a BSc or BSE, and that I don't really understand at all. Does it really matter a few years after graduation what you majored in as an undergrad? What does it say about someone if they would try to prevent their children from earning a degree they are encouraging their own students to continue? A few people said they would not discourage a science degree, just an academic career. I can kind of understand that, but I don't think pursuing an academic career and ending up somewhere else is a great tragedy. Life is long, and there are many chances to start over or try something different.
Personally, I actually think a science degree is good prep for a wide variety of possible career paths, and would be happy if the ProdigalKids wanted to pursue one. I would even encourage my kids to go into academia, if they had the ability and the inclination (while giving them all the caveats and downsides, and making sure there is a strong plan B). I don't think it is a bad thing to desire a research career, since there are many options if it doesn't work out. If the job market is poor for scientists, it is likely poor for most other choices as well. I don't want to discourage a dream just because the odds are long, as
long as my kids are aware of the long odds, and have a reasonable plan
if it doesn't work out.
For the most part, I love my job. The downsides would either be present in pretty much any career I chose (sexism, old boy's network, bureaucracy, politics) or are outweighed by the positives (the proposal chase is tedious, but I like being able to work on whatever I can get funding for, the long hours can be draining, but the flexibility is hard to beat). I completely understand why so many people try for TT jobs--it is a great life if you can get it. My own parents encouraged me and my siblings to have a goal and work towards it. They offered their opinion on whether that goal was a good idea or not, but once we were out of high school, they wanted us to make our own decisions about our futures (even if they thought it was a bad idea). They had faith that we would be able to figure out how to make a living. True, one of my siblings changed career tracks a few times, but we all evolved into independent adults capable of supporting our families. I think this is a good idea, and hope I have the stamina to implement it myself. It is really hard to watch your kids make mistakes!