Unless you happen to be part of the academic system, how an academic career actually develops is not widely know or understood. To be honest, even to those within the system, the whole thing is pretty damn confusing. It is possible to skip certain steps, ‘fellowships’ pop up at all different levels of the career path, and despite having the same label have completely different meanings, and the differentiation of ‘levels’ is often ambiguous.
To clear this up I have made a pretty picture and given a small description of each stage. To be clear though, my picture is a fairly linear simplification of the system, and alternative pathways with roundabouts, traffic lights, and holes in the ground all exist. In addition, I am talking solely about the UK system. In the rest of the world requirements differ and titles of positions vary: though the general pathway of undergraduate degree, to postgraduate degree, to post-doctoral research, to an academic career, hold true. Furthermore, this is written from the perspective of a scientist (specifically a chemist), and in the arts this is probably quite different.
(y = years)
A BSc (Batchelor of Science) and MChem (Master of Chemistry) are primarily taught courses requiring the learning of material and the succesful completion of examinations. These qualifications are graded as 3rd class (3rd), lower 2nd class (2:2), upper 2nd class (2:1) and first class (1st), with a 1st being the highest level.
A BSc and MChem are typically identicle for the first two years. The second two years of an MChem are more research focussed than the final year of a BSc, and taught modules in the final year of an MChem are of a level beyond that of the BSc. An MChem is a higher level qualification than a BSc.
MSc (Master of Science), MRes (Master of Research), MPhil (Master of Philosphy) are postgraduate degrees of the same level. The proportion of research and taught modules differentiates each qualification. Completion of examinations and submission of a research thesis is required for completion of the qualification. The qualification is graded using a pass/merit/distinction scale.
A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is typically 100% research based and is completed over a 3-4 year period. A PhD student will research a specific topic(s) over a number of years under the supervision of an academic (university lecturer), and is then required to submit an extended thesis (200-300 pages) reporting this work. For a PhD to be awarded the student must defend their research, which has been critically evaluated by two academics (university lecturers) in an oral examination (viva) lasting for 2-4 hours. PhD research must be of a publishable level i.e. of a quality that could be submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication in scientific literature, but publishing research is not a requisite for completion of the qualification (though is highly desirable). A PhD is not graded on a sliding scale, though successful completion of these studies affords the student the title of Dr.
Post-doctoral research (or “post-docking”) is not a formal qualification, but is typically required for progression in an academic career. Post-doctoral research is completed under the supervision of an academic in a manner similar to a PhD, but a significantly increased level of independence is expected, and the ability to generate ideas and develop this into publishable (peer-reviewed) research papers is critical. Post-doctoral positions are typically between 1 and 2 years, and a number of these may be undertaken in different research groups (i.e. working for different academic supervisors) before moving up the career ladder. Undertaking a post-doctoral research position under the supervision of your PhD supervisor is not generally viewed as favorable.
A position as a lecturer or an independent research fellow is the first position in which you are regarded as independent scientist (an academic). You are no longer working under the supervision of another academic, and at this stage you will often begin to supervise PhD students and potentially employ post-doctoral researchers. As well as undertaking and publishing your own research, teaching of undergraduate and post-graduate students is often a requirement of employment. A position as a lecturer is slightly favourable as the position is typically permanent, a luxury not afforded to independent research fellows.
Career progression from a lecturer through to a professor is neither essential or guaranteed. Progression through the ranks typically reflects your contribution to your subject in terms of research (and to a lesser degree teaching). Teaching requirements typically reduce throughout the career path, though the best academics (in my opinion) typically maintain as a high a commitment to teaching as possible. A successful research career is often reflected in an academics ability to procure financial backing for their research ideas, and the successful implementation of these ideas (demonstrated by publishing research). As a consequence, more senior academics typically have more financial support and thus employ more post-doctoral researchers and supervise a greater number of PhD students. The writing of research proposals to procure funding is one of the most significant administrative requirements of an academic.
So this is it, the time has come to get back into the blogging world. I was recently asked to undertake a bit of writing as a blogger, so I thought it a little unreasonable to continue my sabbatical from my own blog and still claim my place as part of the science blogging community.
Since my last period of regular blogging a lot has happened: I have graduated with a PhD in Organic Chemistry; I have left the glorious city of Manchester that had become my home, for the Glorius town of Muenster in the Nordrhein-Westfalen region of Germany – you should visit, it is beautiful; I have begun my first professional job as a post-doctoral research assistant (for those who worry about this kind of thing, fear not, I am paid via a fellowship, and thus am still yet to contribute to the tax man significantly in any country); I have even climbed a mountain in Wales, been cycling in the Yorkshire countryside, taken a trip to the beach, had a drunken eve in Birmingham and watched the (amazing) Olympics in Hyde Park. So although I was sorry the blogging dwindled some what, the sacrifice was worth it.
The plan is to pick up where I left off, with general musings on science, education etc., but with one significant change…..without the Mega Chemist Challenge. But fear not, the MCC is not over, it has just moved to a new dedicated home here. The reason for this is simple: when I began blogging the idea was engage those not only with an interest in science already, but also those without. I feel that being faced with a screen of organic synthetic chemistry, unless you are an organic chemist of course, is unlikely to inspire you to return, and thus was counterproductive to my initial goal. As a consequence the Mega Chemist Challenge will continue not here at A Retrosynthetic Life, but over at www. megachemistchallenge.wordpress.com. So, if synthetic chemistry is your thing, check out its new home, add it to your reader/bookmarks, and spread the word. Do you know who this weeks Mega Chemist is?
So, back to the slightly reformatted – aesthetically, as well as with respect to content – A Retrosynthetic Life. I will start to blog again weekly (I hope), about anything that peaks my interest, but as you would imagine, science and education are pretty high on my list. In return for the grand enjoyment I hope you will get from the blog, I would like to ask a favour of those in the UK (and to some degree the USA). As I now reside in Germany and my access to the news and UK newspapers is somewhat restricted (I know I have the internet, but still), I would love it if you would send me links to things you think I may find interesting. You can do this via twitter @karldcollins, the blogs facebook page, or you can find me soon on google+.
Much appreciated, and welcome back.
Having temporarily forsaken the shining lights and heavy atmosphere of Manchester city living for the clear skies and peace of East Yorkshire country life, my weekends have a different, less foggy, more wholesome feel about them.
Today I mainly read the newspaper – a real one made of paper, not one of those pesky ones that you can find on the internet – and I had a really great time. Here are some of the stories that made my day so interesting:
- Being a massive pro-choice advocate and a massive fan of not being ridiculous, I have been following “Vaginagate” for the last few days. It turns out the word vagina is highly offensive in the Michigan house of representatives. The word is….”so offensive [Mike Calton] doesn’t even want to say it in front of women” and has resulted in no less than two (female, of course) politicians being temporarily banned from speaking in the house.
- A brilliant interview with the incredibly intriguing 92-year-old James Lovelock. Lovelock is the man behind the Gaia theory, and has made the news more recently with the not so small admission that his prediction that billions will die by the end of the century due to global warming may have been ‘extrapolating too far’.
- A very interesting extract from Florence Williams‘ new book Breasts: a Natural and Unnatural History. The extract begins discussing the lack of knowledge and understanding of the constitution and function of breast milk, moves onto the virtues of breast-feeding, before a worrying turn to discuss the passing of chemicals accumulated in breast tissue onto the child. Be wary though….no references for the science are forthcoming and I have no knowledge of her reputation as a science writer. The science may be incomplete, plain wrong, or, the evidence may back up all of her statements – I just don’t know. Read this critically!
- The front page one liner ‘What makes a good wife?’ had me riled before I got to the article, but this opinion piece by @tanyagold1 is darkly amusing and poignant. “Sally Bercow is not a good wife, and she is punished for it, because conservative newspapers are run by conservative men”.
- Or how about this brilliant feature on controversial Russian photographer Irina Popova. At 21 Popova moved in with Lilya whom she met on the street in the middle of the night. Lilya was drunk/high having a pee on the street, and was out with her baby daughter. Popova’s photos of Lilya’s family life have caused uproar in Russia, and bring into question the role of the photographer.
US-based Dow Chemical Company (Dow) are a major sponsor of London 2012, and as part of their sponsorship will manufacture a £7,000,000 wrap that will engulf the Olympic Stadium for the duration of the games. Dow agreed to cover the cost as part of their ‘top tier’ Olympic sponsorship deal after governmental funding was cut. Dow’s involvement in the Olympic Games has caused a furore amongst many due to their association with a major industrial accident in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Indian chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan called for a boycott of the games by Indian athletes, though a recent report suggests this is unlikely. Protests and calls for the International Olympic Committee to cut all ties with Dow have been continuous since the announcement, and Meredith Alexander a member of the Commission for a Sustainable London board quit her role live on Newsnight.
Dow are arguably the hereditary owners of responsibility for what is regarded by many as the greatest industrial disaster in history, after a take over Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in 2001; UCC were part owners of the company that owned and operated the industrial plant in Bhopal at the time of a lethal gas leak. The Bhopal disaster resulted in the region of 20,000 deaths (a conservative estimate by some accounts, an over-estimate by others) as a result of a leak of tens of tons of poison gas (a major component of which was methyl isocyanate). The long-term effects of this disaster are still very much debated, though it is without question that the people of Bhopal still live in its shadow.
At the time of the disaster the Bhopal plant was owned and run by UCIL, an Indian company of which UCC owned just over 50%. Dow bought UCC in 2001 after they had sold both their shares in UCIL and the plant itself, and more than ten years after the Indian Supreme Court confirmed settlement, and closed the legal proceedings associated with the liability of Union Carbide Company. Several attempts to re-open proceedings since Dow purchased UCC have failed, and Dow refuse to accept liability for the accident. I can not comment on the settlements legal validity, or whether it was conducted in an appropriate manner – and it is impossible to find an objective analysis of such an emotive topic – but it is reasonable for Dow to refute liability for an event that occurred prior to ownership, when the consequential legal investigation had been settled. Had Dow bought the company prior to settlement they should have inherited the liability as you would debt, but this was not the case.
The debate about Dow’s involvement in the Olympic Games will continue until London 2012 is over, and the issue will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, so a continued discussion is somewhat pointless. In contrast, the moral standpoint of those involved in the protests, including Meredith Alexander, is an interesting point to consider. Alexander’s desire to see
that real justice is achieved for the victims and the families of those who died.”
is admirable and shows a great deal of empathy for those that were affected by something that could now easily be forgotten nearly 30 years later. What is challenging to understand though, is why Alexander (and others in less limelight) feels that Dow are more morally reprehensible than any of the other major Olympic sponsors and associates who are reportedly involved with ongoing human rights abuses or illegal work practices; especially considering Dow’s involvement is purely due to the acquisition of UCC.
For the Observer, Gethin Chamberlain recently reported on the abuse of staff in Bangladesh for those supplying clothing for Puma, Adidas, and Nike. Following an investigation by War on Want entitled ‘A race to the bottom’, he reported exploitation of staff with respect to wages and hours, instances of physical abuse reported for all three clothing manufactures, and sexual abuse in the case of Adidas and Nike. And what about other major sponsors? The reportedly questionable ethical backgrounds of Coca-Cola and McDonalds; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of which BP were partly responsible; or even EDF’s fine for spying on Greenpeace. Surely these all require at least a footnote from Alexander?
I have a lot of respect for Alexander taking a stand for what she believed in, but why she thinks Dow are particularly worthy of exclusion from their roles as sponsors of the Olympic games I do not understand. Maybe she believes – though I would argue against – that Dow’s behaviour is the most abhorrent of all the sponsors. Is it that chemical companies are still perceived as particularly evil, and therefore a valid (easy) target? Or, maybe it is simply that people do not perceive themselves as ‘users’ of chemicals, and therefore they do not feel they are faced with the same moral conflict they would be when criticising a brand that is in their fridge at home, on their feet, or fueling their car to the nearest drive through. I think it is easy to criticise when you do not consider yourself part of the problem, but rest assured, as a modern consumer I can just about guarantee we all own a little bit something produced by Dow.
The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review Free access
Those of you who have read this blog for a while may have seen last weeks Mega Chemist Challenge photo before. I had forgotten that I had used this specific picture when talking about ESPCA conference in Brazil last year, and worse, all of their names were given! Fortunately I wrote that piece last September before I was really writing much, so hopefully it did not give the game away too much.
The three chemists pictured (front to back) in this weeks Mega Chemist Challenge are Ei-ichi Negishi, Ada Yonath, and Richard Schrock, and have all received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since the turn of the century.
No paper this week I am afraid, just a little narrative on Negishi.
Ei-ichi Negishi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 alongside Akira Suzuki and Richard F. Heck for their contribution to the development of palladium catalysed cross coupling chemistry. Neigishi was born in Japan and completed his undergraduate studies in Tokyo, before moving to the USA in 1960 to undertake his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. It was during his PhD that Negishi met Professor Herbert C. Brown, a man whom he greatly admired. Negishi said of his future mentor
“Brown will change the whole world of organic chemistry.
This was certainly the case. Brown was awarded the Nobel prize himself in 1979 for his development and application of boron containing compounds in organic synthesis.