A couple of weeks ago I spent a weekend in France on the first Postdoc retreat of our organisation. For those who don't know the term, a postdoc is a postdoctoral fellow, a position following the PhD work, but before we can apply for any more permanent leadship type positions in basic research. Its pretty much a no-mans land and we're cheaper than technicians (had I known THAT, do you think I would've gone through 10 years of higher education to end up with worse pay, worse conditions and no future? Dang right I wouldn't have).
But aside from its intellectual interest, the chiefs also put on free food and grog and then stuck us in a monastary so we could feel guilty about it. It was kinda cool to be around only people of our age group and position, although it suprised the heck out of me the number of people who were so damn certain they'd get a professorship. (Just for a bit of information, between 1993 and 2000 there were 20,000 postdocs in the US. In the same period 563 professorships were given to people under the age of 40).
No I'm not bitter about basic research. But a healthy dose of realism wouldn't hurt a few people.
Anyway, the weekend was actually lots of fun - even the part when some other guest in the monastary threw water out their window at us instead of asking us to keep the partying down. I mean REALLY was that necessary? Can't you accept that we each celebrate our pilgramages in our own ways? We did walk the path of the cross and went down to the fountain that the St Odile did cause to spring thusly from the rock upon striking it mightily with her staff. The following is a brief excerpt from that experience:
Dr J. "Hang on, we can throw some money in here."
English Postdoc " "Yeah, ask for a miracle."
Dr J. patting down her pockets "Anyone got any coins on them?"
French Postdoc " Oh, it iz ok. Viza iz taken everyvhere in France."
A small report of the retreat has actually been written up in the journal Nature and will apparently be coming out on Thursday. If anyone is interested you can go here and look for the article called Postdoc Power.