Reflections Newsletter

Issue 4, April 2021

Welcome to my monthly newsletter!

On the final Thursday of each month you'll get this in your inbox featuring digests from my personal blog, Reflections, and updates and news related to higher education and career and professional development for advanced-degree holders. This effort has grown out of my experience as a graduate student and postdoc and now as a professional working in postdoctoral affairs. 

Missed the inaugural newsletter in January? Read it here​.

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Reflections Blog: April 2021


Find your Passion? Finding Meaning and Purpose in Your Work & Life

According to the book Drive by Daniel Pink, and based on research by Edward Deci in the 1970s, we perform best when we are intrinsically motivated. The three key factors that determine intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I will break down those three concepts in terms of work satisfaction (I will use my job as an example; with reflections from the beginning of my role in postdoc affairs and 2+ years into it), but other activities (hobbies, volunteering) can also fill these human needs.

This is part of my NIH BEST Blog Rewind series​.

Read My Latest Blog Post

Revisiting Past Blog Posts

A variety of excellent resources and tools were shared as part of the NPA's annual conference in mid-April including critical data on postdoc benefits and support, how one can volunteer with the organization, and two initiatives to build peer communities of support for postdocs.  

Read More

While I am a biomedical scientist by training, many have asked about resources available for non-STEM Ph.D.s. I share some career resources and career outcomes data being reported by a variety of organizations, with a particular focus on the humanities and social sciences, in this short piece.

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If the past year of social distancing has taught us anything it is that we should not under-estimate the critical role human connection plays in our lives and careers. In this piece from a few years ago, I reflect on the value of "getting out there" and meeting people as an introvert.

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A Post-COVID World

While the pandemic is far from behind us, the increasing availability of vaccinations suggests that we may return to a "new normal" in the coming months. What does that mean for how we work and live? How will this seminal event, largely acknowledged as having accelerated a variety of trends, shape the economy and higher education in particular?  

Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity (by Scott Galloway)

A key point in Galloway's book is that the disruption in higher education's business model is coming (in fact, it may already be here).  

Some data highlighted in the book:

  • In the past 40 years, college tuition has increased by 1,400%.

  • Scarcity - Ivy leagues have acceptance rates of 4% to 10%. Read more in this excellent The Chronicle of Higher Education piece: The Era of Artificial Scarcity

  • Abundance - Student loan debt now totals $1.6 trillion, far more than credit-card debt or auto loans. The average graduate will carry nearly $30,000 in debt away from their virtual graduation. 

  • Disruptive Forces - Technology improvements have brought distance learning to the threshold of market acceptance. Beginning in 2026, the number of graduating high school seniors is projected to decline by 9%. Demographic declines may accelerate pressures for some institutions to close or merge with others. 

One of Galloway's big ideas: 
The US needs a Marshal Plan to partner with states to dramatically increase the number of seats at state schools while decreasing the cost for four-year universities and junior colleges.

- This is a proposal I think most in Higher Education, Congress, & State Legislatures could get behind.

Read a critical review of Galloway's thoughts on higher education from Inside Higher Ed.

More post-COVID reading recommendations from the NY Times. 

The Transformation of Higher Education After the COVID Disruption: Emerging Challenges in an Online Learning Scenario (mini review)

More on how COVID is reshaping the higher education sector, the research workforce, and future of work can be found in my February & March​ Reflections newsletters.

    Time, our most precious resource. 

    While, writing this month's blog post, I came across a few interesting reads on our need to use our time better and value subtraction (do less but get more).


    Subtract: Why Getting to Less Can Mean Thinking More

    People systematically overlook subtractive changes (Nature)


    Interesting Read

    The Crushing Contradictions of the American University

    Our blind faith in the transformative power of Higher Ed is slipping. What now?

    Appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2021

    A beautifully written & wide-ranging article on the evolution of American Higher Education since the post-war 1950s.

    Some highlights shared, below:

    • Starting with Clark Kerr's (1st Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley) "The University in a Progressive Society" speech there was the belief in the individually and socially transformative power of colleges and universities to reduce inequality and ensure unending economic growth.
    • Between 1950 and 1970, Kerr’s belief in higher education was buoyed by research on the correlation between educational attainment and life “outcomes” as measured by prospective employment and earnings.
    • The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill); creation of the National Science Foundation in 1950 as well as several new institutes for the National Institutes of Health, and with them increased research dollars; and 1965 Higher Education Act (increased federal support for universities & loan-interest loans for students) led to Higher Ed's "Golden Age".
    • The concept of the "sovereign student consumer" comes into vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw a shift of the university into a system that leveraged faith in higher education to create markets for student credit and debt.
    • Perhaps no moment was as seminal as the University of California, Berkeley charging tuition (first called an "educational fee") to California residents for the first time in 1970.
    • As we all know, now students a families consistently take on massive amounts of debt to "invest" in their potential by attending college, a practice increasingly called into question.

    Relevant Quotes: 

    They [university leaders] leveraged public belief in the progressive promises of higher education into a debt-fueled, acquisitive, speculative system whose primary purpose is to maintain itself. 

    American higher education has produced many goods. But it also launders privilege, luck of birth and circumstance, and financial and social greed into socially acceptable status under the rubric of merit. And it now exacerbates persistent and worsening financial and social inequalities.

    Takeaways from the article:

    We must re-envision higher education for the 21st Century not as the sole path to earning a decent wage but as an institution that develops critical thinkers and problems solvers ready to make society better. And we must make higher education more accessible to those who can benefit from it potentially with permanent online offerings to democratize the sharing of knowledge and skills. We also must, however, ensure that obtaining a college degree is not the only path to a financially stable and viable life.  

    Is support coming?

    Just last night (4/28), President Biden unveiled his American Families Plan which seeks, among other things, to improve educational access and opportunity. While this is currently just a proposal, it speaks to an apparent commitment by US leadership to re-invigorate the American Dream of opportunity for all. Stay tuned for updates...

    For more reading:

    The Corruption of the College Dream Machine (Chronicle Review)

    The University Run Amok!

    • Higher education's insatiable appetite for doing more will be its undoing

    Educational Adequacy in the Twenty-First Century

    • From The Century Foundation 

    Resources for Trainees

    Online Career & Professional Development Resources for Graduate Students and Postdocs

    NEW: Working on your Ph.D.? See the "free templates and guides" section of IThinkWell​ (from Australia) for planning tools to stay on track. There are also other resources available for purchase. 

    For Further Reading & Exploration

    Carpe Careers Column
    National Science Foundation Data
    Data on PhD & Postdoc Training: NGLS 
    Career & Professional Development Research

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