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Dennis E. Taylor
04-24-2016, 04:20 AM
This is more of an "opinion" question than "research" question. I have a person who is a senior (in terms of responsibility) biologist with a team that's helping settle a planet. Given the number of years you'd have to go to university (no idea) and the degrees you'd have to get (no idea), what is the youngest this person could be, without being some kind of Sheldon-Cooperish savant?

I don't need rigorous, just plausible.

TIA.

AW Admin
04-24-2016, 04:34 AM
To have seniority at the company, in addition to the required degrees, I'd say c. 30 up, but given it's SF—
What's the average lifespan?

Do people still start/finish school at the same basic ages (this hasn't been a constant; in the middle ages in England, people were leaving Cambridge and Oxford at c. 15-16; in the 18th century, c. 18-21.

Roxxsmom
04-24-2016, 05:19 AM
By senior scientist, I assume you mean someone holding a research post in a government institution like NASA, NIST, NIH, CDC etc and is above the level of staff scientist. These people generally hold doctorates in their field as well as having a research experience (perhaps having attained tenure in academia or performing research at a similar level on soft money or as staff scientists). Having this person in their late thirties to early forties is probably reasonable, though they could certainly be older if they didn't go straight through school with no pauses or had to burn through several postdocs before getting a tenure track or permanent research job. Here's a link to the NIH site with their criteria for what a senior scientist is.

https://oir.nih.gov/sourcebook/personnel/ipds-appointment-mechanisms/senior-scientist

The criteria at private biotech company can be a bit different, however, and a senior scientist can be someone who is three years past their postdoc, so they could be as young as their early to mid thirties. There may be a rank above called a principal scientist.

http://scforum.sciencecareers.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=10560

To give you an idea of the time frame for academic training.

Assuming a similar educational process and path as we have today (in the US). Of course, there are some who are more accelerated because they were younger when they started college or they sailed through grad school or something or get a position without a postdoc first (rare for research-based biologists). Some are older, because they took time off between undergrad and grad school or did more postdocs.

--Undergrad science degree Age 18-22ish (if person takes four years to graduate. Some take more, of course.
--PhD usually takes 4-6 years (most took 6 when I was in grad school), so this person would be finished by 28ish.
--Some people get a master's degree before getting a doctorate, which can add a couple of years to the total as well.
--Postdoctoral fellowship. This can really vary with specialty and the current job market (some go through several before scoring a tenure track or permanent type of research job), but say at least 2 years minimum, so 30ish.
--Getting tenure at a university (promotion from assistant professor to associate professor) usually takes 5-6 years at a large research university, so they could have associate professor status by around 36.

One thing to consider is if your futuristic world has a different academic system (or a system of training scientists that is non academic or more individualized) then you can certainly have the person be at least somewhat younger.

eskay
04-24-2016, 05:38 AM
Roxxsmom is mostly right except the median time to completion for a PhD in the biomedical sciences is over 6 years now at many US schools. And postdocs are getting longer as well.(Possibly relevant: in the UK, PhDs are much shorter--generally 3-4 years. So that's an option of you want to push them younger.)

There is the occasional golden boy/girl who goes straight from a PhD to, if not a tenure track position (that would be extremely unusual these days), then to what I've heard called a "super postdoc", where the person is given lab space and funding to start up a research program of their own. It would be possible to shave a few years off Roxxmom's timeline that way, assuming that all the research went well :)

Depending on when this SF story is occurring and the changes in both lifespans and the economics of science funding that occur between now and then, I could see these timelines increasing quite a bit--I can't recall where but I have read stories that referred to characters having double doctorates as a normal matter of course.

vsrenard
04-24-2016, 05:42 AM
At the last company I worked for (small pharmaceutical startup), senior scientists were in their low to mid-30s, had a PhD, a post-doctoral fellowship and at least one job after the post-doc. Higher than senior scientists were their directors (i.e. Formulation Chemistry Director, Molecular Science Director, etc).

At the government lab I worked for, you could become a Research Scientist straight out of post-doc, then progress up the ranks as project leader, program leader, group leader, division leader, associate director, director.

I agree with the time frame Roxxsmom gave out for academic training. Master's degrees in biomedical engineering take about 2 years, with another 5-6 for the PhD. Biological and chemical sciences took a bit longer (2-3 years) at my school. Field research might be even longer.

Roxxsmom
04-24-2016, 06:21 AM
I agree with the time frame Roxxsmom gave out for academic training. Master's degrees in biomedical engineering take about 2 years, with another 5-6 for the PhD. Biological and chemical sciences took a bit longer (2-3 years) at my school. Field research might be even longer.

Some of it depends on the specialty within biology. My grad department was mostly organismal biology, ecology, and integrative or comparative physiology. Our advisors had grants, but they were more modest than the ones molecular biologists and biomedical researchers got (and get), so we were more likely to be supported on TA-ships than RA ships (which pay you for doing research in your advisor's lab). Since there are only so many hours in a day, we tended to take a bit longer to finish our dissertation projects. And some specialties (like field biology and alpine ecology) had short data collection seasons compared to lab-based disciplines, so some of them took even longer than 5-6 years.

So a factor that could accelerate or slow the progress of your scientist's careers might include how sought after and well funded this person's area of research is in your world. If (say) you're at the beginning of a colonization or terraforming boom, biologists with expertise in relevant areas might be very highly sought after indeed. This would mean they'd be well funded in their studies and have lots of job opportunities right after school--a very different situation than the one faced by integrative and organismal biologists and ecologists in today's market (where hundreds may be applying for a single job opening). They could advance very quickly if they're skillful and hardworking.


Roxxsmom is mostly right except the median time to completion for a PhD in the biomedical sciences is over 6 years now at many US schools. And postdocs are getting longer as well.(Possibly relevant: in the UK, PhDs are much shorter--generally 3-4 years. So that's an option of you want to push them younger.)


Yeah, this doesn't surprise me, and I was putting best-case scenarios, even for the time I was in school. The postdoctoral holding pattern was even more pronounced in my husband's department (astronomy and atmospheric sciences) back then than it was in the life sciences, with many people doing one post doc after another (or other soft money jobs) for years before getting a post at a tenure-track institution.

Part of the issue is that in academia a professor will train many grad students during his or her career, but they only vacate one post when they retire. Not all places that hire Ph.Ds are doctorate-granting institutions, of course (colleges and private companies and the government also hire them, though some specialties are much more sought after than others), but there are still more Ph.Ds produced than there are jobs for in a given year (I hear this is even worse for the humanities and social sciences). And doctoral students are needed by departments as cheap TAs and research assistants, so there's no real incentive for them to cut back on the number they admit.

The STEM shortage is very overstated in the here and now, and academic careers are really bogged down by the glut of doctorates, but in a world where there are colonizable planets and a way to get there? Demand could soar.

Dennis E. Taylor
04-24-2016, 08:03 AM
That's very encouraging. The biologist in question comes out of a European educational system. She's engaged in early colonization efforts on a new planet, and I want her to be as senior in the chain of command as I can get away with. OTOH, she has to still be alive and working about 30-40 years later, so I wanted to push her age down as low as possible. It sounds like I can get to 28 or so before it starts to cause eyebrows to lift.

WeaselFire
04-25-2016, 02:34 AM
Make her a prodigy.

Jeff

Roxxsmom
04-25-2016, 02:38 AM
I can't imagine there being a problem with a biologist working into her 60s and 70s in the future. They do it now.

Sage
04-25-2016, 02:53 AM
In the field, biologists don't need to have to have gotten a graduate degree. "Senior" can be about experience, not education (though it can be either, depending on who's hiring). If I had been hired by my new lab right after college (undergrad), I would probably be a senior scientist or project manager by now. But in my old lab, they didn't give you a chance for real advancement without an advanced degree, so I remained a lab tech in my 30s.

A coworker in that old lab, never getting "senior" in front of his title, was in charge of many field work teams. Is "senior" necessary to lead the team? And if so, could it just be that the character is the best person for that team based on experience?

Dennis E. Taylor
04-25-2016, 03:00 AM
I can't imagine there being a problem with a biologist working into her 60s and 70s in the future. They do it now.

Yeah, and this is far enough into the future that I think some life extension could be plausible. It's far less of an issue than having the person too young, initially.