A Resignation at EPFL – A rejection of mediocrity in academia or academic suicide? Cassandra or a wake up call?


EPFL

In the last few days an interesting missive has been circulating in the blogosphere, a letter of resignation from an anonymous PhD candidate at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, one of Europe’s top research institutes, outlining his frustration, and disappointment with the system of academic science and ultimately his rejection of continuing to participate in the system.

I picked up on the story at Pascal Junod’s blog in his post: An Aspiring Scientist’s Frustration with Modern-Day Academia: A Resignation.  Different people in the blogosphere have picked up on the note and are making hay of one type or anther with  it.  I have some thoughts which I will share below which I hope are not merely manure.  Opinions elsewhere vary:

It’s worth noting that Junod himself says his experience at EPFL

  • I don’t think that the exposed facts are a problematic unique to EPFL, nor to any other Swiss university: to the contrary, this is probably a worldwide phenomenon.
  • Finally, I would like to make very clear that I did not experience the same feelings at all during my (very happy) PhD times at EPFL. So, don’t try to make any parallel with my own experience.
  • Like the author, I don’t have any good idea how to change the system towards a better one.

Sean Summers an achievement oriented post-doc at ETH Zurich had a rather scathing response The Value of a Degree at his personal website.  He seem to have been grossly offended by the letter and didn’t seem to want to admit to any of the problems it outlined – and conducted a point by point rebuttal of the letter. He also doesn’t seem to allow comments on his articles either.
To boil his mindset down the “nitty gritty” [my ginsu editing]:

I know you didn’t mean to, but you offended me. On behalf of my friends and colleagues who are current and former PhD students, you offended me more. In fact, on behalf of everyone who has ever achieved something of personal importance, you have offended me…

…Here’s the thing. In the process though, you threw everyone (myself very recently included) with a PhD under a bus….

Your claim of widespread dishonesty in academia is offensive I don’t appreciate that you have thrown hard working individuals under the bus…

Mostly, I don’t like the way that you have devalued individual achievement.

I’m here to say that a PhD is remarkable; it is an amazing personal achievement worthy of pride.

Personal achievement in all shapes and form should be celebrated, with head held high.

Anthony Watts and crew over at WUWT have their own conversation rolling on the subject, A window into academia – via a resignation letter, which, predictably, runs the gamut.

Most interestingly of all, this is what the author of that note had to say in comments on Junod’s blog [emphasis added].

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