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Hale-Bopp letter

John B. Armstrong jbarm at uottawa.ca
Thu Apr 10 15:47:47 EST 1997

> Date: 21 Mar 1997 19:13:35 GMT
> From:ahale at nmsu.edu (Alan Hale)
> Organization: NMSU Astronomy
>An open letter to the scientists of my generation:
>I am Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp which, as I'm
>sure you're aware, is getting a tremendous amount of media attention
>at this time. Like I'm sure is true for many of you, I was inspired
>by the scientific discoveries and events taking place during my childhood
>to pursue a career in science only to find, after completing the rigors
>of undergraduate and graduate school, that the opportunities for us
>to have a career in science are limited at best and are which I usually
>describe as "abysmal." Based upon my own experiences, and those of you
>with whom I have discussed this issue, my personal feeling is that,
>unless there are some pretty drastic changes in the way that our society
>approaches science and treats those of us who have devoted our lives to
>making some of our own contributions, there is no way that I can, with
>a clear conscience, encourage present-day students to pursue a career
>in science. It really pains me a great deal to say something like that,
>but I feel so strongly about this that I have publicly made this
>statement at almost every opportunity I have been given.
>I am trying to use the media attention that is currently being focused
>upon me to raise awareness of this state of affairs, and perhaps start to
>effect those changes that will allow me to convey a more positive message
>to the next generation. So far, I'm sensing a certain reluctance among the
>media to discuss this issue, as they seem far more interested in items
>which I consider to be irrelevant and unimportant. But I intend to keep
>hammering away at this, and I'd like to believe that eventually some are
>going to sit up and take notice. I am also attempting to schedule meetings
>with some of our government leaders, to see if I can at least get some
>acknowledgement from Washington that this is a problem that needs to be
>dealt with.
>My reason for writing to you is to ask your help. I know that I'm not alone
>in being frustrated about the current prospects for pursuing any kind of
>decent career within science, and I'm quite sure that many of you have
>"horror stories" about your searches for decent employment that are quite
>similar to my own. I'd like to hear them. I'd especially like to hear from
>those of you who are on your second or third or fourth post-doc, or who
>have left the field as a result of the employment situation, or who have
>experienced severe personal difficulties (e.g., break-up of a marriage,
>etc.). I realize that some of these might be painful to discuss, but I'd
>like to show that we are not a bunch of impersonal statistics, but that
>we're human beings trying to make an honest living and perhaps make a
>contribution or two to society while we're at it. Speaking of statistics,
>though, if you received any information about the numbers of applicants to
>some of the positions you applied to -- which was often a 3-digit number in
>my case -- I'd like to hear that, too.
>Please e-mail your stories to me at ahale at nmsu.edu, with a subject line of
>"horror stories" or something like that. Please let me know if you would
>prefer to remain anonymous when I share these stories with the press and
>the government. Also, please pass this message on to any of your friends
>and colleagues who might be interested in sharing their stories with me, and
>keep in mind that I would like to receive stories from as many scientific
>disciplines as possible. (Because of the amount of e-mail traffic I'm
>receiving these days, along with everything else that's going on, I probably
>won't be able to acknowledge each message individually.)
>Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you. Perhaps, with the
>opportunity we have before us right now, we have the chance to make a
>Alan Hale

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