You've no doubt seen this grim graphic on the fate of biology PhDs which recently made the rounds. But thanks to a pair of (bored?) post-docs, you can now estimate your own odds of actually becoming a principal investigator (PI) someday.
Using machine learning to crunch through the PubMed profiles of 25,000 scientists, David van Dijk – a post-doc at the Weizmann Institute in Israel – built a prediction model that calculates the odds of becoming a PI based on one's publication track record. Their work appears in the recent issue of Current Biology.
"We find that whether or not a scientist becomes a PI is largely predictable by their publication record, even taking into account only the first few years of publication," the researchers report. "Our model is able to predict with relatively high accuracy who becomes a PI and is also able to predict how long this will take."
"There is an element of luck in getting a paper in Nature, Cell, or Science, so it can be frustrating if you think you are a good scientist and want to succeed but that high-impact-factor paper just doesn't happen," van Dijk says. "It's encouraging that we find that doing good-quality science on a consistent basis—as evidenced by multiple first-author papers of reasonable impact factor—does seem to be rewarded in the end."
Dr. van Dijk shouldn't crack open the bubbly just yet. In fact, his own prediction engine only gives him a 38% probability of becoming a PI.
Keep your chin up, Dave!