The “American Dream” is one hell of a drug.

Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.
10 min readDec 30, 2022

NB: This essay is going to be a bit rambly as I explore issues of workforce, economics, and how it all plays out in academics. If this essay isn’t something you’re enjoying, please explore other articles / essays.

Sometimes it is easier to see structural issues as they affect a society than it is to see how they affect one person — yourself — in particular. I have spoken out many times about the problem with the great American myth that if a person works hard enough, they are capable of becoming anything. The reality is, sometimes no work is needed; you just need to come from the right set of parents. A recent issue of People sent social media into a frenzy as it detailed out “Nepotism Babies” in Hollywood and people asked if these next-generation actors would have had the same breaks without their famous parents. It has become a joke to chat about “What does it take to become a business magnate? Get up at 5am, exercise daily, learn how to maintain inbox 0, and… have a rich parent.” We have reached the point where people like me joke about how nice it could be to spend just one day as a white male of a wealthy-enough background, while we also acknowledge our own privileges (I’m an over-educated, middle-class white lady), and tilt at windmills as we try to make the world a little bit more equitable.

I know we don’t live in a meritocracy. I know that the world isn’t fair. I know someone can work as hard as they can everyday of their life and still end up homeless in old age.

I know these things, but I struggle to apply them to how I judge myself.

I am an over-educated white lady who has been working my ass off since 2006 to try and support not just myself but also students, assistants, and colleagues as we work together to put new science and the creative materials inspired by that science out into this world. With my podcast Astronomy Cast, Fraser and I have pulled together amazing teams who allow us to put out around 44 podcasts a year. With CosmoQuest, I’ve spent the past ten years bringing together collaborators to help build a community where people can do and learn science.

Over the years, we’ve gone from well-funded to financially devastated as we’ve traveled the mad roller coaster that is US Federal Science Funding. In 2013, after stumbling from the near-knockout punch of sequestration, we ran our first Hangout-a-thon to raise the money we needed to keep going and keep paying our bills. It wasn’t a complete…

Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.

Astronomer, technologist, & creative focused on using new media to engage people in learning and doing science. Opinions & typos my own.