In the current economic state everything gets boiled down to the bottom line. How many discoveries are we missing? More importantly, how many young scientists, like myself, see the battles our professors wage and think, “Ah, hell no.”?
I was chatting with a visiting student who is doing research in our lab for several months. She, as well as the other graduate student in my lab all say the same thing. We have no desire to do what our professor does day in and day out.
Being a professor now entails a bit of teaching, a lot of inane meetings, and spending way more than a mere forty hours a week writing grants, re-writing grants and prepping reports if you are lucky enough to have received funding. The stress must be intense, because not only is a professor’s career on the line, the livelihoods of every technician, student, and research assistant depends on him or her.
A professor from my undergraduate university gave a talk here this week for graduate student day.
“Imagine, ” she said, “that Charles Darwin proposed a grant for traveling around for a decade or so just to observe and think about how different species of birds are related. That wouldn’t go over.”
The imaginative out-of-the-box thinking has to take place on our own time while we juggle all the things that pay the bills. Sounds rather like being a writer in many ways. In fact, she emphasized that the best scientists had outside creative interests which kept that right-left brain balance in check.
My boss is one of those dreamer types. He’s always saying he needs to start a company because grants don’t pay enough, but he has no patience for business and would likely give away a drug if it cured something, rather than charge a hefty price like big pharma. He has endless ideas, many of which he might never get a chance to pursue.
The emphasis on the bottom line, having to work with very little resources, fewer and fewer trained personnel and still deliver high quality data is likely driving the next generation of scientists out of academia.
Why should we teach when the universities want you to water everything down? Why dedicate every ounce of our energy into running a lab when funding has become just as political as Washington?
As both a mother and scientist the state of our society worries me. The decline of the educational system combined with the fiscal squeeze in research are going to cost us much more in the long run than we save by any current spending cuts. I can only hope that we repair our system before it crashes and burns.