28 January 2009

People worry about themselves, not funding

Dr. Isis writes:

I believe that many young scientists are afraid of a career in academia -- not because they don't believe themselves capable of managing the research, but because they are afraid of running in the funding race.

A huge number of students have bled away from scientific careers long before they know what "R01" means. For instance...

  • The training period is too long.

  • The career path is downright hostile to families. It's hard enough to keep things working with a partner, never mind kids.

  • You can't easily pick where you live. The job market is so small that even trying to find a position in a particular country is tough. (And yes, I'm speaking from personal experience.)

I think there's a lot of projection going on. Researchers with grants worry about getting the next one, so they think that's what more junior scientists (students, post-docs, etc.) are also worried about. I don't think that's the case.


Sarah the Buglady said...

I disagree that the search for funding does not discourage young scientists from an academic career. Bar none, this process has been the number one negative of my own career. Maybe I'm overreacting (and bitter?) but I have found the grantwriting process to be very demeaning and the path to success nearly impenetrable. Most of the advice I have received has regarded "tricks" to increase the sexiness of the research, some of which I have felt were borderline unethical. The review process feels more like a white-collar cocktail party schmooze-fest than an actual evaluation of the proposed research. NSF throws around BS priorities such as funding "transformational" research, and then rejects proposals that are outside of the PI's usual field of study, or that aren't backed up with a 50 foot deep pile of preliminary data.

Anyway, that's been my impression over the past 6 years. I'm up for tenure now with a pretty good research/teaching/service record, but have doubts that I will succeed due to not having acquired the holy grail of a funded grant. And honestly, at this point, I am almost looking forward to moving to a new career where writing grants is not part of the job description. Let me teach and do science, people; if I wanted to play the popularity game I would join the country club and start watching "The Hills."

Zen said...

Fair enough. I wasn't trying to say the funding situation is good -- it isn't, goodness knows that. And yes, enough rejection makes anyone angry.

I do think we're losing talented people way before those people are thinking about their own funding.

Isis the Scientist said...

NeuroDojo, I think you might be right about early-stage trainees, but I think students at the end of grad school or in postdoc periods think very much about whether they want to pursue a career where they are constantly scraping for funding. I think those who might be drawn to an academic path are watching their mentors very, very closely for clues as to the funding climate...

Zen said...

Yes, I think I should have emphasized that more in the post that I was thinking how people make decisions in the early stages of careers.

I agree that people in at the post-doc / assistant professor stage get much more worried about funding.