This is going to be a very juicy entry and the following reason/comment is all I experienced or heard during my finite academia career.
What do people wanted the most? Money and Power. When people have the money, they want the power. When they have the power, they can get the money.
It is similar in academic research…Why is it so?
There are thousands of projects or research proposals out there prepared by thousands of researchers. How to find out the one which is going to “work”?
You never know.
So, what is the safest way to do that? Find the one who has all the expertise, has the most resources and they just need a push to success! Wait…why don’t the people in business do that if it was in that stage……?
This is the dilemma on who to give the research funding. They want to support the one which is going to success but the projects which are going to be successful will go to business. Simply, the researchers are not dumb and they know they can be benefited from their idea or researcher, who would get the funding from government which is slow and troublesome.
Most of the research projects are in the infancy stage. They (>90%) are not going to success. There are too many ways to fail.
So, how to get the grant or the money to run the lab? Write something which make the others feel it is going to be successful.
Does it mean that it is going to be successful? No.
Does it affect the outcome of the research itself? No.
Does it affect the outcome of the research grant? Yes.
The dark side of research: Politics in academia
Politics is in short, the balance on the distribution of resources. Sometimes you get more and sometimes less. In research, we always need more.
There are way too many idea, way too few manpower and way too few equipment and reagents to carry them out. How to balance them?
In a perfect world, every researchers present their idea and tried to convince the others theirs are the best. A good presenter is not necessary a good manager or researcher. The peter principle kicks in……
Also, it is not practical to have everyone knows or understand the proposal based on the novel natural of research……
If someone got the support of a famous professor, like the name of the professor in the grant application. They are more likely to get funded.
In a perfect world, if a famous professor got the research grant, what would happen in the group? So, the money goes to the project which is going to success and BAM! A nature/science/cell/PNAS class paper is born!
However, it is far from the reality…..The reality was, the group members fight for new resources. If they cannot convince the Principle Investigator, they confuse him……If the was a completing proposal or researcher(s), all the dark side of humanity kicks in….bad mouth, defaming, accusing the other of fraud, stopped from sharing of resources…….or even ruin the others experiments
After all, these people are “good” people who wanted to do research but just different way to get resources. The worst kind of researchers are those who wanted to get the position (and money) instead of doing research. They do research because they can get more for themselves.
Quite some of them know the jargon but they don’t even know how to do research. Yet, they have a way to get more resources because of their title or whatnot. To those people, research is a waste of their time….so they “collaborate” with the “real researchers” and get publications out from them.
But what is the benefit of getting publications? To get a higher position, then, to get more power and control in the organization……and thus more money to keep the secretaries who knows what they like……being a leader of a group or whatsoever……
Well, do these people affect you? Maybe……or I mean, they MUST……
I was almost expelled by my supervisors. I got two (in fact, four in total) very good Professors to back me up just because they are kind people. At the end, I finished my Master and later, PhD. There are bright side of humanity, yes there are. But there are just way too few of them. The problem was, they help you to stay alive in academia, but they are not always there to help you. According to the Peter principle, they are good at what they are doing and then they will get promoted…..Somehow, only the bad one left and you have to due with them.
In the government….alright, that’s my job and I can take off on time.
In business….alright, that’s my job and I can get a good pay cheque at the end of the month.
In academia….alright, that’s my job and I can get the fame.
No! It is very difficult to switch to another university once you set up or settle in a lab and work on something specific. It is not possible to get any fame before you have the great science published…..The problem is….those bad people could steal your fame, steal your paper or even accuse you being scientific misconduct and probably ruined your career. Yet, you have to play it nice and pretend to be good with these people. A high level power struggle for the limited research grant from outside or inside……indefinitely!
What is worse? Some female researchers could get what they wanted just because they are female and the supervisor is a man. It is well-known in China and there is still this kind of “practice” in the place outside China.
Some people get whatever they want by whatever means.
I stick to certain principles, to name a few, I never fraud, bad data is bad data. I re-do the same experiments like 7 times to get a more consistence set of data. I convince with reason rather than telling they a fairy-tale like perspective. Nothing in research is certain and I always present the reason why I prefer this approach and what if it failed.
I convinced my two supervisors to support me and later they wanted me to drop out because the results were bad. I am disposable but I graduated. I don’t have to suffer from this kind of cancerous environment any more.
My thesis defence was easy in a way all of the professors are kind and good people. I prepared well and they did not ask any difficult question. After I defended my thesis, I don’t know what I should do. I don’t want to do a postdoc and my research career is over. The stuff I liked the most, to put a theory into practice is over. All I wanted was a sleep. However for this time, I slept in the office. I feel safe when the normal sounds of the vacuum pump and fumehood echoing in my ear. Is that noisy and disturbing? It is the best orchestra one could possibly listen to in a lab.
It is a good time to bring this up….
Obama’s pull their army from Iraq without a plan resulted ISIS and the Syrian mess. Does he proved the worth of a Nobel Prize in Peace?
He has done nothing but to keep peace possible?
Failing to plan is planning to fail. That’s exactly what is happening of Obama’s plan in middle east.
The weak Iraq government and the messy geo-political situation led to the civil war and ISIS was benefited from the civil war. The Arab Spring spread to Syria and led to a Civil war which attracted ISIS to take advantage of it.
The states have not done enough to prevent all these from happening. Bush made a mistake to get rid of Saddam Hussein and Obama made a worse mistake to leave the mess behind.
Seriously? That’s the way how peace be maintained in middle east? The Kurds, conflict between Sunni and Shia and the state of Palestine……Does it make sense to just leave it like this without an exit plan?
It is bad to put the troops in middle east but it is even worse to pull them away without someone which could lead and bring peace to the place.
We have a lot of expectation on professors. They are knowledgeable, creative, smart, patience, kind……
No! What our university or society expect the professors to be?
They have to be good in research, teaching, mentor students, university administration, managing their research fund, forge collaboration……
Long time ago, when I read a “book” about how to run your lab, the first thing every professors told you was, you were asked to do this and that and you have never learned that. One later learned everything themselves because those are important to be a successful professor and they get used to that sooner or later.
Seriously? Does it make sense?
One was trained to work in laboratory and writing paper, then they were shifted completely into something else and worked as a manager.
It is understandable….but according to Peter Principle, promoting someone good at what they are doing would ultimately promote them to the position of incompetence. That is, as one advanced the career by promotion, one would get promoted to a position which one was not good at and stuck there forever.
What do we expect a professor could do? Research, teaching, managing people, managing funding, getting funded, forging collaboration……
If you failed in one single thing, you are very likely to be a bad professor in someone’s eye and probably, stuck in the position of incompetence.
Our world wants a omniscience and omnipotent hero to be a professor, not a human being…..
Meanwhile, it is ONLY a career! One has other goals in one’s life! Have a family, spend time with partner, kids, and family, and probably have one’s hobby. Even if you were a good scientist, you might be not a good professor. If you had a good career, you might be not have a good family. If you had a good career and good family, you might be not have a good life. The problem was, being a professor consume most of your time in your career. How could it be possible to be a perfect human being?
I have seen one perfect human so far. He is a very good professor, being very kind to me and to his students. But, how many perfect human being are out there? Am I a perfect human being?
A professor is a in fact running a business, the business of publication. They get funded for generating publications, which is the product.
If he was good in the career, what was the reward? More funding and more people to join his group. More people to carry what the idea he wanted to carry out or he supported. So at the end, he got more publications, possibly an important one which might lead to a useful patent.
This was the best case scenario.
The worst case scenario was, I tried to work as postdoc and after five years or so, I cannot get a faculty position.
Given all the stress and hard work one has to put in, was the return on scale?
I would rather get the money myself and do whatever I wanted to.
What is our society expect us to be as a professor? Do research and teach students! What if I somehow got tired of either one? I would be a highly knowledgeable teaching/research labour struggle to make a live in academia and at the same time, because of the fame and expectation of the society, I pretend to like the teaching or research and lie to everyone. At the same time, I have to spend so much time in something I do not like to earn a living. Would other careers have similar problem? Probably no…..everyone knows people work in government is slow and inefficient and they have all the excuses. Everyone knows people work in business want money and their hard work is often paid off. But what do people expect a professor does? The pursuit of knowledge on behave of human’s welfare. It would be a moral crisis if one worked as a non-productive professor, which according to what I know about myself, someone who does not like to get stressed and wanted to take breaks from stuff. I believe it would be the case (if and only if I got a faculty position).
There are three kinds of knowledge influenced me the most in recent 10 years: Science, Philosophy and Business.
I studied science to begin with and it is normal for me to be a science-oriented person. Later I worked in a chemical engineering research lab and I adopted a lot of chemical engineering way of thinking in my research.
I studied a philosophy course in my undergraduate. The reason why I studied it because there was a classmate who had strong knowledge and understanding in philosophy and I admired him (intellectually) a lot. I wanted to be like him in thinking and reasoning. Later I read a “book” called “A History of Western Philosophy”.
I studied business due to a book called “Poor Dad, Rich Dad” and later “Peter Principle”. The later one was a random e-book I download and I thought the name was interesting. Later on, I invested in stock market (because of the growth and culture in Hong Kong) and I started to learn about business.
The reasons why I quitted academia are largely based on these three perspective of thought.
As discussed previously, there is no actual freedom in academic research.
If I pursuit the academic career, I need a justified reason to do so.
What kind of “stuff” I look for in another field which I cannot get in academia?
Fame, the wants to be deemed as important.
That is my answer.
After all, how many people could invent something useful in real life and was a scientist in academia? Most of them were struggling to get a grant….instead of answering a scientific question, not to mention a scientific business solution or a solution to disease or a solution to the suffering of human being.
My 2 supervisors have not done that and why would I suppose I can do that? They have been in the field for longer, more experienced and more resourceful.
The question is not whether if I could do that. What if I cannot do that (went to academia but failed to do any impact), would I hate myself or my life?
I can tell my supervisors do not like theirs life. Academia is very stressful, both of them struggle to get grant or even secure a position in their 50-60 year old. Would I want that in my life?
More importantly, demographically speaking, the baby boomers are going to retire. More government funding will go to medical care instead of research. Meanwhile, there is a smaller youth population and the tax revenue will be reduced, we are going to have less funding for more service….the first cut will be in research.
More importantly, I will have to endure at least 3-5 year period before I could even apply for an assistant professor position. Fire was 40 without a faculty position.
If I went to industry, even if I won’t have the fame, I have the money (freedom) to do whatever I want.
So, why would I suppose my research or idea will not going to work? Basically, unless one is very very lucky, it is not possible to get anything new and working. There are a lot of knowledgeable people but not all of them succeed. One of the major reasons was a lack of luck.
Say even if I could have certain impact on science, what if I was tired of it? What could I do afterwards? Would I be leeching the society because of the successful past? Would I hate myself for being ignorant and stupid or not-caring in front of my fellow students? Given that I did not like my two supervisors (I kept good relationship with them), would I be like them later on?
Research is the most romantic on the earth.
Explore the truth! Pick a method to see if it worked and decide what to do next. When you make something work according to the literature, you felt the connections with those researchers. When you did not make it work, you try another method and always wonder and expect what is coming next.
Research always surprises you.
Anyhow, it is a way to make a live.
To few people, it is a pursuit of dream. To the most people, it is a way to feed themselves.
Good scientists make science, most scientists make a live on science.
My supervisors had not liked me, until they got the result they wanted. One asked me to find another lab, the other one asked me to switch to master.
Research life is not easy, it never is.
There are way too many students want to get a position than the funding that could possibly support. Any supervisor who are result-oriented and merciless enough may fire a student in the name of lazy or not up to par. He knows your advisory committee, he knows the people in the department. Which one would you believe in? The supervisor or the student?
How to get good data? It is the central question…..It is not how to get consistent or reliable data, it is to get the data your supervisor wanted.
I once suffered from insomnia for a month. It is called publish or perish.
As a supervisor, his duty is to publish. If he did not get the data he wanted and fit into his next grant application, as a powerless student, your life will be miserable.
The worst part was, most supervisors do not know the most updated knowledge. I cannot say it is entirely their fault. They need to teach, mentor students, sit in advisory committee, exam thesis, publish, revise paper, connect with old fellows and ask for updated manuscript, check numerous emails, write grants applications, manage animal protocols, do other random administrative stuff the university or department asked to, and any random stuff happen in the lab……basically, unless you are a superhuman or spend 100 hours a day (?), it is impossible to finish the work.
Given we are not superhuman and we do not have 100 hours a day, how do those professors finish their day?
If you were given one hundred dollar to buy a car, you would get something worth one hundred dollar. It is highly likely you are going to get a bicycle.
Seriously, who would like to work like a professor?
When I was a child, I used to watch TV. Watching the animal running around and a random person come up can tell you what are those animals…..Yes, that person is called scientist and the program is called Nat Geo.
Certainly, I used to watch all other wild animal channel and whatnot….although my English was too bad to understand anything back in the time and I rely on the subtitle to understand what it was about.
I haven’t thought about be a part of them because my academic result was not good. I repeated my last year of high school and took the exam again by studying myself.
Unluckily, I got into university. It is Chemistry, the subject I was the best at. It was not biology because the English is way too difficult and all stuff are too random.
I chose Chemistry because that was the only hope for me to get into university.
I have never thought about going to graduate school. When I was in undergraduate, I thought being graduate student and be teaching assistant was very cool.
I took the “research course” (which was like final year project) and I enjoyed a short time of “research life”, doing experiments and understanding the cutting edge stuff. Everything is interesting when you are doing something you try to understand. Organic synthesis the thing I like, especially after I worked on porphyrin (yes, I still know how to spell it!). It can be used in photodynamic therapy for cancer.
I was (and still am) not good in doing exam. My experience in research was not up to par and more importantly, my grades are not good. No one was taking me into graduate school. I worked for a year in business and I know there is something more exciting out there, which is called research.
Later I worked in a Chemical Engineering research lab. It was the best experience I have ever had (until now). However, I wished to work on synthetic related research, like drug related research, like cancer related ones.
My master studied started 2 years after I worked in Chemical Engineering research. It was a total failure. I did not know how to do the actual thing. What could possible be working? I read more than 10 books related to the topic which is called “gene delivery”, a branch of “gene therapy” which was possibly be used in cancer. I graduated my master because it is a master. You did not need anything useful or close to one…
I decided to study aboard, I wanted to see the world. I came to Canada and started my PhD on “siRNA delivery”. Similar stuff but siRNA is smaller. It was a failure in the first 2 years. Everything I designed were not working. Later, because I understand the materials and the constraints more. I know I HAVE to publish to graduate and I NEED new (novelty!!) stuff. I worked on something rather unusual, proof of concept and certainly, blending all “new” stuff together……it worked….
Yes, I inhibited the growth of a mouse cancer.
I wanted to quit academia.
Why do we have the take it for granted idealism? It is because we are too lazy. We do not want to change the environment, we changed our mind to fool ourselves and made excuses for our laziness and impotence.
“It is all theirs problem!”
It is the problem of the government, it is the problem of Islam, it is the problem of immigrants, it is the problem of the boss, it is the problem of that stupid driver, it is the problem of the crazy people, it is the problem of men, it is the problem of the white, it is the problem of the states, it is the problem of……
If you got the magical power to remove that from your world, would the problem of your world be fixed? If it was not the magical power, but it was the power in real world and you execute that, would that be the worst possible dystopia ever be created?
The most important reason to be a Professor in a University or being a Principal Investigator is to have the freedom of research.
Is that true?
If someone wanted to do research, one needed the money. One needs the money to acquire the stuff for testing the idea or hiring people to do the job. Make sense right?
So, how does a researcher get their funding? It is usually from the government or industry. So, for industry, they only fund on certain projects which they are interested in and usually they have a lot of restriction on whether one could publish the data or not. Therefore, working for the industry is usually not considered to be free (to certain extent). So, if one managed to get the funding from the government, one had more freedom in research. The question is, how could one get funded?
This is a very good question! Every researcher is asking this question and waits for the answer, probably only 10% of them know it. So the problem is, one cannot get funded and cannot do anything. The interesting fact about funding was, they LOVE to see some good preliminary data. How is it possible to get the preliminary data before you get funded? Get some fund before you get funded? Well, usually researchers “live” (leech?) in some well-funded professor as postdoc or research associate or even as assistant professor before they get their own funding, lab space, equipment, man power, etc. Some of the lucky ones could get funded by the department but this kind of chance is slim. One has to “collaborate” with the senior professor before being independent. The collaboration is usually like, helping to train the undergraduate student, graduate student or junior postdoc of senior professor, to prepare research grant applications, to draft research paper, etc.
If someone went through the process of working for the others and started to get one’s own research grant, does he have the freedom in research? Yes but very little. The reason behind this is because one needed to get the grant and the grant is usually given to those researches which might have an impact to practical questions. If someone wanted to do mechanistic research on biology, the chance of getting funded based on one’s own interest is highly unlikely, unless it is related to some important diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. It is always good to turn science into something useful right? The problem is (no matter how good it is) our interest as academic scientist may not always generate value in foreseeable future. There is a gap between funding system and the value of scientists. So, in order to get the money and do what the scientists wanted, the research proposal is usually grounded by the cloak of those diseases. Is it some kind of lie? Not exactly, in the name of science and in the name of better good…
As a PhD graduate, I have to define this question before answering it. If you didn’t know what a PhD degree is, probably this question is irrelevant to you and you should stop reading……Yeah, this is my attitude. XD
PhD, Doctor of Philosophy! It has very little to do with the subject philosophy most of the time but the method of philosophy. A person who has a PhD means (cough, cough…) one is capable to analyse a research question from the perspective of the specialized subject. Usually, the research question is something new and therefore, a PhD graduate is usually someone who is not only knowledgeable but also innovative!
The average length of PhD study varies, from 3 years to more than 10 years! Nowadays, the length of a PhD in life science is around 4-6 years….if not more….
What can a PhD graduate do? Almost everything! From the road to be a professor, to do research in industry, to start a business, to delivering pizzas…..I meant, nothing! The thesis or research of a PhD graduate is very narrow and it is usually far from reach the point of commercialization. In short, after 4-6 years of training in research, you know nothing about reality! The only profession you can do is probably postdoc, which is not a degree but it is widely considered as a “non-real” working experience, at least in the industry.
So, what is postdoc about? Postdoc is the extension of PhD in academic research without having the stress to graduate in a limited time frame but having the stress to publish before the money run out. Basically, a postdoc does what every other PhD student does, except they are more experienced. So usually, how much was postdoc paid? According to economist, postdoc salary was comparable to a construction worker which does not even require a bachelor degree! Yes, I know….there is a slim chance for a PhD graduate to be a Professor which is paid very well….Is this the case? In probably less than every ten postdoc, there are one person end up being a Professor in the university. 10% chance is not that slim right? Seriously YES! It takes 4-5 years to finish the postdoc training before one happened to get an offer of Assistant Professor which is NOT guaranteed!
It could be like 60-140k per year depends on where you were working.
From a financial perspective, it is not a good idea to pursuit such a career because of the slim chance of getting in and the long waiting time before you get the real food. However, if someone considered the interest of being a Principal Investigator who leads his/her own research, it may be the (only) choice.
to be continued…