Some scientists are traditional sedate scholars, while certain others fulfill the Hollywood image of being quite mad. Most research scientists are somewhere in between these extremes, but often have lives filled with new experiments, several surprises, and much perspiration, as well as with some acclaim by other researchers, personal satisfaction, and at least a little bit of fun (see my article in the Basic Introductions category on “What is the Fun of Being a Scientist?”). Winners of the biggest science prizes often show major strengths at being imaginative, argumentative, and humorous during many years of work in their research laboratories.
Ordinary people typically know nothing at all about the life of any individual scientist. Children in school unfortunately study only dead scientists and almost never get to see and learn about living professional researchers as fellow people. Teenagers like to read about strong personalities in fantastic predicaments, but very few teens realize that some living scientists have exactly those adventures. Most modern adults worship sports stars and TV celebrities, and so are not able to perceive that after many years of effort, a hard-working research scientist who is one of their neighbors finally succeeds in establishing a new theory by the sheer strength of will and character.
In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists. I prefer to let the scientists tell their own stories. Their autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists. My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about. If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.
Most of these materials reveal the human aspects and personalities of individual scientists, and are not primarily intended to explain or instruct about science. By getting to know more about the life of a few real scientists, I hope that readers/viewers/listeners will conclude that all these special individuals are also their fellow human beings.
Part 1 Recommendations: NANOSCIENCE & NANOTECHNOLOGY
Prof. Sumio Iijima (1939 – present) is known globally for his co-founding of the new discipline, nanoscience, through his 1991 discovery of carbon nanotubes. Today, many hundreds of other research scientists and engineers around the world are working to further develop carbon nanomaterials for dramatic new devices and innovative uses in energy storage, clinical medicine, and industrial processes. This leading Japanese scientist was honored in 2008 as one of the inaugural Kavli Prize awardees in Nanoscience.
Prof. Iijima is somewhat unusual because he is working on research both in academia (Meijo University, at Nagoya) and in industry (NEC Corporation). I recommend everyone’s attention first to viewing a wonderful video of his masterful public presentation given at a Friday Evening Discourse (London) in 2007. Secondly, read the delightful autobiographical account describing his childhood and research career; this also presents his personal advice to youths beginning their career in science. A third article gives his own story about discovering carbon nanotubes. Much further information about his life and work are available on Prof. Iijima’s own website (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/mainE.html ); a gallery of photographs also is available (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Gallery/galleryE.html ).
They Just Don’t Realize What Happens if Science Dies!! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Several knowledgeable science writers have published provocative and shocking speculations that science and research are dead [e.g., 1-3]. I myself do not believe that science now is dead, because new knowledge and important new technology continue to be produced by the ever-increasing large number of graduate students, postdocs, academic and industrial researchers, and engineers. A very good example of recent major progress is found in “3-D printing and nanoprinting” [e.g., 4,5]; this remarkable advance developed from a combination of pure basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and exemplifies to me that science and research indeed still are alive today.
Other science writers have concluded that science is undergoing decay and degeneration despite its celebrated progress [e.g., 6,7]. I agree with these perceptions. The nature and goals of modern scientific research at universities have changed so much that I am sadly convinced that modern science is withering from its former vigorous state. Since there presently is almost no push against the causes of this very undesirable situation, and since there are no easy means to accomplish all the reforms and rescue efforts needed to reverse the current very negative trends, I do indeed believe thatmodern science actually could be dying. Although science still is quite alive, to me it obviously is not well.
Many who disagree with my harsh conclusion will point to the enormous number of scientists now doing research studies, the massive number of tax dollars being spent on academic research, the even larger amount of dollars spent by industries for their commercial research and developmental efforts, the huge number of research scientists reporting on their latest experimental findings at the annual meetings of science societies, and, the modern advent of new research centers, new subdivisions of science, and new directions of research. Instead of responding to each of these true statements, I will counter that most of them are not reasons why science is successful, but rather are actual symptoms resulting from the decay and degeneration of modern science.
All of the following are strictly personal opinions, and represent my reasons for believing that science now is dying. The fundamental goal of scientific research at universities has changed into acquiring more research grant money, instead of finding more new knowledge. Today, science seems to be progressing more and more slowly, with research advances coming in smaller and smaller steps. The research questions being addressed almost all are smaller than those asked by scientists just a few decades ago; very many scientists in academia now seek to work only on niche studies. The significance of the reports found in the numerous new and old research journals is decreasing with each year; superficial rather limited reports now are becoming commonplace. Few scientists are enthusiastic about undertaking the experimental study of any really large and important research questions, since those would require at least several decades of work to find a complete answer; such efforts are made impossible by the fact that research grants mostly are available only for 1-5 years of effort. Many modern PhD scientists working in universities today are functioning only as highly educated research technicians working within large groups (see my recent article in the Essays category on “Individual Work versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research“); group-think is prevalent and research in academia now is only a business activity (see my earlier article in the Essays category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”). The extensive commercialization of university science sidetracks basic research, stifles individual creativity, and encourages ethical misconduct. Individual scientists still are the fountain for new ideas and research creativity, but in modern academia they are increasingly restrained by the misguided policies of the research grant agencies and the university employers; both of these have only a very restrained enthusiasm for basic research studies.
A different large and important question always is lurking in the background whenever the status of science progress is being evaluated: could it be that much of the totality of possible knowledge already has been established by all the previous research discoveries? In other words, is modern scientific research only working to fill in gaps within the massive amount of knowledge already acquired? I feel that this proposal is quite debatable, since there still are many large and important research questions that remain unanswered. However, if one switches to asking about understanding, rather than about knowledge, then I believe that very much understanding remains remains to be uncovered in all branches of science. Although many more new facts and figures will lead to some increase in understanding, I do not actually see that outcome resulting from the many superficial research studies today; many new experimental results are publicized and certified as being “very promising”, but these often simply increase the complexity of the question and rarely result in significant advances for real understanding.
All of these negative situations adversely impact upon the research enterprise and make it less productive, less significant, less satisfying, and more costly. Unless changes and reforms are made, the decay in scientific research will progress further. I feel thattherapeutic interventions must be made in order to save science and research from actually dying. The time to start these needed changes is right now, before everything gets even worse. My hope is that more and more research scientists, science historians, science philosophers, science teachers, and science administrators will come to see the truth in my viewpoint that the research enterprise currently has decayed and is approaching a morbid condition.
Can science and research be saved from death? What changes must be made? Which change needs to be made first? Is more money to support science needed to rescue science, or will more supportive funds only make this pathological situation even worse? Who can make the needed changes and reforms? Who will take the lead in these efforts? How can more scientists and more ordinary people be persuaded that scientific research is dying and needs to be rescued? I will try to deal further with some of these very difficult and complex questions in later essays at this website.
 Horgan, J., 1997. The End of Science. Facing the Limits of Knowledge in Light of the Scientific Age. Broadway Books, The Crown Publishing Group, New York, 322 pages.
Traditionally, a career in scientific research or any other business can be considered as being analogous to climbing a ladder. This viewpoint necessarily means that if you are not able to step onto the first rung of the ladder (i.e., find some type of first job), then there is zero chance that you will ever be able to climb up that particular ladder. However, once you have acquired some job and accomplished something (i.e., have moved up to rung number 2 or 3 by doing well and learning more during 1-2 years), it also becomes realistically possible to jump onto a different ladder (i.e., to switch to a different and better job). Yes, experience makes a big difference! Each job seeker must find their own path to a good job.
For some young scientists, it can be difficult to find a traditional research job either at universities, industrial research and development centers, or government research facilities. In such cases, it is necessary to become more flexible about theoretical possibilities and realistic practicalities. A key major question you must face is how much you as a scientist are determined to work only on research activities. If you will consider working with science at non-traditional venues, or working on science-related jobs that do not directly involve lab research, then very many additional possibilities for employment will arise. I already have introduced many examples of different science-related employment positions in Part I.
Becoming unconventional in your job search
The more doors that remain open, the greater choice of jobs you will have. Restricting where and what you are looking at necessarily closes some doors. What if nothing works in your search for employment and all seems hopeless? Then, it is time to learn tothink very much more creatively! Even if you are only seeking a conventional kind of job, using unconventional approaches might give you an advantage or open some more doors.
Many new science PhD’s and Postdocs must escape from the straightjacket of traditional academic research, and learn to consider other possibilities outside universities and even outside science. If these are unconventional, so what? I once actually encountered a professional driver for a limousine company with a PhD; he likes to talk with scholarly overtones to me and all his many different clients about philosophy and politics, and seemed quite happy doing that! I doubt that he ever planned to be a fulltime professional driver; it is possible that he first tried this job only as some temporary work, and then unexpectedly came to realize that this unconventional position suited his individual situation very nicely.
I consider Edwin H. Land as a spectacularly creative scientist and admirable human (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”). Land did not seek a job, but instead he created one for himself! Actually, he created several jobs for himself (i.e., scientist, educator, engineer, industrialist, and visionary)! Even in his early college days, he was so determined to do experimental research that he got permission to work at night on his own research in a professor’s empty laboratory; he went on to continue to do research on several subjects during his later years running the Polaroid Corporation. Probably, none of us has the same magic that emanated from Prof. Land, but you can try to copy his creative spirit when seeking to find a suitable job for yourself. Can you do that? Try it and see!
There are many different ways to create your own job. If you can form some small business operation, you can hire yourself! If you can convince a company that they need some new service, and if you can provide exactly such, then you might have created your own job! If you can invent something new and useful to others, you can either manufacture and market it, or sell the idea or patent! If you can innovate some new software that others will want to utilize, then you can license it for use or establish a new computer company! If you do not have enough money to be able to start something like this, you can borrow funds from family or friends, or you can work temporarily at some ordinary job until you have saved enough capital; another approach is to try to win support via crowd-funding [e.g., 1-3]. Be imaginative in what you try to do!
Miscellaneous advice for job seekers from Dr.M
New scientists should never forget that you do indeed already have some valuable skills and experience in science and research, or you would not have succeeded in earning your doctoral degree. Hence, you can have confidence in your own abilities to overcome the problems with finding a suitable job! Besides your own self, you already have many external resources to help your search; never hesitate to consult with your former thesis advisor, postdoctoral mentor(s), favorite teachers, fellow research workers, and good friends about the current status of your job search.
Be vigorous in your job hunt, and always show self-confidence, initiative, determination, and a high energy level. Check out everything, not just the most likely prospects. As one colleague helpfully explained to me long ago, the time to worry about salary level and which desk you will have is only after you have received a job offer, not before. Be willing to move if that is required for a job that you know would be good for you. Be flexible. Always be 100% honest during interviews, and emphasize how you are well-suited for the particular job opening you are applying for.
If you are looking in unconventional areas or trying to create a new job for yourself, then never limit your imagination. Try to see more than everyone else does. One of my own university science teachers retired at age 65 and then took several art courses to learn how to paint. Within just a few years, her canvasses were selling and she was the featured artist at several shows and galleries in other states. None of us students ever guessed that she also had a hidden talent as an artist. She said unconventionally that for her, science and art have many similarities.
The main message in Part III is that job seekers with a science PhD should be imaginative and creative, and should not hesitate to consider nontraditional employment possibilities.
Your main message for this entire series (Parts I-III) is that a PhD in science qualifies you for very many different types of employment, including positions that do not involve laboratory research or working in traditional job sites.
Dr.M wishes all doctoral scientists much good fortune with their search for a suitable and satisfying job!
Commercial industries now employ a very large number of doctoral scientists for their research and development efforts. The annual total money spent on scientific research and development by all USA industries was almost 300 billion dollars in 2011 . Very large research facilities established and run by the federal government also employ very many doctoral researchers from all branches of science. New science Ph.D.’s and Postdocs who are seeking their first employment should have a clear understanding of the fundamental differences between researching in industry vs. academia, and in government research centers vs. universities. These distinctions are discussed in this Part II discourse.
Researching in industrial research and development centers
The goal of industrial research operations usually is to build a new product or to improve some existing commercial offering or process, thereby increasing the profits of that company. Experimental research areas at each center are highly focused and are selected with regard to their commercial products and activities; they do not involve any wide array of topics. Company research programs not only provide salaries and benefits, but also furnish money for all equipment, supplies, and other expenses needed in their laboratories. Provisions for compliance with regulations, environmental protection, health, legal issues and patents, maintenance of facilities, safety and security, waste disposal, etc., usually are done in-house or via contracts with outside operators. Decisions about key questions for researchers such as what will be investigated, how the experiments will be conducted, how much time can be spent collecting data, who will work on what aspects in the team research effort, when something needs to be patented, and, when a project is completed or must be stopped, all are reviewed and made by research officials and/or company directors. There is much more emphasis in industrial science operations on obtaining patents, and less pushing for published research reports, than is found at universities.
When university faculty scientists look at industrial research workers, their eyes usually open very widely since some aspects definitely are utterly wonderful (i.e., better salaries and benefits, laboratories with the latest research equipment and a full range of supplies, teams of good coworkers and research assistants, interactions with stable collaborative groups, and, absence of the need to apply for research grants). On the other hand, this excellent working environment is accompanied by certain problematic aspects; these include that research projects can be stopped by administrative decision, a research worker can be transferred out of a project and inserted into another study at any time, and, some traditional parts of research freedom are missing or restricted (e.g., opportunities to work on a subject of one’s own choosing). Each company has a different culture and some particular distinctions, so individual young job candidates must always carefully evaluate the respective positive and negative features involved locally. If an industrial research center needs a doctoral worker in exactly the same area as the researcher’s own personal interest, then that employment can be very wonderful. Those biomedical and physical research scientists working in industrial laboratories that I have met all seemed very satisfied with their professional careers.
An outspoken essay by Julio Peironcely for new science job seekers recently has appeared on the Next Scientist website and deals with how to find employment in industrial research and development centers (Peironcely, J., 2013. Leaving academia: How to get a job in industry after your PhD. Next Scientist, Helping PhD Students Succeed (April, 2013). Available on the internet at: http://www.nextscientist.com/job-in-industry-after-your-phd/ ). This article is very illuminating and provocative, and is highly recommended by Dr.M for all job candidates.
Working in government laboratories and national/regional research facilities
The USA federal government sponsors and supports its own national centers and special facilities for research (e.g., Argonne National laboratory (Argonne, Illinois), Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, New York), National Center for Electron Microscopy (Berkeley, California), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Washington), Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque, New Mexico), etc.). The research direction at each of these operations is related to the targets of their governmental sponsor and funding source (e.g., Agricultural Research Service , Communicable Diseases Center , Department of Energy , National Institutes of Health , etc.). Much additional information about all governmental labs, their current research operations, and their different sponsoring federal agencies is available on the internet. Government labs all are large operations and often participate in “big science” (i.e., working with unique research instrumentation costing millions or billions of dollars); most have valuable programs enabling use of these special facilities by visiting research scientists.
When compared to university research operations, the labs at government research laboratories have many similarities. The government research centers, just like universities, have huge bureaucracies, very many rules and regulations affecting all research workers, and, all sorts of administrative reviews that gauge research progress. Doctoral science employees often have job titles and ranks analogous to those at universities. Both reports in science journals and patents are valued at the government research centers. Amazing wastage of money is easily evident in laboratory operations at both government research centers and universities (see my earlier article in the Money&Grants category on “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science”).
One of the biggest differences is the absence of the hyper-competition for research grants (see my recent article in the Money&Grants category on “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants”) at the government laboratories. This is due to the fact that most of their research activities are funded internally. However, government centers do have several levels of internal funding, and there is some normal level of internal competition between the different government sites and between the several different research operations at each site. Another distinctive difference is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are found at both universities and federal research centers, but are much more numerous at academic institutions. Research at government centers generally has more of the flavor of group efforts; individual stars at government research centers usually are associated with group efforts, and these successful scientists often can be given leadership positions at their location.
Employment seekers must be realistic and realize that no job is perfect! Employment at academic science departments, industrial research centers, and government laboratories all have different advantages and disadvantages. These positive and negative features must be carefully and realistically evaluated before accepting any position. It always is very valuable to talk frankly to one or more current employees, and to ask about their views on the local positive and negative features; after that, you then must ask yourself, “Do I want to be like this current worker, and will I be personally satisfied with this working situation?”.
The main message from Part II is that many good jobs for doing laboratory research are available at industrial and government facilities, as well as in universities. I recommend that graduate students and Postdocs wanting to find a job doing experimental lab research should become familiar with all 3 of these different settings for employment as a research scientist. This will enlarge your available opportunities for finding a supportive working environment.
The forthcoming Part III in this series will be directed to the virtue for young scientists of being more creative and unconventional when seeking to find a suitable employment position.
Numerous scientists with a Ph.D. now are employed in university laboratories, but many others work happily outside of academia. Most doctoral scientists work on research, but others find good jobs completely outside of science. Traditional and non-traditional employments can be made by choice or of necessity (i.e., at times when research jobs at universities or industrial centers are very hard to find). By expanding your horizons you will find a greater number of doors that you can knock on.
For anyone with a Ph.D. in science who is trying to find suitable employment, 4 giant questions need to be faced before the job search begins: (1) do I want to work for myself, or for someone else, (2) do I want to work at a university, or outside academia, (3) do I want to work on science and research, or on non-science, and, (4) what employment situation suits me best (e.g., business and commerce, communication services, computation and data analysis, legal work, management and administration, military, public service, social services, teaching and tutoring, the arts, etc.)? A variety of important practical questions also will enter your search for an employment position (e.g., domestic or international job, geographical location, local cost of living, onsite presence of a good friend, salary level, size of the employer, type of facilities, etc.).
This article, which is the first in a series, presents provocative perspectives about how and where modern young scientists can find employment that is good for them as individuals. It emphasizes that there are many types of positions now available besides those in traditional settings.
Working for oneself
Some doctoral scientists successfully convert their experimental science activities and research interests into a small start-up business. The nature of these new small businesses is very diverse. Some self-employed scientists are able to direct their own research investigations and to continue studying what they believe is very important; having their own small business provides the opportunity to escape from the world of research grants and to actually again have fun doing research. They initially often employ a few associates and technicians to work at their company lab, build their personal fortune, and grow to become a larger business operation. I personally know one very good doctoral scientist who used his research skills and good creativity to found a small company selling special research kits and reagent supplies; the financial success of his new venture in science has increased his reputation as being a very clever scientist and productive researcher.
Working within universities vs. other sites
Some Ph.D. scientists who do not conduct any laboratory research are employed by universities. They work full-time as teachers, librarians, or administrators. Others are able to completely sidestep usual problems for the science faculty by switching to work on the history of science at a specialized university library. A different possibility for scientists remaining totally dedicated to doing lab research is to work as a “research associate” for a successful faculty scientist; in theory, this job lets someone else worry about research grants and deal with bureaucracies, while you get to have fun at the lab bench and produce professional publications.
Many doctoral scientists today now are more open to working completely outside traditional university-based jobs. They work in science-related positions at advertising companies, commercial businesses, consultancy agencies, industrial research and development centers, lobbying groups, news and media agencies, private foundations, etc. These positions all are outside universities, and range from selling or repairing expensive research instruments, to designing commercial advertisements and publicity programs for new pharmaceutical agents, and, to working for a publishing house as an editor and publicist handling science and technology. Other examples of modern science-related jobs include working on software design for large computation companies dealing with scientific data and various science endeavors (e.g., medical records and regulatory compliance at hospitals, geological surveys for petroleum or minerals by natural resource companies, agricultural monitoring and statistics, etc.). One should not think that doctoral scientists working outside the lab at science-related jobs must all be losers; I know one cell biologist who published several excellent research reports, but later switched into advertising for a very large pharmaceutical company where she was extremely successful and much more satisfied. Science-related positions provide the opportunity for doctoral employees to use other skills besides those needed to juggle test-tubes in a lab.
Working outside science
An increasing number of professional employment opportunities for doctoral scientists now are offered in the world of finance. Some scientists work at investment businesses as analysts who monitor different industries, analyze stock and bond offerings, and evaluate specialized companies with regard to their selection of mutual funds and exchange traded funds. These doctoral workers can be employed by mutual fund companies, exchange-traded fund businesses, investment advisors and analysts, large investment banks, government agencies, and even private individuals. A select few of these workers rise to direct a mutual fund in a science-related area (e.g., biotechnology, pharmaceutical industry, nanotechnology) and have become so successful that they are leading stars at their employing investment firm.
The main message in Part I is that a Ph.D. in science provides very many employment opportunities besides those traditional faculty jobs at universities.
I hope that the ideas discussed above will stimulate those doctoral scientists having a difficult time locating suitable employment to form some new thoughts. Some of the other job situations discussed above offer the opportunity to still conduct lab research studies, while others enable you to use your special knowledge and professional skills in creative and profitable ways completely outside the research lab. Yet other modern jobs involve working in various science-related activities, but without any laboratory operations. It pays to keep an open mind when seeking a job!
Part II in this series will discuss doctoral scientists working on experimental lab studies completely outside universities (i.e., in industrial research and development centers, and at government research facilities).