Monthly Archives: August 2014

WHY ARE UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS INCREASINGLY UPSET WITH THEIR JOB? PART I.

 

Why is quality researching and teaching so problematic for university scientists?  (dr-monsrs.net)
Why is quality researching and teaching now so problematic for university scientists? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The traditional work for doctoral scientists employed as faculty at universities is laboratory research and classroom teaching.  All that now has changed greatly.  Readers who are not scientists should first learn about the actual job activities of university scientists (see “What do University Scientists Really do in their Daily Work?”); that will greatly aid in understanding this essay.  A surprising number of faculty scientists performing research studies now find that they are frustrated, dismayed, and increasingly dissatisfied with their job activities.  Even senior scientists mostly working in classroom teaching now feel that they get less and less professional satisfaction for trying to do a good job with science education in undergraduate, graduate, and medical school courses.

My examination of this growing problem in modern universities is divided into 2 parts.  The first presents the causes of why the science faculty are so upset, and examines the unfortunate consequences.  The second part will detail how these recent changes impact on science and scientists, and discusses what can be done to alleviate this distressing condition for university scientists.

What is causing job dissatisfaction amongst university scientists? 

From my own experiences during over 35 years of faculty work at several universities, and from talking to many different faculty members at other academic institutions, I know that many university scientists feel that they now are not readily able to do research as they were trained to do.  Their identity as scientists is constantly challenged by the changed job goals, hyper-competition for research grants that takes them away from the lab bench, and, pressures to accept or ignore professional dishonesty.  They also unexpectedly find that they have been incompletely educated, since their graduate courses and long training included no formal instruction on how to be successful as a business executive, financial jockey, administrative manager, and salesperson, while still officially being a professional scientist at work on researching and teaching.  Accordingly, their daily life as modern university faculty gets to be quite problematic (see earlier articles on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” and “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic?”).

There are 5 chief causes for this unfortunate dissatisfaction in academic science

(1) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in research has been replaced by counting dollars acquired from research grants.  This changes the entire nature of university research.

(2) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in teaching now has been replaced by measuring popularity of teachers and courses with the enrolled students .  This changes the entire nature of university teaching.

(3) Doing significant experimental research has only a strictly secondary importance since the main job of the science faculty now is to increase the financial profits of their university employer (see  “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”).  This changes the very nature of being a science faculty member at modern universities.

(4) Science faculty members doing grant-suppported research are only renting their laboratory.  Unless they win a Nobel Prize there are no long-term leases of research laboratories, even for tenured professors.  This necessarily changes the nature of anyone’s career as a university research scientist.

(5) Individual curiosity, creativity, and interests are increasingly submerged into mechanical types of research activities requiring little individual initiative or self-determination, particularly when doctoral researchers come to work as technicians inside large groups (see my recent article on “Individual Work Versus Group Efforts in  Scientific Research”).  Research groups commonly involve research managers, group-think in tightly knit team projects, and daily attention to financial targets for research grant awards.  This changes the nature of any research career at universities.

Although these causes and their resulting consequences seem very obvious to me, readers should be aware that they are disputed or even denied by academic officials and some other scientists.  It is my belief that the present decrease in the quality of research and science teaching that results from faculty dissatisfaction is a serious national problem that someday will become very obvious for all to see.

What are the consequences for university scientists? 

Let us briefly look at the main consequences coming from each of the 5 major causes for current faculty dissatisfaction listed above.

(1)  Making research at universities into a business activity brings all kinds of secondary problems from the world of modern commerce into research laboratories (e.g., corruption, deceit, graft, greed, mercantilism, vicious competition, etc.).  These necessarily decrease science integrity (see my earlier article on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”), and thereby subvert trust in research, science, and scientists.

(2)  When popularity with students becomes the goal of science courses in universities, then teachers start bringing pizza and bowls of punch into the classroom in order to raise their chances for winning a “teacher of the year” award.  Concomitantly, standards are lowered or discarded as education becomes sidetracked from its true purpose.  Popularity and excellence in teaching simply are not synonymous (see my recent article on “A Large Problem in Science Education: Memorization is not Enough, and is Not the Same as Understanding”.

(3)  If finding new truths is no longer the chief aim of scientific research then the standards for evaluating what is true will change and decay (see “How do we Know What is  True?”).  Dollars cannot be any valid measure of what is true.

(4)  Sooner or later, all science faculty researching in university laboratories will encounter the problem of not getting an application for research grant renewal approved and funded.  Even when they have previously merited several grant renewals, such a rejection means that they soon are pushed out of their laboratory.  University labs are only leased, and all space assignments therefore are temporary; if the rent is not paid by a research grant, then occupancy ends.  This necessarily means that laboratory research at universities must be only some temporary work, rather than an ongoing career activity.

(5)  Working as a businessperson, chief manager, executive officer, financial administrator, research director, etc., is very different from being a professional researcher and/or teacher at a university.  The mentality, integrity, and accountability in these two sorts of employment are very different.  Universities formerly have valued and encouraged creativity, curiosity, debate, and individualism much more than these are utilized or accepted in businesses where money determines everything (see article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  These qualities now have been changed into requirements for conformity to executive authority, group-think, subordination of curiosity and creativity, and, willingness to never ever ask any questions.

Concluding Remarks for Part I

The chief causes and consequences of the growing dissatisfaction of university science faculty with their job now can be clearly recognized. Universities believe this entire situation is wonderful  because their financial situation now is much improved.  The end results of putting up with these unannounced changes are that members of the science faculty are sidetracked from traditional research, forced to work at activities they have not been trained to do, spend most of their time working on research grant applications, and, are involved in a business career rather than in science.  Scientific research in academia now has become increasingly commercialized (see my earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science?”).  Most science faculty become very surprised with how different their daily life actually is from what they had expected in graduate school.  It is hard to conclude anything more striking from this essay than that science itself has been changed.

In summary, science faculty working at modern universities on research and/or teaching are increasingly frustrated and upset because their planned career is diverted, their integrity is challenged, their curiosity and creativity are squelched, their research is sidetracked into business aims, and their long education is made to seem quite incomplete.  No wonder they are so upset!!  Part II will discuss the effects these changes have upon researching and teaching, and, will give my views about what realistically can be done to deal with this modern academic problem.

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 4

Quoted from Marilyn G. Farquhar in 2013 interview by C. Sedwick (Journal of Cell Biology, volume 203, pages 554-555).
Quoted from Marilyn G. Farquhar in 2013 interview by C. Sedwick (Journal of Cell Biology, volume 203, pages 554-555).

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  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.

In the preceding segment of this series, the life story of a world-renowned research scientist working in Astrophysics was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 3”).  Part 4 presents the activities and life of an experimental researcher who succeeded in bridging the gap between pathology and cell biology, and who today remains a very active research leader in modern cell biology.

Part 4 Recommendations:  EXPERIMENTAL PATHOLOGY & CELL BIOLOGY

Prof. Marilyn G. Farquhar (1928 – present) applied her many research skills to vigorously investigating the fine structure of kidney cells during several renal diseases.  These results greatly advanced understanding about the function and dysfunction of the filtration barrier during different disease states, and helped establish the now-routine use of electron microscopy of kidney biopsies for clinical diagnosis.  Her subsequent productive investigations in cell biology on the Golgi bodies, intercellular junctions, intracellular sorting and trafficking,  lysosomes and autophagy, protein secretion and uptake, receptor-mediated endocytosis, and, G-proteins have greatly enlarged modern understanding about the dynamics of subcellular structure and function.  Prof. Farquhar’s experimental work, research publications, and teaching lectures always are characterized by their completeness, uniform high quality, and establishment of connections to other research results.  She has served as the elected President of the American Society for Cell Biology (1982), and has received many honors (e.g., the E. B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology (1987), the Rous-Whipple Award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology (2001), and the A. N. Richards Award from the International Society of Nephrology (2003)).

My first 3 recommendations below provide recent appreciations of Prof. Farquhar for her pioneering and much admired research accomplishments in experimental renal pathology.  The fourth recommendation briefly recounts the delightful story of her life as an acclaimed  research scientist, based upon a very recent interview.

UCSD School of Medicine News, April 4, 2001.  Marilyn Gist Farquhar wins Rous-Whipple Award.  Available on the internet at:  http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2001/04_04_Farquhar.html .

Kerjaschki D, 2003.  Presentation of the 2003 A. N. Richards Award to Marilyn Farquhar by the International Society of Nephrology.  Kidney International, 64:1941-1942.  Available on the internet at:
http://nature.com/ki/journal/v64/n5/full/4494114a.html .

Farquhar, M., 2003.  Acceptance of the 2003 A. N. Richards Award.  Kidney International, 64:1943-1944.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.nature.com/ki/journal/v64/n5/full/4494115a.html .

Sedwick, C., 2013.  Marilyn Farquhar from the beginning.  Journal of Cell Biology  203: 554-555.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/203/4/554.full.pdf .

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 3

The life and work of Prof. R. Chandrasekhar elicited many books.  The commendable volumes shown above both were edited by K. C. Wali.  Left: published by World Scientific Publishing (Singapore) in 2011.  Right: published by Imperial College Press (London) in 1997.  These and other volumes can be purchased at several booksellers on the internet.
The life and work of Prof. S. Chandrasekhar elicited many books. The commendable volumes shown above both were edited by K. C. Wali.  Left: published by World Scientific Publishing (Singapore) in 2011.  Right: published by Imperial College Press (London) in 1997. These and other books can be purchased at several booksellers on the internet.

 

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 where possible.  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.

Part 2 in this series contained my recommendations for the story of a pioneering research scientist working in Cell Biology (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 2”).  Part 3 presents fascinating accounts about a famous researcher working on Astrophysics, a branch of Physics and Astronomy that is very mystifying to almost everyone, including most other professional scientists.

Part 3 Recommendations:  ASTROPHYSICS

Prof. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910 – 1995) lived and researched on 3 continents, and was honored in 1983 with the Nobel Prize in Physics.  His life story is nothing less than utterly fantastic and inspiring.  Not many 18 year old youths either could or would work with mathematics of statistical mechanics (in physics and astronomy) during a ship voyage from India to England, but that is exactly what this young scientist did.  In his long academic career, Chandrasekhar was always a scholar’s scholar.  Most persons addressed him as “Chandra”.  He progressively studied different topics pertaining to the physics of stars and other subjects in astronomy, resulting in a series of much-admired and widely used books in physical science.  There is a story from his many years of research work at The University of Chicago that he had a personal rule that about every 7-10 years a scientist must change to work on a new research subject.   He accomplished this by first publishing a scholarly book completely summarizing and documenting his recently finished research project, and then throwing out the entire contents of several filing cabinets containing huge piles of reprints of published research reports and stacks of mathematical calculations needed for the previous project; only then did Chandra initiate his new research effort.  Few, if any other scientists have the extreme discipline and mental strength to follow such a dictum today!  Chandrasekhar’s research developed and moved forward until he became recognized as the world leader in the subscience of astrophysics.

I recommend here a descriptive obituary for general non-scientist readers, along with an excellent biographic article about Chandrasekhar’s life and influence on modern physical science.  These are followed by two brief recordings (click on “mp3” to start the audio) from a full transcript of a very extensive live interview in 1977 ( http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html ).

Parker, E.N., 1995.  Obituary: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.  Physics Today 48:106-108.  Available on the internet at:  http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/48/11/ptolsection?heading=OBITUARIES ; NOTE: after reaching this site for Obituaries, you must first click the title of this article and then click on the “download PDF” button).

Dyson, F., 2010.  Chandrasekhar’s role in 20th-century science.  Physics Today 63:44-48.  Available on the internet at:   http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001 .

Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014.  Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on his hopes for becoming a scientist), 1977.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt .http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001

Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014.  Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on the motives for his style of work), 1977.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt2 .

 

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 2

Prof. Keith R. Porter (right) receives the USA National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter (left) at the White House in 1977.  Photograph by an unnamed White House staff photographer.
Prof. Keith R. Porter (right) receives the USA National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter (left) at the White House in 1977.  Photograph by an unnamed White House staff photographer.

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  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.

In the preceding Part 1 of this series, the life story of a world-renowned research scientist working in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 1”).  Part 2 presents fascinating materials about a wonderful research leader who was instrumental in founding 2 different bioscience societies, and was a pioneer in discovering how to get cells to reveal their secrets by means of electron microscopy.

Part 2 Recommendations:  CELL BIOLOGY

Prof. Keith R. Porter (1912 – 1997) is renowned today as a major co-founder of the modern science discipline, cell biology.  With his pioneering use of electron microscopy, he was able to define the organelles and macromolecular assemblies found inside cells, thereby setting the stage for interpreting other research findings coming from biochemistry, biophysics, cell physiology, and molecular genetics.  These results and his new concepts caused a large breakthrough in our understanding about relationships between structure and function in eukaryotic cells.  A good number of Porter’s younger associates in cell biology, experimental cellular pathology, and neuroscience went on to become famous research leaders.  Prof. Porter was honored with the USA National Medal of Science by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

I am recommending 3 different articles about this outstanding biomedical scientist.  The first is a memoir about Prof. Porter composed by one of his long-time research co-workers, Prof. Lee D. Peachey (University of Pennsylvania); it includes several candid photographs from different periods in Porter’s career, some of which reflect his enthusiastic sense of humor.  The second nicely describes his many important activities and different research accomplishments.  The third is one of Porter’s own articles, relating the difficult technical innovations and engineering efforts needed to invent and develop effective methods for making meaningful images of cells and their internal parts with the electron microscope.

Peachey, L.D., 2006.  Keith Roberts Porter, biographical memoirs.  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society  150:685-696.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/proceedings/150416.pdf/ .

University of Colorado Libraries (Boulder), 2014.  Biographical Sketch.  In: Guide to the Keith R. Porter Papers (1938-1993), Archives, pages 3-5.  Available on the internet at:
https://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/archives/guides/porter_guide.pdf .

Pease, D.C. & Porter, K.R., 1981.  Electron microscopy and ultramicrotomy.  Journal of Cell Biology  91:287s-292s.  Available on the internet at:
http://jcb.rupress.org/content/91/3/287s.full.pdf .

 

 

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