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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