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

 

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

 

Part I of this essay identifies the chief causes and consequences for the increasing dismay and dissatisfaction of scientists working in universities for researching and/or teaching (see “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I”).  Part II now discusses the effects of this condition upon the conduct of experimental research and science education in universities; further, I explain what can be done to deal with this current issue.

What do the changes in Part I mean for scientific research and science teaching in universities? 

The whole nature of science and research at universities recently has changed.  The altered and decreased standards for quality performance in research and teaching means that a decline is inevitable in both activities.  Rather than being a university scientist, members of the science faculty now are forced to become businessmen and businesswomen.  Instead of working at the laboratory bench, far too many successful university scientists become managers doing paperwork while sitting at a desk in an office, but never entering their laboratory.  Acquisition of more and more research grant dollars now is their chief goal, instead of trying to discover more new truths and create valid new concepts through research experiments.

When doctoral research scientists become transformed into business managers, they are then expected to perform activities that all their many years of advanced education and training have not prepared them for (e.g., acquiring money, adjusting experimental data to fit what is wanted, bargaining, composing research grant proposals based only on what is most likely to be funded, handling investments and charting profit margins, interacting with other scientists only as either competitors or collaborators, etc.).  I know of no evidence that being good or clever at making money in business is more than very loosely related to being good or clever at doing research experiments; these two sets of skills and capabilities seem to me to be separate and unrelated.

Science and scientists at universities have been modified to such an extent that activities, performance, and advancement now are being evaluated with very different criteria than were used only a few decades ago.   Even science education is negatively affected, because quality standards for teaching are lowered, students are not taught to think independently and to ask meaningful questions, the development of understanding by students is not fostered, etc.; often, all of these are decreased or even negated.  University scientists concentrating on teaching activities now are evaluated mainly on the basis of their popularity with students, instead of being evaluated for educational quality.  I will never forget the time I was very shocked when a senior faculty teacher once confided to me that he believed his own required first-year medical school course had degenerated into something suitable for high school students.

The overall effect of the enlarging dissatisfaction by science faculty is a progressive decrease in the quality of both researching and teaching.  The activities of professional scientists at universities now are degraded due to the changes and consequences enumerated in Part I (see “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I”).

Can university research and science teaching be rescued? 

What should be done to resolve the current predicament of university scientists?  Finding effective solutions for these vexing academic problems certainly is not easy, particularly because academia historically always has been very slow to change anything even when it is totally obvious that changes are badly needed.  Possible solutions could be sought either by (1) rectifying the general policies and practices at modern universities, or by (2) improving the individual situation for each  disgruntled and demoralized scientist.  Since I regretfully do not see how the first possibility can be accomplished at the present time, I will consider here only the second possibility.

Why do I feel that university policies and practices cannot be reformed now?  Universities generally are very happy with exactly the same changes that upset their science faculty, since those maneuvers have significantly elevated the financial position of these institutions (see “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research”).  Any large and comprehensive solution for the problems in academia probably must await strong reform measures that can replace the ongoing commercialization of doing research in universities with some modern version of its traditional aims of finding new truth, creating valid new concepts, and, developing new ideas and new technology.  Similarly, in all levels of teaching science in universities, changes that can improve the present decayed educational system seem unlikely until there will be removal of such unrealistic philosophies as “truth is relative”, “all children are equal”, “education should be made easier, so students can learn quicker”, and, “that’s good enough”.  In my view, all such anti-education liberal proclamations really are only excuses for failure to do effective teaching.

What can actually be done to improve job satisfaction for individual faculty scientists? 

My suggestions here are directed towards practical considerations.  Because I believe that the policies for scientific research in universities are very unlikely to be changed or improved for a long time, I suggest that the best approach for individuals is to move out of the way of whatever causes their dissatisfaction.  This entails evaluating the nature of their problematic situation and the amount of change they believe is needed.  Many will find that this ultimately boils down to asking oneself whether it is time to find a better place to work.  I do indeed know personally that this is never an easy question, and that moving usually is very disruptive for the career of any academic scientist.  However, it should be recognized by all the upset university scientists that there now are an increasing number of good employment opportunities for scientists that are quite different from working in traditional roles at universities.  One now can conduct research experiments at the laboratory bench outside universities, or can perform science-related work completely outside research laboratories.  I already have discussed a number of these non-traditional opportunities in recent articles primarily aimed to inform graduate students and Postdocs (see “Other Jobs for Scientists, Parts I, II, and III”).

Dissatisfied university scientists who remain very enthusiastic about continuing to do lab research should seriously look at what is available in industrial research and development centers, and in government laboratories.  Much valuable information about these possibilities can be obtained by directly talking to doctoral scientists now working in these other environments, and personally asking them what they see as being serious local job problems.

Dissatisfied science faculty who still are very committed and enthusiastic about continuing to teach science should try to find a new employer, either at other universities or at non-university sites, where their viewpoints about what constitutes excellent education are shared with the other teachers and are actually put into practice (i.e., lip-service is not enough!).  With the recent development of digital education outlets, educational video programs, non-university course offerings, personal education coaches, private educational organizations, etc., there now are an increasing variety and number of employment opportunities for good science teachers to do new things.

Concluding Remarks for Part II

The increasing levels of job dissatisfaction amongst university faculty researchers and science teachers stem from the recent large shifts in (1) professional identity, (2) job aims and duties, (3) standards for job performance evaluations, (4) career expectations, and, (5) commercialization of academic research and teaching.  These modern changes largely run against what most practicing academic scientists were taught in graduate school, and directly give rise to increasing levels of job frustration and dismay.  The main message here is that these changes also act to decrease the quality of both scientific research and science teaching.  It is nationally important that good solutions to this quagmire must be developed.  It is up to each individual scientist to find a good environment for doing quality research and quality teaching.  The increased variety of job opportunities now available for scientists make non-traditional solutions to this important problem a realistic possibility.

Conclusions for Both Parts I and II

University scientists are increasingly upset with their job due to wholesale changes in many different aspects of researching and teaching.  Science at universities now is being degraded, and the professional roles of faculty scientists increasingly are distorted.  This problem is not some isolated small esoteric issue, but rather involves the purpose of science and research, and, the objective of becoming a doctoral scientist.  These very destructive changes in universities constitute a large portion of the reasons why I have come to believe that science itself now is dying (see my recent article in the Big Problems category on “Could Science and Research now be Dying?”).

 

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