Chris Woolston reports that Nature’s latest survey of job satisfaction by professional researchers “uncovered widespread dismay about earnings, career options, and future prospects”, and found that 1/3 of the respondents are unhappy  (see “Salaries: Reality Check” )! Such a high level of job dissatisfaction by professionals is truly shocking!
Today, I am updating my dispatch from last year, “Job Problems for Scientists Get Bigger in 2016!”, because there is far too little effort by government officials, university administrators, leading research scientists, science societies, and the public to stop this very destructive situation!
What exactly are the biggest problems facing today’s research scientists?
The largest problems currently damaging research are: (1) money (i.e., government agencies for science do not have enough money to support research by the ever-increasing number of doctoral scientists), (2) modern universities regard science departments as business entities where money is everything, and making important discoveries is not the primary goal, (3) applied research is being emphasized to the detriment of basic research, and (4) corruption in research is increasing and threatens the integrity of science. This situation is much worse in academia than in industry (see “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ).
Working research scientists begin to speak out!
Harsh opinions of the ongoing problems for science and research are held by many faculty scientists, research associates, postdocs, and graduate students around the world. Woolston’s figures reveal that 39% of all the different scientists responding would not recommend a research career !
“There is no future in a research career in Italy” is stated by a female Italian molecular biologist working in Naples ! A Ukranian postdoc working on physics in Australia does not recommend a science career to people who ask him ! A faculty geneticist in Germany states, “Many people who wanted to do research end up as salespeople at some company” !
Won’t more money for science solve these current problems?
The public gives money for research via paying their annual taxes (i.e., all money in U.S. research grants comes from the taxpayers!). Many people also donate money in response to repeated tearful cries for ‘more money to support more scientific research’. Unfortunately, history shows that increased research funding never solves these grave problems! More money is not the answer!
My view is that any giant new increase in research support only makes the current problems get even bigger (see “Huge Additional Money for Research Will be Bad for Universities and Their Science!” ). Effective maneuvers, such as reducing the number of new doctoral scientists produced every year, and emphasizing quality over quantity when evaluating scientists and their research, are overwhelmed by the ongoing commercialization of science at modern universities.
The large practical problems with money are directly caused by bad policies of universities and the federal science agencies. These causes and their effects are strongly interwoven, and combine into nothing less than a system problem! Providing more money or reforming one or two destructive conditions are not enough; instead, the entire system must be remodeled or replaced!
My answers to a few important ‘why questions’!
(1) Why do scientists work for years to earn a Ph.D., just to have so many job problems in academia? My best answer is that new doctorates in science increasingly are using their degree and research skills in jobs outside academia!
(2) Why is science at universities and medical schools now a business? The best answer is both simple and direct: because it provides big financial profits!
(3) Why don’t professional scientists complain and try to change the system for funding research? In the U.S., they are very afraid that any such activity would doom chances of getting their research grant(s) renewed!
(4) Why don’t members of Congress and the presidents of national science societies act to change the present system for funding research? Everything is very entrenched, and it always is extremely hard to change the status quo. As the traditional saying goes, ‘Do not rock the boat’!
Will career problems for faculty scientists become even bigger in 2017?
For FY2017, the proposed budget for all federal expenses increases by 4%, which is $4.2 trillion dollars [2,3]! Science and research will receive a small portion of that total [2,3].
In addition to funding for research projects, there are several special targeted research programs termed ‘initiatives’. Those include the ‘Precision Medicine Initiative’ prompted by the former President, and the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ urged by the former Vice-President [2-4]. For just these and several other initiatives, the U.S. could spend over $6.9 billion dollars in FY2017 ! The funding for initiatives is on top of the nicely increased governmental funding for regular research projects [2-5].
It is anticipated that the new budget of $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY2017 will permit thousands more new research grants to be awarded to faculty scientists . That sounds like a very substantial increase, but the rate for applications being funded will only increase from 22% to 23% ! Thus, the intense hyper-competition between all academic scientists to get research grants will hardly be lessened!
All the well-publicized debates and arrangements made by Congress for 2017 do not really concern science and research, but are only posturing and trade-offs of political favors [e.g., 5]. My conclusion is that the new large increases in funding for research will only make the big problems in science become even bigger, so 2017 will be much more distressing for scientists than was 2016!
Want to understand more about causes and effects?
If so, please examine some of my earlier articles! For money in academia, see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities!”. For the vicious hyper-competition to get research grants, see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants!” . For mechanics of the current research support system, see “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research!” . On the growing commercialization of science in universities, see “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” . For corruption in research, see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” , and, “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?”.
Several big and very difficult problems confront today’s research scientists, and are getting even worse in 2017! If the present downward course is not changed soon, the end result will be the death of science and research at universities (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ). To rescue academic science, big changes must be made to the entire system for modern scientific research! The system is not able to resolve its own problems, so much more external help is needed.
 Woolston, C., 2016. “Salaries: Reality Check”. Nature 537:573-576. Available on the internet at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v537/n7621/full/nj7621-573a.html .
 Office of Management and Budget, 2016. “Fiscal Year 2017 Budget of the U.S. Government, Investing in Research and Development”. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. PDF pages 26-28. Available on the internet at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2017-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2017-BUD.pdf .
 J. Tucker and L. Koshgarian, 2016. “Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that would help all Americans” . Available on the internet at: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/analysis/2016/president-obamas-2017-budget/ .
 H. Ledford, S. Reardon, R. Monastersky, A. Witze, and J. Toliefson, 2016. “Obama makes risky bid to increase science spending“. Nature News (Feb. 10, 2016). Available on the internet at: http://www.nature.com/news/obama-makes-risky-bid-to-increase-science-spending-1.19316 .
 S. Karlin-Smith, B. Norman, and J.Haberkorn, 2016. “Biden’s farewell gift: Cancer moonshot helps pass $6.3 billion research bill”. POLITICO (December 7), Available on the internet at: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/joe-biden-cancer-moonshot-bill-232342 .
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