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The 12 most visited posts from all categories, as of July, 2016.

A DRAMATIC INDIVIDUALIST, PAUL G. ALLEN, IS A MAJOR BENEFACTOR OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Quotations from Paul G. Allen, a most dynamic and revolutionary thinker and doer! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotations from Paul G. Allen, a most dynamic and revolutionary thinker and doer! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The co-founder of Microsoft (1975) , Paul G. Allen, has already given over 2 billion dollars to establish several far-sighted new research institutes.  He is a free-thinking man with numerous activities and widespread interests, ranging from music to professional sports and spaceflight.  This dispatch briefly summarizes the remarkable scope of Allen’s dynamic activities, and then discusses how his philanthropy is benefiting scientific research in a big way; a following article will discuss the very novel features of his latest innovative program for stimulating the progress of scientific research.  (POSTSCRIPT on June 5, 2016: readers should note that there is a followup posting about Paul Allen (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2016/04/14/replacing-research-grants-how-paul-g-allen-is-doing-it/ )!

Background about a vigorously independent individual: Paul G. Allen [1-3]! 

Paul Allen is an author, business owner and investor, entrepreneur and industrialist, explorer of history and geography, founder of several museums, inventor, moviemaker, owner of several professional sports teams, promoter of urban projects in Seattle (his hometown!), rock guitarist, supporter of education and the arts, technological visionary, yachtsman, and, one of the world’s leading philanthropists.  In addition to working with his sister, Jody Allen, on many of those activities, he has utilized his Allen Family Foundation to greatly benefit several universities in the state of Washington, start the Allen Distinguished Educators program that rewards particularly creative and effective education developments by teachers in primary and secondary schools, support a non-governmental organization, Elephants Without Borders, to further the conservation of wild elephants in Africa, establish the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge as a public contest for improving the health of our oceans, along with stimulating a variety of other programs, projects, and personal explorations.  Most of this is carried out by his company, Vulcan, Inc.; one of its many activities is Vulcan Aerospace, a division  including a collaborative space exploration project with the noted engineer, Burt Rutan (see: “Stratolaunch Systems, A Paul G. Allen Project” ).

Tying all these many explorations together is Paul Allen’s extensive curiosity, diverse personal interests, determination to make ideas flow into new knowledge, affection for going where no-one has tread before, and, his optimistic belief that anything is possible.  For him, the future can be opened right now!  In 2005, Paul Allen published an autobiographical book, Idea Man, A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft, recounting his experiences in co-originating Microsoft; 10 short videos based on this book graphically illustrate his youth and development of operating systems in the early days of personal computing (see “Idea Man Part One: Roots” ).

Paul G. Allen has advanced scientific research in revolutionary ways [1-3]! 

For trying to push science and research beyond all their usual goals and practices, Paul Allen founded and funded the Allen Institute for Brain Research in 2003, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 2013, and, the Allen Institute for Cell Science in 2014.  These research centers in Seattle feature technologically advanced experimental research by scientists and engineers, and involve such very large and complex research questions as how does the brain work (i.e., how do some 86 billion neurons interact to furnish memory and reasoning?), what can artificial intelligence do for humans (i.e., as individuals and as society?), and how do our cells conduct their varied functions (i.e., in health, disease, and regeneration?).  These giant research investigations at these Institutes all are in the realm of “big science”.

The goals of Paul Allen are nothing less than to revolutionize science and speed up the progress of research.  To do that, he brought the practices of industrial research to bear at the Allen Institutes; these feature numerous doctoral specialists working as teams supported by a large staff and advanced research instrumentation facilities.  At the Institutes, there is little of the problems characterizing science at universities (i.e., massive individual competition, constant worries about continued research grant funding, and, doing niche studies needing only shorter periods of time).  Jumps of discovery are encouraged by creativity, innovation, and interactive teamwork.  Output of these large-scale science projects is made available as internet resources for use by other researchers throughout the world; examples include several Allen Atlases for the mouse and human brains in adulthood and during embryonic growth, the Allen Brain Cell Types Database, the Mouse Neural Connectivity Atlas, and The Animated Cell, a multiscale virtual model that integrates all knowledge about cells and can predict changes in their behavior.

The vision, organization, and goals of these research institutes mostly come from Paul himself.  He sees that science and technology can make dreams become real; he values unconventional new ideas that stimulate groundbreaking findings and jump into the future.  All this aims to benefit the entire world and all people.

Concluding remarks! 

Paul G. Allen is a most dynamic individual!  He deserves admiration for using his own money to benefit science and engineering, the arts, Seattle, Africa, oceans, wildlife, museums, and people everywhere.  He clearly is making a big difference in the conduct of scientific research, by promoting a new design for research on very fundamental large-scale questions.  It is easy to predict that the outcome of his vision of what science and research should be doing will be nothing short of wonderful!

VIDEOS:  Many videos about Paul G. Allen both inside and outside science are available on the internet!  For a glimpse of the man himself, I recommend the following 3!

(1)  “Paul Allen on Gates, Microsoft” by CBS (2011); this presentation involves a hostile interviewer!

(2)  “Stratolaunch Systems: A Paul G. Allen Project” by Vulcan, Inc. (2011); turning ideas into reality!

(3)  “Paul G. Allen on Art” by Vulcan, Inc.  (2015); presents Allen’s many activities to make good art available to the public!

 

[1]  @PaulGAllen, 2016.  “Home page” .  Available on the internet at:  http://www.paulallen.com/ .  NOTE: explore the different headings!

[2]  Allen Institute for Brain Science, 2013.  “Allen Institute for Brain Science: Fueling Discovery” .  Available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HclD7T9KFg .

[3]  Allen Institutes, 2016.  “About” .  Available on the internet at:  http://www.alleninstitute.org/about/ . NOTE: explore the variety of headings indicating the diversity of Paul Allen’s many activities!

 

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UNASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT RESEARCH GRANTS FOR SCIENCE, AND MY ANSWERS!

Answers are badly needed for the many questions about research grants in science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Answers are badly needed for the many questions about research grants in science!      (http://dr-monsrs.net)
 

Research grants pay for all the many expenses of doing scientific research in universities, and now are the primary focus for faculty scientists.  Size and number of grants determines salary level, promotions, amount of assigned laboratory space, teaching duties required, professional status and reputation, and, ability to have graduate students working in a given lab.  Research grants typically are awarded to science faculty for 3-5 years; grant renewals are not always successful, or can be funded only partially.  Without continuing to acquire and maintain this external funding, it is basically impossible to be employed or doing research as a  university scientist in the United States.

This condition causes many secondary problems, all of which impede research progress.  In my opinion, the very worst of these is the hyper-competition for research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  Every scientist  is competing with every other scientist for an award from a limited pool of money.  For university scientists, this activity consumes giant amounts of time that would and should be spent on research experiments, burns up large amounts of personal energy, distorts emotions and disturbs sleep,  causes and encourages dishonesty, and, is very frustrating whenever  applications are not successful.  I previously discussed how all this causes so many university scientists to be dissatisfied with their career (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” , and, “Part II” ). 

This essay gives questions about the present research grant system that usually are not asked, and my best answers to them no matter how disturbing that might be.  I have phrased these questions just as they would be given by non-scientist readers of this website.  Everyone should know that I have reviewed grant applications as a member of several special review panels, held several research grants (for which I am very thankful!), and, also had several of my applications rejected.  Hence, my responses to these questions are based upon my own personal experiences as a faculty scientist.  

Maybe the hyper-competition actually is good!  Isn’t it true that the very best research scientists always will be funded? 

Not always!  Sometimes the “best research scientists” also get rejected, or are only partially funded; despite their status, they can get careless, arrogant, or too aged.  Nevertheless, leading scientists are favored to stay funded because  they understand exactly how the grant system works, and have easier interactions with officials at the granting agencies.  In my opinion, only indirect correlations exist between success in acquiring very many research dollars, and production of many breakthrough research results.  Excelling in either one says little about results in the other.  

Do scientists doing very good research always get funded? 

Not always!  Getting a grant or a renewal always is chancy and never is certain, since this decision involves strategy, governmental budgets, contacts with officials at the granting agencies, which side of the bed reviewers get up from, and many other non-science factors.  Young scientists spend very many years with their research training and early work as a member of some science faculty, but then can be abruptly discharged for having trouble or failing at this business task; remember that these scientists are trained to be researchers, and are not graduates of a business school!  

Don’t university scientists mainly need to get good research publications? 

The main job of university scientists today is no longer to get good publications, but rather is to acquire more research grant funds!  I doubt that science graduate students ever intend to work for over a decade to become a faculty scientist just so they can spend their professional life chasing money (see: “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ).  But, that is exactly what the hyper-competition forces them to do!  For most researchers, the hyper-competition for grants in universities badly distorts what it means to be a scientist; hence, I believe it is very bad for science. 

Aren’t scientists trained about how to deal with this research grant problem when they were graduate students or postdocs? 

There certainly are no organized sessions or courses in finance, commerce, or business given to graduate students in science, even though university science now certainly is a big business (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” .

Isn’t there some way faculty scientists can avoid this situation? 

Yes indeed, but it ain’t so easy!  Switching to a research job in industry or to a non-research job outside universities will resolve this problem situation.  The main way  university scientists try to preclude this problem is to acquire 2 (or more!) research grants; then, if one award later is not renewed, the other one then will keep the faculty scientist’s career intact.  Of course, this strategy of seeking to acquire multiple research grants has its own costs and directly serves to make the hyper-competition even more intense. 

Why not simply require all faculty scientists to get 2 research grants?  

This idea ignores the fact that running a productive research lab in academia takes up a huge bunch of precious time.  Faculty scientists with 2 research grants usually become so short of time that they must switch gears so as to function as a research manager, rather than continue as a research scientist.  Some managers even reserve one half-day per week where they are not to be interrupted for any reason by anyone while they work in their own lab.  Another fact to be recognized is that most university scientists today do not ever hold 2 concurrent research grants. 

Isn’t there counselling and help given to faculty members who lose their grant? 

At some universities this now is done, thank goodness!  However, at many others, the affected professionals must try to get funded again all by themselves.  It is a sign of the vicious nature of the hyper-competition for research grants that any scientists who try to help a fellow faculty colleague (i.e., a competitor) necessarily are also hurting themselves.

Cannot some research experiments be done without a grant?  

This could be done, but it is not permitted!  Upon rejection of an application for renewal, faculty scientists soon lose their assigned laboratory space, thus precluding any more experiments; at some institutions, each then is viewed as a “loser” and is suspected of being a “failed scientist”.  I consider this system of “feast or famine” to be horribly ridiculous; nevertheless, it does show loud and clear what is the true end of scientific research in modern universities (see: “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”). 

Is there some other way to support science without causing such difficult problems? 

This is theoretically possible, but in practice it is nearly impossible because the present research grant system is so deeply entrenched.  There is a very large activation barrier to making any changes since universities and leaders at the granting agencies both are very happy with the status quo (i.e., universities get good profits from the research grants of their science faculty, and research grant agencies receive an increasing number of applications for financial support).  Although this question is discussed in private by university scientists, I am not aware of any open general discussions about trying out some alternative approaches to support research activities in science. 

If the research grant system really is so troubled and has such awful effects, why don’t all the university scientists protest? 

Every university scientist holding a research grant knows better than to complain about being a slave in the modern research grant system, because they want to continue being funded.  As the saying goes, “Do not bite the hand that feeds you”! 

My comments and conclusions. 

I see the present problems with the research grant system as being very unfortunate for science.  The current situation has bad effects on research progress and clearly is very vicious to some scientists.  This system is  strongly supported by both all universities and the granting agencies.  Any proposals to make any changes will be strongly opposed by all the beneficiaries of this system, including funded scientists working at universities. 

My main conclusions are that (1) business and money now rule science, and (2) everything about scientific research at universities now is money (see: “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” , and, “3 Money Cycles Support Scientific Research” ).  I  certainly am not the only one to reach these conclusions (i.e., search for “money in science” on any internet browser, and you will see what I mean!). 

Quality of experimental research, creative ideas for experiments, derivation of innovative concepts, and working hard with a difficult project are no longer very important.  All that matters now is to get the money!  All these negatives form a strong basis for why I regretfully believe that science now is dying (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ). 

 

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WHAT DOES SCIENCE MATTER TO ME, AN ORDINARY PERSON IN 2015?

 Science is everywhere! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Science is everywhere!  Everyone uses science!  Everybody needs science!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 

The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.

Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?

The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers.  Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses.   Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived.  Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed.  The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center.  The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed. 

Why does scientific research matter to everyone? 

Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons.  First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies.  The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses.  Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public.  This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous  people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.). 

All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc.  During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not.  Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology.  When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research.  Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner. 

Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science? 

Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how  science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone.  The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples.  If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience.   The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school.  Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever.  To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.  

Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in  understanding and appreciating scientific research.  However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated.  If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is.  Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success. 

Concluding remarks

Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life!  All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars.  It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus.  People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.  

The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science!  Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared.  It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life! 

 

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WHY IS SCIENCE SO VERY EXPENSIVE? WHY DO RESEARCH EXPERIMENTS COST SO MUCH?

Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            Modern scientific research each year costs many billions of dollars in the USA, and over a trillion dollars in the entire globe [1,2]!  Research studies are supported by money from taxpayers, industry, and some dedicated group associations.  Even a casual look at scientists working on laboratory experiments shows that their activities always have a high cost.  Why exactly are science and research so very expensive? 

            There are many separate reasons why modern research always is costly.  First is the cost of salaries.  Research scientists deserve a good salary, due to their very long education and advanced training, specialized job skills, and previous lab experience in science.  Doctoral scientists have spent at least 4 years working on their graduate thesis, and then usually spend another 1-5 years as a postdoctoral research associate (see recent article in the Basic Introductions category on “All About Postdocs, Part I: What are Postdocs, and What do they Do?”).  When academic faculty jobs are scarce, some researchers spend 5-10 years, or even more, working as Postdocs, before they finally land a beginning position in academia or in an industrial laboratory.  This means that most scientists really find their first career employment at around 30-40 years of age.  Other lab personnel also have special training, and thus must also receive a good salary.  All the payments for salaries of the Principal Investigator, Postdocs, research technicians, and graduate students add up to many dollars each year. 

             Second is the cost of special research supplies and materials.   Laboratory experiments frequently involve usage of special supplies for the preparation and analysis of research samples.  Even the water used to prepare simple buffers and solutions must first be processed to a very high purity level before it becomes suitable for research usage.  Unusual chemical supplies are expensive because they must be custom-synthesized or specially isolated; only after final purity assays do these become suitable for use in research studies.  Special materials in high purity are essential for many lab experiments and inevitably cost many dollars. 

             Third is the cost of special research equipment.  Typical lab research at universities requires at least several pieces of expensive research instrumentation (e.g., amino-acid analyzers, automated analytical chromatography systems, facilities for cell culture, light and electron microscopes, mass spectrographs, polymerase chain reaction machines, temperature- and pressure-controlled reaction chambers, ultracentrifuges, etc.).  Even after their purchase, there are further expenses for annual service contracts or repairs, adjunctive support facilities, and add-on accessories; in addition, salaries for research technicians trained to operate these special research instruments must be included here.  Special research instrumentation always costs lots of money. 

             Fourth is the cost of time.  Good research typically takes much time to be completed.  Conducting research is always an exploration of the unknown, and never progresses in an automatic manner.   Many non-scientists have heard about the so-called “scientific method for research”, wrongly leading them to view experiments as cut and dried exercises that always work as planned; nothing could be farther from the truth!  Not all experiments work, and many of those that do work proceed in a different manner than expected.  Acquiring one unanticipated result sometimes necessitates undertaking several new experiments in order to pin down the whys and wherefores of the earlier new data.  All research results must be repeated at least once in order to have confidence that they are bonafide and statistically reliable.  Modern experimental research studies typically take about 6 months to 2 years to reach the stage of being able to publish the results in a professional journal.  The long time needed for conducting research work costs lots of money. 

            Fifth are the adjunctive costs of conducting research studies.  Where certain samples are used for the research studies, a number of special adjunctive costs arise.  Use of laboratory animals for experimental research is increasingly costly, due to the rules for animal care regulations and required veterinary oversight/support.  For cases where clinical research is conducted in a hospital setting, there are considerable costs for associated patient care, clinical and research chemistry, professional support services, etc.  For cases where clinical samples are researched outside hospitals, work in special bio-containment facilities with safety monitoring is required.    These required extra costs are in addition to all the many usual research expenses. 

             Scientific research costs lots of money because all he many different experimental operations require use of special supplies and instruments, salaries for specially trained research workers, specified safety measures for certain specimens, specified measures for use and disposal of radioactive materials and  toxic substances, and, many other adjunctive expenses.  All these different costs are needed for a time period typically measured in years.  As the saying goes, it all sure does add up! 

 Concluding remarks

             I have tried to give enough details here so that non-scientists will readily see how modern research studies necessitate substantial total expenses in the USA.  All of these perfectly usual costs for one individual scientist then must be multiplied by the number of research professionals, in order to arrive at the total national costs being spent annually on research.   That is a huge figure, but sometimes one must add the large sums paid for those research projects involving Big Science (e.g., space probes, oceanographic surveys, clinical trials of new pharmacological agents, etc.), and for use of special research facilities at one of the national laboratories (e.g., Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, advanced photon source at the Argonne National Laboratory, etc.).  The grand total costs for annual research expenses thus become a truly gigantic number of dollars. 

             This valid realization about the huge costs of doing scientific research in the USA sets the stage for a big follow-up question, asking whether the value obtained for science and society is worth this total cost?  I will discuss this difficult question at a later time. 

 

[1]  Hourihan, M., for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014.  R&D in the FY 2014 omnibus: The big picture.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/news/rd-fy-2014-omnibus-big-picture . 

[2]  Battelle, and, R&D Magazine, 2013.  2014 global R&D funding forecast.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.battelle.org/docs/tpp/2014_global_rd_funding_forecast.pdf?sfvrsn=4 . 

 

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RESEARCH GRANTS: WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE INDIRECT COSTS OF DOING RESEARCH?

Costs for University Science Research (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Costs for University Science Research    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            Money is of key importance for conducting scientific research (see my earlier post in the Basic Introductions category on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  The tax-paying public is familiar with the use of research grant money to pay for the acquisition of chemicals, conduction of assays and measurements, procurement of research samples, purchase and repair of laboratory instruments, purchase of test-tubes and other research supplies, publication of research reports in journals, etc.  All these expenses are for the direct costs of doing research.  Most people are completely unaware that there is a second and very different type of expense in conducting a research study.

            Research grants to universities, technology institutes, and medical schools also pay for the indirect costs of doing research.  These include all the adjunctive expenses necessary to support using an active research laboratory to perform experiments (e.g., daily maintenance, distribution of regulated electricity, garbage collection and disposal, heating and cooling, painting, routine administration, safety activities and facilities, water provision and drainage, etc.).  There can be no question that these indirect expenses are totally needed for the conduct of experiments in university research laboratories; corresponding expenses also occur for scientists working at industrial research and development labs.

Indirect vs. Direct Costs in Typical Research Grants

            The amount of support used for indirect expenses is determined by periodic negotiations between each institution receiving research grant awards and the granting agencies.  These negotiations are held behind closed doors, and the Principal Investigators composing and submitting applications for a research grant have no input into this process.  The total indirect costs awarded by federal granting agencies are calculated as some agreed percentage of the total direct costs awarded by a research grant (e.g., 35-75%).

            The public also is not very aware that the direct costs awarded in support of any research project can be  less than half of the total dollars provided by a research grant.  For some large very well-respected educational institutions in the USA, the official indirect cost rate is over 100%.  In such cases, the total funds awarded to those institutions by any research grant actually is over double the commonly stated figure for the total direct costs.  For example, with an approved indirect cost rate of 125%, a grant awarding $500,000 for total direct costs also gives another $625,000 for indirect costs, meaning the total award is $1,125,000.  Hence, indirect cost awards can be a very substantial amount of money!

How do Science Faculty View Indirect Costs in Research Grant Awards?

             I personally know that many funded faculty research scientists at universities have large doubts about realities in the current system for paying the indirect expenses of their lab research.  One area of doubt is the official percentage figure for their institution, which often seems to be much too high.  A second common doubt concerns the actual provision of the specified important activities listed in justifications for the approved percentage figure for indirect costs.  Usually, funded faculty scientists choose to keep quiet about their misgivings, since these “involve something beyond my influence and control”.  A few individual faculty members do occasionally complain about deficiencies in routine services provided by their employing institution (e.g., “My trash has not been picked up for 3 days now!”), but they never go on to ponder the various probable causes and possible misuses of their research grant funds designated for indirect expenses  (e.g., diversion into other university accounts)

            These common doubt
s lead to suspicions amongst university science faculty that the provision of research grant funds for indirect expenses is peculiar and really must have some additional unspoken function(s) beyond paying for the adjunct costs of doing laboratory research.  This suspicion almost never is openly discussed, since most faculty scientists are much more personally concerned with their own research projects, and not with what their employer might be “receiving on the side”.  In forthcoming posts, I will discuss some theoretical possibilities which could explain what might be happening.

            The approved rates for indirect cost awards vary considerably between different institutions, as a function of their location, size, labor costs, number of faculty and other employees,  type of construction, etc.  As a blatant example of the very large variations in indirect expenses between different academic institutions, I once went to work with a faculty collaborator at a large academic institution in Philadelphia on 2 consecutive days.  I saw with my own eyes that his laboratory rooms had a daily damp-mopping of the floors.  I was totally astounded to see that happening because at my own institution the lab floors were never damp-mopped, and were wet-mopped only a few times each year.  The indirect cost rates at these 2 universities certainly differed, but not by such a huge amount!

Who Pays and Who Does Not Pay for the Indirect Costs of Scholarship and Research at Universities?

            Usually. only faculty scientists having a research laboratory are required to pay for indirect expenses via their research grants.  Faculty members researching in other areas of scholarly endeavor mostly are not required to pay for the indirect costs of their investigations.  Those others include nearly all faculty working in art and music, classics, computer science, history, library science, linguistics, literature, and statistics.  This also can include some scholars working in astronomy, economics, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, psychology, or social science.  In all such cases, their indirect expenses must be paid by some other institutional funds, and presumably are seen as simply representing the routine costs of university business.  One should note here that smaller non-federal granting agencies often do not provide any payments for indirect expenses, yet most universities still are happy to receive those awards; the indirect costs for these smaller grant-supported investigations certainly still exist, but are being paid by some other budget.

            Indirect expenses for faculty offices, teaching activities in lecture and laboratory classrooms, and small conferences held in a campus room, normally are paid by the university as a normal operating expense.  It is only faculty scientists conducting research in laboratories who are required to pay for the indirect costs of their experimental investigations.  Senior science faculty members studying  education in their science courses are not charged for the indirect costs of these investigations.

Concluding Remarks

          Several conclusions now can be drawn: (1) research grants are used to pay for indirect expenses by all science faculty researching in a laboratory, (2) many scholarly investigations by faculty not needing to work in a research laboratory have their indirect expenses paid by some internal budget at the same institutions, (3) research grant awards for indirect expenses at some institutions exceed the amount given for direct expenses, and, (4) direct experience with paying for indirect expenses leads many Principal Investigators to have questions and suspicions that some type of hidden purpose or scam might be going on with the current system for using research grant funds to pay for indirect expenses.

            With this brief background, we now must ask several very important questions!   Why are only faculty scientists doing laboratory research being asked to obtain external funding to pay for their indirect expemses?  Is this done simply because grants are available for scientific research, but funding programs supporting scholarly studies in many other disciplines are smaller and less available?   Why are the indirect expenses for scholarly studies by many non-science faculty paid by institutional funds?  Why are the indirect costs of faculty scientists doing laboratory research investigations not also being paid by the employing institutions?  Where 2 different funded faculty scientists share a large laboratory room, does each grant provide support for only 50% of the indirect costs that would be awarded if there was only one occupant, or does each award pay for 100%?  Quite frankly, the more questions one asks about this topic, the more new queries arise; true answers to these never-asked questions probably would be both very interesting and very distressing.

            I will close by stating my own sincere conviction that something just does not make sense here!  In several later essays, I will try to provide further insights and discussions about indirect costs, especially  in the context of the current shortage of funding for research grants.  These will include controversial proposals for useful changes in the present policies and practices for the payment of indirect costs.

 

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CURIOSITY, CREATIVITY, INVENTIVENESS, AND INDIVIDUALISM IN SCIENCE

 

Edwin H. Land inspects an oversized Polaroid BLACK AND WHITE image of himself taken with one of his Polaroid cameras; recorded by an unknown photographer in the late 1940's.
Edwin H. Land inspects an oversized Polaroid black and white image of himself taken with one of his Polaroid cameras; recorded by an unknown photographer in the late 1940’s.

 

            Curiosity is the desire in some individuals to wonder about the whys and wherefores of something (e.g., how does a clock work, what causes headaches, why do humans get old and die, when will cars drive themselves, is a mouse just a little rat, where was copper mined for making the first ancient copper pots, etc.?).  Creativity is an inborn ability to think and act in new directions, and to make unrestrained or unconventional associations.  Inventiveness is an inborn ability to devise and develop new or better objects, and new ways of doing something;  inventions are new devices or processes, made and developed by an inventor (see my earlier post on “Inventors & Scientists” in the Basic Introductions category).  Individualism is found in people who readily assert their own personal characteristics of thought, interests, and demeanor, and, who are not afraid to have some of their own viewpoints be quite different from those of the general public.   Any one person, whether a scientist or a non-scientists, can potentionally excel with any of these characteristics.  Some of these features, but rarely all 4 of them, frequently are found in research scientists; when several are well-developed in one individual researcher, the results often are quite spectacular.  

 

Most scientists started out as youngsters with the natural curiosity and creativity found in almost all children.  Sometime later, during the course of their education and advanced training, they become molded into adult scientists who are more ready to think along certain channels, accept participation in group projects, and perform research with standardized experimental approaches; this process often results in very restrained individualism, diminished curiosity, near absence of  research creativity, and, redirection of activities into only tried and true pathways.  Although everyone has a distinct personality with individual likes and dislikes, most research scientists now are inhibited from thinking creatively, trying to prove that some established belief is wrong, questioning interpretations or conclusions coming from very famous other scientists, and expressing their individual  curiosity.  In the modern world, most of us, whether we are scientists or non-scientists, are expected to conform, not be very curious, and not ask too many questions (i.e., “do not rock the boat!”).  It really takes guts for any artist, musician, poet, or scientist to be a creative individual in today’s world. 

 

            In modern science, the current research grant system unforunately opposes creativity in scientists.  This is largely because a big push is given to being able to actually produce the anticipated results with the proposed experiments; grant applications proposing to conduct experiments and attack research questions with well-established experimental designs generally are favored by the grant system over those more exploratory studies seeking to use new approaches, ask unconventional questions, or, use innovative designs and new tools for analysis.  For truly creative scientists, results of their experiments often either cannot be anticipated at all or are likely to be very different from traditional expectations; this condition generally is not viewed with favor by the modern research grant system. Inventions are widely sought in modern science and research because they can produce financial gain and help provide touchable evidence that new practical devices are generated by publically-supported research grants; in other words, the granting agencies like to show the tax-paying public that research grant funds are indeed helping make daily life better or easier.  Although today’s scientists are very appreciative that the research grant system does provide considerable support for experimental science, they also are at least vaguely aware that it also tends to suppress expression of the several attributes found prominently in dedicated and innovative research scientists. 

 

            Exceptions to the above generalizations about repression of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in modern science are among the most fascinating of all people.   One particularly well-known example is Edwin H. Land (1909-1991), who had vigorous expression of all 4 of these characteristics.  He is most widely known as the inventor, developer, and manufacturer of the Polaroid Camera and Polaroid films [1-4].  These comprised the amazing invention of “instant photography”,  and occurred decades before the now-commonplace digital imaging cameras were born.  Land dropped out of Harvard College in order to conduct research studies, but later went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree; he succeeded in educating himself largely through self-study, similarly to what Thomas Edison did.  It now is obvious to all that Land didn’t need academic degrees in order to achieve renown, because he was supremely individualistic and a remarkably self-driven worker.  His open curiosity, creative ideas, energetic drive, and engineering insights led this researcher and inventor to develop new means to polarize photonic light, and also a new theory of color vision.  His special cameras and unique films both had multiple models and diverse varieties [3].  The Polaroid Corporation had multiple buidings and laboratories with over 10,000 employees; the research and development labs housed several talented co-researchers and engineers toiling to make very new technological advances in photography [4].  Land was a very self-motivated creator throughout his entire life.  He felt that everyone should havre direct experience in conducting experimental research as a very valuable part of getting a college education, so he established new programs for laboratory research by undergraduate students at several universities.  By the time he died, Land the physical scientist, inventor, and manufacturer had obtained over 500 patents [1,2]; this giant number stands as an objective testimonial to the inventiveness of this very creative human [3,4]. 

 

            Creativity is not essential for science, but is very useful and helpful in speeding up research progress by enabling breakthroughs and large jumps over the usual step-by-step progress in laboratory activities.  Quite often scientists have become famous largely because they invented some key device or process that enabled them to examine and study something that was unseen or unrecognized by other eager researchers.  Today, it is often believed that younger individuals are the major source for new concepts and new ideas in science.  All of these basic recognitions force the conclusion that both the agencies awarding research grants, and the academic institutions employing faculty researchers, should do more to encourage creativity, individualism, and inventiveness in scientists, instead of repressing these capabilities.  Any funding program that intentionally or unintentionally suppresses creativity and curiosity by demanding that a proposed project be almost guaranteed success, proceed only with some currently hot methodology, or follow strictly along well-known pathways of logic and analysis, is thereby retarding the progress of scientific research.  Society, schools and universities, and, granting agencies, all need to recognize the fact that the unknowns in research make good experimental studies always risky, not easily guaranteed, and very challenging; but, at the same time these conditions also make science investigations quite wonderful.  Encouraging curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in scientists will promote better results in scientific research, and that will benefit everyone. 

    

[1]  McElheny, V. K. The National Academy Press, 2013.  Biographical Memoirs: Edwin Herbert Land, May 7, 1909 – March 1, 1991.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nap.edu/html/biomems/eland.html

[2]   Linderman, M., 2010.  The story of Polaroid inventor Edwin Land, one of Steve Jobs’ biggest heroes.  Available on the internet at:  http://signalvnoise.com/posts/2666-the-story-of-polaroid-inventor-edwin-land-one-of-steve-jobs-biggest-heroes .

[3]  BBC News Magazine, 2013.  The Polaroid genius who re-imagined the way we take photos.  Video is available online at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21115581 .  

[4]  Polaroid Corporation, 1970.  Edwin H. Land in “The Long Walk” (directed by Bill Warriner).  Video is available online at:  http://film.linke.rs/domaci-filmovi/edwin-h-land-in-the-long-walk-1970-directed-by-bill-warriner-for-polaroid-corporation/ .

 

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WHY IS THE DAILY LIFE OF MODERN UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS SO VERY HECTIC?

 

Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic
Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

             Almost all scientists working on research as faculty members in academia will admit that their professional life is completely full of activities and that they often are quite frustrated trying to get everything done in time for the very numerous deadlines.  Many also will agree that the crowded schedule of all their daily work creates a hectic life that is amazingly different from what had been anticipated back when they were graduate students or postdocs; this even includes those scientists who are very successful with both obtaining research grants and producing many publications. 

 

Why do so many university scientists feel this way?  There are 5  chief causes of this self-judgment: (1) the main job of scientists working as faculty in universities now is to acquire more profits for their employer, rather than to discover more new knowledge via experimental studies (see my earlier post on “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists?” in the Scientists category); (2) their chief laboratory activity often is acting as a research manager sitting at a desk, rather than actually performing any experiments at the lab bench; (3) their busy life is a never-ending sequence of job deadlines (see my recent post on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” in the Scientists category) involving grant applications, grant renewals, grant reports and forms, course lectures, course laboratories, course review sessions, course examinations, course staff meetings, conferences with students, academic meetings, annual meeting of science societies, submissions of new manuscripts, submission of revised manuscripts, completing invited reviews of manuscripts submitted by other scientists, evaluations of graduate students, evaluations of laboratory staff, professional correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.,  etc.); (4) their intended schedule of work often can require more than 24 hours each day (see my earlier post on “What do University Scientists Actually do in their Daily Work?” in the Scientists category); and, (5) it becomes harder each year in a science career to either do research on the subjects and questions of their own choice, venture into some new interdisciplinary research effort, or be able to relax despite the enormous pressures generated by the research grant system (i.e., applications for research grant renewal never are guaranteed to be successful, and laboratory assignments will change or disappear if a proposal for renewal is denied funding).  These many job worries are both understandable and unavoidable; however, they create dismay and result in increasing dissatisfaction for many faculty who originally were very enthusiastic at becoming a university scientist. 

 

Why do so many academic scientists feel trapped inside what must be called a rat race?  Typically, these unexpected conditions arise slowly as their career progresses; the end point often is not recognized until the perverse situation already is well-established.  Once one perceives how deep this hectic quagmire can become, the only obvious solutions are either to put up with everything in return for the several good features of modern academic life, or to seek to move into a better job situation with a new employer or even a new career.  Most university scientists facing this dilemma are at least some 40 years of age; for many, their future retirement already can be foreseen.  Thus, moving to a new job site is not so easily accomplished, and is known to often result in the loss of 6-12 months of research productivity.  Many faculty scientists feel overwhelmed in this situation, and are hesitant to try to do anything about it.  A good number of faculty scientists who reach this midcareer realization start spending much more of their daily job time with teaching, writing books, and administrative work; they also work more frequently at home, rather than working in their research lab or office on campus. 

 

For all the employing universities, there are few rewards that they could receive by trying to resolve the problems of their faculty scientists listed above.   For these academic institutions, the recognized hectic life of their faculty research scientists translates into more profits and greater employee productivity.  Thus, most modern universities are fully pleased and very satisfied with exactly the same job problems and situations that perturb their science faculty!  This means that the university system with faculty scientists is very likely to continue just as it is today for a long time.

 

In principle, improved  education could help professional scientists to handle these job problems more successfully.  In graduate school education, new more realistic courses could be offered concerning what to do when faced with the many large practical problems of prioritizing and handling deadlines, allocating time commitments, dealing with the perverse practices of the federal research grant system, etc. (see my recent post on “Education of University Scientists: What is Wrong Today?” in the Education category).  At present, these matters usually are not covered either by any courses, or by formal instructions; instead, counsel is sought on an individual basis by informal discussions in the hallway with more experienced members of the science faculty.

 

Another part of the reason why there are so few current efforts to make the needed changes in modern universities is that some particularly successful faculty scientists do rise to the top despite these difficult job problems, and their employer then uses them as models of what all the other university scientists should be doing.  This common practice has the obvious major flaw that the number of such eminently successful faculty scientists in any university undoubtedly is enormously less than the number of those other faculty who are frustrated and dissatisfied with their hectic professional life.  In addition, I suspect that even extra-successful faculty scientists also are dismayed at just how hectic their daily life is. 

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WHAT IS MISSING IN TODAY’S EDUCATION OF STUDENT SCIENTISTS ?

            All universities have individual differences and special features in their graduate school programs for instructing student scientists working to earn a Ph.D.  Nevertheless, during this advanced education leading to a thesis defense, certain aspects of useful and needed instruction commonly are missing. My belief is that these absences often  result in practical difficulties for later research activities by scientists working in universities.

 

            The long extent of graduate student education in science (e.g., 4-8 years) is necessary to prepare them to become doctoral researchers and scholars.  Three very primary problems arise during any career as a research scientist working in a university: (1) managing  time, (2) dealing with the research grant system, and, (3) avoiding any corruption.  It seems very surprising that there is not any course work and little special attention currently being given to address these very important practical difficulties. 

 

An intense course in time management would be eminently useful for professional scientists in any branch of science.  Another course of instruction or a series of directed discussions about the organization of the current research grant system and how to deal with it would be immensely helpful to all new faculty scientists.   The number of courses available concerning integrity and ethics in scientific research now is rising; this instruction certainly is badly needed, but must be expanded even further; in addition, there needs to be better recognition that all professional scientists must accept that there can be absolutely no dishonesty at all within science.  General instruction about standards of ethics in science is very important and should commence at a very early age; ideally, this will start long before any actual choice of a career in science has been made. 

 

            Some of the classical subjects for instructing graduate students in science now continue to be  offered, but are taken only infrequently.  These include the history of science, inter-relationships and differences between the major branches of science, the key laboratory experiments which gave rise to famous findings and new concepts, and, general requirements for the design of good experiments and valid controls.  A solid course in the use of applied statistics for analyzing experimental data is frequently available, but many graduate students in science choose to not take such; this seems surprising, since most faculty scientists performing experimental research will readily admit that statistics is vitally useful for their data analysis. 

 

            In addition to coursework, several other valuable and useful subjects can be covered in semi-formal discussion sessions.  These include: how to select a postdoctoral position and mentor, what types of jobs are available for science doctorates, how to find a good job,  how to get promoted, how to self-evaluate your progress and reputation as a research scientist, special features of working on scientific research within industry, and, the role of engineering research and development in the modern science enterprise.  These sessions are likely to be much better if 3-5  faculty researchers working in different areas of science are present, such that several aspects of each topic within the different branches and disciplines of modern science will be brought forward. 

 

            Improving pre-doctoral education in all branches of science will produce a big payoff.  Better pre-doctoral science education will make for better scientific researchers! 

 

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INVENTORS & SCIENTISTS

            Inventors work to design and make some new device or substance, or, to discover some new process.  Ideally, these self-directed creators secure a patent and are able to get commercial production and usage started.  Basic scientists work to discover new truth, test a hypothesis, or disprove an accepted false truth.  They do this by conducting experiments, so as to investigate various research questions and to test specific proposals (e.g., about cause and effect).  Commercial products can follow basic discoveries only through further studies and much work by others in applied research and engineering.  Applied scientists and engineers seek to change the properties or improve the performance of some known model device or existing commercial product. 

 

            Certain inventors also are scientists, and some scientists also are inventors.  Both make discoveries, tend to be very creative, and can have major effects on their fellow humans.  In general, almost all modern scientists have earned a doctoral degree, but many inventors are ordinary people who have not acquired an advanced academic diploma.  Scientists generally work in a laboratory or out in the field, while inventors often work in their basement, attic, or garage.  Scientists often seek in-depth knowledge and can have wide professional interests, while inventors usually are highly focused on knowledge only in the small area involving their invention(s).  Today, scientists most often are employees receiving a paycheck (i.e., from companies or universities); inventors often toil on their own time while being paid for some regular job; inventors usually receive no money until their invention advances to attract cosponsors or to initiate commercial development and production. 

 

            By tradition, both inventors and scientists often have vigorous curiosity and a driving determination.  Both inventors and scientists can be highly individualistic people with flamboyant personalities; inventors especially often encounter remarkable adventures with their work activities.  Inventors of exceptional caliber always are controversial and do not come forth very often.  Probably the most famous inventor in history of the USA is Thomas A. Edison (1847 – 1931) [1-3]; he is frequently recognized for re-inventing or vastly improving the incandescent light bulb; discovering the phonograph (sound recorder and player); inventing the kinetograph (cinematographic recorder), kinetoscope (cinema viewer and projector), and a simple cylindrical voice recorder (for dictation); constructing an urban electrical generation and distribution system; and, inventing an improved electrical storage battery.  Edison received his first patent in 1868, for an electronic vote counter intended to be used in a state legislature; by his death at age 84, he had acquired the phenomenal total of 1,093 patents [1-3].  In addition to being both an inventor and a scientific researcher, Edison also was a vigorous industrialist; he founded a small  manufacturing company that now has grown into the industrial giant, General Electric.  Edison  had factory facilities built adjacent to his extensive research center and large private home/estate in West Orange, New Jersey; the laboratory and house are part of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, and both can be very enjoyably visited in person [4].  It is remarkable to note that Edison was been home- and self-schooled.  Thomas Edison is remembered today as simultaneously being a life-long inventor, a scientist, an engineer, and an industrialist. 

 

            Another immensely creative inventor and visionary scientist was Nikola Tesla (1856 -1943) [5,6].   Born in what is now Croatia and educated in Europe, the young Tesla moved to New York where he worked directly with Thomas Edison.  Tesla’s brilliance in designing and improving electrical circuits and devices was evident with his invention of a small motor that could successfully utilize alternating current (AC), which he also invented; Edison and others had developed and forcefully promoted the use of direct current (DC) for electrical power generation and distribution in the USA, but AC later proved to be much better for practical use.  Tesla probably was the true inventor of radio, and, might have been the discover of x-rays [5,6].  He also designed and built circuits and special apparatus for radio and television transmissions, recorded one of the first x-ray images of a human hand, designed and invented fluorescent light bulbs as a new type of electric lamp, and, experimented with the progenitors of radar, diathermy machines, and automobile ignition coils [5,6].  Tesla utilized ozone to make water potable.  In 1960, the standard scientific unit of magnetic flux was designated as “the Tesla” in his honor.  Despite the extravagent Hollywood version of Nikola Tesla as the primordial “mad scientist”, he now is widely recognized and acclaimed as a visionary throughout the world; he now is seen as having been an amazingly creative and constructive inventor, as well as a determined researcher and explorer in electrical engineering [5,6]. 

 

[1]   Beals, G., 1999.  The biography of Thomas Edison.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html . 

[2]   Bedi, J., The Lemelson Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 2013.  Edison’s story.  Available on the internet at:  http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/edison/000_story_02.asp . 

[3]   Bellis, M., 2013.  The inventions of Thomas Edison.  History of phonograph – lightbulb – motion pictures.  Available on the internet at:  http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bledison.htm . 

[4]   National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013.  Thomas Edision National Historical Park.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nps.gov/edis/index.htm .

[5]   Serbia SOS, 2013.  Available on the internet by first finding Famous Serbs on the display at the following blog, and then clicking on “Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) – Scientist and Inventor, the Genius who Lit the World”, at: http://serbiasos.blogspot.com/p/serbs.html .

[6]   Twenty-First Century Books, 2013.  Interesting facts about Nikola Tesla – Table of contents.        Available on the internet at:  http://www.tfcbooks.com/teslafaq/toc.htm . 

 

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WHAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS REALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK ?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Research#2

HAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS ACTUALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK 

          Almost nobody in the general public has ever met and talked with a real living scientist.  Hence, beyond the generalizations that scientists “do research” and “teach about science”,  most people have no idea at all about what scientists work on during their daily job activities.  To fill this gap, the typical daily work of scientists employed as faculty in universities is described here.

 

          To understand science and research, one must also know about scientists.  For the first half of their faculty career, university scientists conduct experimental studies on one or several research projects which are supported by the award of external research grants.  This involves their own hands-on work in a research laboratory, supervision of laboratory staff (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research technicians, visiting research workers, etc.), analysis of experimental data, and the publication of research reports presenting the results and conclusions from their investigations.  Appropriate time also must be given to ordering, checking on functionality of research equipment, design and planning of future experiments, problem solving with laboratory co-workers, dealing with questions arising as the experimental results are being collected, writing (research reports, new grant applications, other documents, and, books), etc.  Many faculty scientists additionally teach in one or two courses for undergraduate or graduate students.  As faculty, they also pursue various other academic activities, such as giving and attending research seminars, working with graduate training programs, attending various meetings of institutional committees and departments, attendance in graduation and other institutional ceremonies, participation and attendance at one or more annual science meetings, etc.   And finally, most of these scientists have a spouse and children, and so also need to spend some time working with their family, as well as with personal activities. 

 

          At sometime during the second half of their career, many university research scientists commonly decrease the time spent with their laboratory work, and begin to do more teaching, more writing of books, and/or more administrative work (e.g., as a divisional chief or focus director, vice-chair or chair of a department, committee head, liaison official, university representative to some venture, assistant dean, etc.).  Some also begin working off-campus much more than was previously done, by accepting responsibility for serving on various official external bodies (e.g., review boards, councils, and professional science societies, regional research facilities, publishing houses, accreditation boards, etc.).  In principle, their activities in teaching, administration, and public service all utilize the advanced experience of these senior individuals to directly and indirectly benefit other people. 

 

          The daily toil of scientists working in a university varies depending upon the different individuals, institutions, and local conditions.  Nevertheless, on a typical workday for a youngish faculty scientist, many or all of the following activities take place:

1.   thinking, questioning, and planning;

2.   reviewing the schedule for activities on that day and planned for that week;

3.   confer with laboratory staff about their new results, new problems, and current plans for progress;

4.   review research data: analysis, plotting and processing for presentation, statistics, etc.;

5.   hands-on research experiments at the laboratory bench;

6.   lectures, examinations, meetings, etc., for courses taught;

7.   administrative tasks, including filling in required forms and reports, interactions with the

safety office and the financial office, attendance at committee meetings, etc.;

8.   research grants: preparation of annual reports and forms, advance preparations for next

renewal application, review of progress and pilot studies, etc.;

9.   work on journal or review publications, abstracts for meetings, internal documents, etc.;

10.  library work, reading activities, studying a few selected recent publications in detail, gathering

            references and citations for manuscripts; and, 

11. miscellaneous: commuting, lunch, telephoning, e-mail, other individual activities, etc. 

 

          It should be very obvious that this daily work schedule requires a whole big bunch of time!  For the many other doctoral scientists doing research and development in commercial settings, their daily schedule is made slightly more reasonable because they usually share some work duties with co-workers, and are effectively assisted by a dedicated administrative, secretarial, and technical staff.  Those researchers working as faculty scientists in universities and hospitals often find that they have severe problems with time management, and necessarily must decrease the amount of time allotted to normal extraneous activities.

          The very busy daily schedule of university faculty scientists is compensated by their receiving a decent salary, working inside a scholarly home with other doctoral faculty and professional researchers, having access to good students, and utilizing the resources provided by an on-campus well-equipped science library.  In addition, they hopefully will achieve the thrill of being the first to acquire some much-desired research discovery, and, all are able to have the fun of doing research within “my own laboratory”. 

 

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WHAT IS WRONG WITH SCIENCE EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Science #2                              What is science to children? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

          Education of children about science in grade/primary schools is supposed to provide some fundamental body of knowledge about major concepts in science, including specific real examples for each branch and sub-branch.  This key background is needed to enable their later learning about more complex and detailed treatments in subsequent science courses in high/middle school.  At present, most science education for young students still involves memorization, watching demonstrations and  cartoon presentations, working with models, playing “science games”, “doing research” with some search engine on the internet, and, going on a field trip to some place like a natural history museum or some science exhibits featuring more models and games for entertainment.  All of this scenario deals with what I call “empty science”, and is inherently boring and misleading to young students.  The fundamental fact that science is real people is ignored.  Somehow, science teachers should remember how these same courses and activities came across to them when they were only youngsters many years ago.

 

          Quite frankly, I do not blame very young students going through the usual introductory courses for feeling that science must be an amusement and is some kind of game played by peculiar adults in laboratories.  If the nature of research is included, it is seen by the children as being some sort of game played for money, and it is clearly very inferior to playing sports or musical instruments.  These early strong conclusions later are cemented into adult minds, where science and research today very commonly are viewed as an entertainment, as something that normal average adults just cannot possibly understand, and, as a nonsense that has no importance for daily life.  These very wrong views have led to the large estrangement of the modern public from science, and their lack of personal interest in science progress; most people just do not feel that science has any role in their personal life.

 

          Dr. M is convinced that science education for children should involve very much less memorization and very much more hands-on work with actual materials, using examples that are more strongly  related to everyday life.  As a minimum, science courses must show basic interrelationships between the different sciences, introduce simple quantitation and statistics, and, feature hands-on collection and examination of measurements (data) for some real variables in everyday life (e.g., age, gender, body weight, body height, etc.).  In addition, they should present some interesting biographical stories about how real scientists actually made their research discoveries and why they now are considered to be very famous; this will enable the understanding of how scientific research today consists of real people working on important unsolved problems and developing amazing new technologies.  Outside the classroom, visits to such local features as nearby landscapes, zoos, farms, water treatment plants, mines, weather stations, etc., rather than only to dry museums, will show students hidden features of nature, geology, ecology, chemistry, and even astronomy.  Class visits to an industrial research center will provide valuable personal examples of scientists working right now in the real world.

 

          As part of these revised educational goals and activities, it first will be necessary to re-educate the educators.  Adult teachers must learn or re-learn about (1) the essential nature of science and research, (2) organization of science, and interrelations between its many subdivisions,  (3) the value of a question and answer format even for grade school classes, and, (4) how principles, examples, and derived reasoning can replace the standard need for learning only by memorization (i.e., unlike knowledge, memorization only rarely leads to increased understanding).  In my view, the effects of these new learning modalities will be well worth all the new efforts involved.  From the corresponding changes for science courses within high/secondary school and college, ordinary adults then will stop being afraid of science, will become more interested in research activities, and, even will be able to perceive that scientific research is a vital and interesting part of daily life. 

 

          Different aspects of the important topic of science education will be discussed further on this website in the coming weeks.

 

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