Tag Archives: Andy Tay

UNTAUGHT LESSONS ARE LEARNED IN GRADUATE SCHOOL! 

 

Graduate schools teach much about science and research outside of classes! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Graduate schools teach much about science and research outside of classes! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Earning a doctoral degree in science is required in order to become a professional research scientist.  Typically, the long period of learning about science and research in graduate school takes 3-10 years, and is followed by intensive research experience as a semi-independent postdoctoral fellow for several more years.  Much of what is learned is not in textbooks, but instead comes from personal observations, disagreements, trying to solve problems, and work experience.  Brief stories by scientists about their individual experiences in graduate school often appear in the “Working Life” section of Science, and nicely illustrate some important unspoken lessons for graduate students; here, I discuss several stressful issues raised in 2 informative essays recently published by young scientists [1,2].

Realizations about science by a new Assistant Professor! 

“Three lessons rarely taught” by Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk [1] describes important concepts about research work and the traditional academic career, that he learned during his extensive education.  His mentors advised him to have fun doing research and even to regard research instruments as special toys for adults to play with.  That philosophy is increasingly hard to maintain due to the demanding pressures generated by the business aspects of trying to be successful as a university scientist.  Dr. Wasylczyk states with sincerity, “Talking to other scientists, both young and mature, I see how difficult it can be to enjoy research.”  This shocking realization is true, but contradicts the advice given by his mentors about having fun doing science; I predict he might later join many other university scientists who are dismayed and distressed with their disgusting job problems (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part II.” ).

A third piece of advice Dr. Wasylczyk received is very fundamental, and he is determined to pass this insight on to his own graduate students: “Taking risks is the essence of research.”  Most non-scientists and beginning scientists do not understand that research always is chancy, experiments sometimes do not produce the data expected, and results in the lab cannot be guaranteed.  By taking chances, research still is able to advance and produce important new knowledge; this reality is very different from the gospel that research success always comes to those who follow ‘the scientific method’, as taught to all students in secondary schools and colleges.

Realizations about money in science by a current graduate student! 

“Show us the money” is an article by Andy Tay [2] describing his mental and emotional responses to suddenly being notified by his thesis advisor in graduate school that cessation of a research grant means he must make some major changes.  While trying to overcome this unexpected interruption in his research training he discovered several new realizations about becoming a research scientist: (1) he had previously received little instruction about the very strong role of money in scientific research (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ), (2) any changes in research grant status can negatively affect many persons besides the grant-holder (i.e., graduate students, post-docs, and research technicians), and (3) when research grant sponsorship of graduate students is disrupted, this unanticipated crisis event often forces making big changes in career paths and plans.  To his credit, Tay talked to other graduate students and found that “I’m not the only student whose training has faced potential disruption because of an adviser’s changing funding situation.”  That is very true, but is rarely recognized or discussed until this problem suddenly happens!

By going down the traditional pathway to becoming a faculty scientist, Tay will later encounter even larger problems with money.  Almost everything in a university science career now depends upon money, and the scientist with the most money from research grants is labeled to be the best.  Finding the truth or making a truly breakthrough discovery now matters much less than getting many research grant dollars.  Thus, research grants are both good and bad (see: “Research Grants Cause Both Joy and Despair for University Scientists!” )!  My own belief is that the conversion of university science into a business where profits are the true end necessarily distorts science, perverts research, and encourages corruption; this atmosphere of degeneration is literally destroying scientific research in modern universities (see:  “Could  Science and Research Now be  Dying?” ).

Discussion! 

I encourage all current and future graduate students to read and study these 2 short dispatches [1,2]!  Graduate students must be made much more aware of the challenges they will face in their careers, and of the fact that scientific research at universities has changed from what it is supposed to be.  Andy Tay should be given much praise for organizing local meetings with other graduate students to discuss these issues.  Postdoctoral research associates, who are a few years further along this career pathway, now are organizing discussions and proposals for dealing with several large problems in their education and status as young professional scientists [3].  Graduate students and postdocs can see that scientists researching in universities now are trapped into being business people chasing money, and good research is increasingly difficult within the destructive atmosphere now prevailing in many educational institutions.

Concluding remarks! 

The essays by a new faculty member, Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk, and a beginning graduate student, Andy Tay, will help stimulate the badly needed revisions in graduate school education for scientists.  I hope that they will continue spreading the word about these issues, and wish both of them much good luck in their further research efforts!

 

[1]  Wasylczyk, P., June 10, 2016.  Three lessons rarely taughtScience  352:1358.  science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1358.full .

[2]  Tay, A., June 17, 2016.  Show us the money.  Science  352:1486.

[3]  McDowell, G., 2016.  Postdocs driving change: the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) meeting 2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ascb.org/postdocs-driving-change-the-national-postdoctoral-association-npa-meeting-2015/ .

 

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