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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can university research and science teaching be rescued? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks for Part II

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

Conclusions for Both Parts I and II

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

 

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

 

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

 

The traditional work for doctoral scientists employed as faculty at universities is laboratory research and classroom teaching.  All that now has changed greatly.  Readers who are not scientists should first learn about the actual job activities of university scientists (see “What do University Scientists Really do in their Daily Work?”); that will greatly aid in understanding this essay.  A surprising number of faculty scientists performing research studies now find that they are frustrated, dismayed, and increasingly dissatisfied with their job activities.  Even senior scientists mostly working in classroom teaching now feel that they get less and less professional satisfaction for trying to do a good job with science education in undergraduate, graduate, and medical school courses.

My examination of this growing problem in modern universities is divided into 2 parts.  The first presents the causes of why the science faculty are so upset, and examines the unfortunate consequences.  The second part will detail how these recent changes impact on science and scientists, and discusses what can be done to alleviate this distressing condition for university scientists.

What is causing job dissatisfaction amongst university scientists? 

From my own experiences during over 35 years of faculty work at several universities, and from talking to many different faculty members at other academic institutions, I know that many university scientists feel that they now are not readily able to do research as they were trained to do.  Their identity as scientists is constantly challenged by the changed job goals, hyper-competition for research grants that takes them away from the lab bench, and, pressures to accept or ignore professional dishonesty.  They also unexpectedly find that they have been incompletely educated, since their graduate courses and long training included no formal instruction on how to be successful as a business executive, financial jockey, administrative manager, and salesperson, while still officially being a professional scientist at work on researching and teaching.  Accordingly, their daily life as modern university faculty gets to be quite problematic (see earlier articles on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” and “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic?”).

There are 5 chief causes for this unfortunate dissatisfaction in academic science

(1) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in research has been replaced by counting dollars acquired from research grants.  This changes the entire nature of university research.

(2) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in teaching now has been replaced by measuring popularity of teachers and courses with the enrolled students .  This changes the entire nature of university teaching.

(3) Doing significant experimental research has only a strictly secondary importance since the main job of the science faculty now is to increase the financial profits of their university employer (see  “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”).  This changes the very nature of being a science faculty member at modern universities.

(4) Science faculty members doing grant-suppported research are only renting their laboratory.  Unless they win a Nobel Prize there are no long-term leases of research laboratories, even for tenured professors.  This necessarily changes the nature of anyone’s career as a university research scientist.

(5) Individual curiosity, creativity, and interests are increasingly submerged into mechanical types of research activities requiring little individual initiative or self-determination, particularly when doctoral researchers come to work as technicians inside large groups (see my recent article on “Individual Work Versus Group Efforts in  Scientific Research”).  Research groups commonly involve research managers, group-think in tightly knit team projects, and daily attention to financial targets for research grant awards.  This changes the nature of any research career at universities.

Although these causes and their resulting consequences seem very obvious to me, readers should be aware that they are disputed or even denied by academic officials and some other scientists.  It is my belief that the present decrease in the quality of research and science teaching that results from faculty dissatisfaction is a serious national problem that someday will become very obvious for all to see.

What are the consequences for university scientists? 

Let us briefly look at the main consequences coming from each of the 5 major causes for current faculty dissatisfaction listed above.

(1)  Making research at universities into a business activity brings all kinds of secondary problems from the world of modern commerce into research laboratories (e.g., corruption, deceit, graft, greed, mercantilism, vicious competition, etc.).  These necessarily decrease science integrity (see my earlier article on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”), and thereby subvert trust in research, science, and scientists.

(2)  When popularity with students becomes the goal of science courses in universities, then teachers start bringing pizza and bowls of punch into the classroom in order to raise their chances for winning a “teacher of the year” award.  Concomitantly, standards are lowered or discarded as education becomes sidetracked from its true purpose.  Popularity and excellence in teaching simply are not synonymous (see my recent article on “A Large Problem in Science Education: Memorization is not Enough, and is Not the Same as Understanding”.

(3)  If finding new truths is no longer the chief aim of scientific research then the standards for evaluating what is true will change and decay (see “How do we Know What is  True?”).  Dollars cannot be any valid measure of what is true.

(4)  Sooner or later, all science faculty researching in university laboratories will encounter the problem of not getting an application for research grant renewal approved and funded.  Even when they have previously merited several grant renewals, such a rejection means that they soon are pushed out of their laboratory.  University labs are only leased, and all space assignments therefore are temporary; if the rent is not paid by a research grant, then occupancy ends.  This necessarily means that laboratory research at universities must be only some temporary work, rather than an ongoing career activity.

(5)  Working as a businessperson, chief manager, executive officer, financial administrator, research director, etc., is very different from being a professional researcher and/or teacher at a university.  The mentality, integrity, and accountability in these two sorts of employment are very different.  Universities formerly have valued and encouraged creativity, curiosity, debate, and individualism much more than these are utilized or accepted in businesses where money determines everything (see article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  These qualities now have been changed into requirements for conformity to executive authority, group-think, subordination of curiosity and creativity, and, willingness to never ever ask any questions.

Concluding Remarks for Part I

The chief causes and consequences of the growing dissatisfaction of university science faculty with their job now can be clearly recognized. Universities believe this entire situation is wonderful  because their financial situation now is much improved.  The end results of putting up with these unannounced changes are that members of the science faculty are sidetracked from traditional research, forced to work at activities they have not been trained to do, spend most of their time working on research grant applications, and, are involved in a business career rather than in science.  Scientific research in academia now has become increasingly commercialized (see my earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science?”).  Most science faculty become very surprised with how different their daily life actually is from what they had expected in graduate school.  It is hard to conclude anything more striking from this essay than that science itself has been changed.

In summary, science faculty working at modern universities on research and/or teaching are increasingly frustrated and upset because their planned career is diverted, their integrity is challenged, their curiosity and creativity are squelched, their research is sidetracked into business aims, and their long education is made to seem quite incomplete.  No wonder they are so upset!!  Part II will discuss the effects these changes have upon researching and teaching, and, will give my views about what realistically can be done to deal with this modern academic problem.

 

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