Open rough draft for forming a RC advocacy group.....

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Tue Jan 16 23:08:44 EST 2001

Derek initiated and led the efforts to produce a workable src FAQ last
fall. Though the document has shortcomings, both Derek and the
contributors deserve some credit and recognition.

This post is a spontaneous attempt to form a few ideas re the subject of a
Research Careers Advocacy organization. I favor the phrase 'research
careers' because both applied and basic scientists should feel comfortable
with that designator phrase.

I have made, over the years, a number of posts regarding a project
representing some real work: the formation of an organization that would
benefit _individual_ practitioners of the sciences (whether pure or
applied) and their careers. This is a repeat attempt to see if there are
any people out there that might be interested. 

The institutions (universities and laboratories) don't do
anything _for_ the individual career; rather, they are members of one or
more of at least about a dozen or two "associations" which lobby our
congress for laws, procedures, or other "treatments" which benefit only
the universities and institutes (not the scientists, engineers, or
faculty). The professional societies do not benefit their individual
members or their careers, either, except insofar as they host meetings
and/or publish journals. Many "lobby" their members to write or contact
their congresspersons to support larger NSF/NIH budgets, but this only
helps the institutions receiving the funds (I have received many
emails from the ASCB to contact congress to increase the NSF/NIH
budgets, which in turn, primarily benefits the institutions who will 
hire faculty to write more proposals to get more money OR enlarge
the budgets in the funding that they already have). Some professional
societies have sponsored "survival seminars" or "career sessions" at
meeting and operate job/candidate/employment offices. But, they barely
acknowledge problems and do even less to change these problems. Books and
studies have indicated such problems as a certain PhD glut in biomeds,
possible gluts in other areas, and career halflifes that are short when
compared with the pre-career preparation (eg. the astronomy PhD article
some of us discussed about a year ago where only one out of three PhDs end
up with a high security job). 

The AAAS really does not _do_ anything about the career problem other than
run the NextWave website at which only site licensees can have free access
and be a forum, much larger than src, for discussing career problems. But,
AAAS is for the advancement of _science_ and not _scienTISTS_. Out of
hundreds of pages each year, there may be one page in a news section about
some scientist involved in a lawsuit or a business deal. Except for some
articles a number of years ago, there has been little or no focus on
career problems as a "generic" problem. I am using the term "generic" in
the sense of the astronomy situation where only 1 of 3 astronomy PhDs end
up in a secure job. Another example of the "generic" problem is the The
Scientist article which reported that 40% of people who got biomed PhDs
ten years ago are either completely out of science now or are still on low
paying dead end postdocs. 

First, the mechanics of the organization would have to be similar if not
identical to most other advocacy groups. I.e. be organized as a
non-profit, tax-exempt. This means that Tax papers have to be filled out
and submitted and get approved. They need to name people, list addreses,
etc., and give info on the activities. I have these papers/forms and know
what needs to be done.  At the same time, the organization
needs to be "recognized" in one of the states (of the US) as an
incorporated "association". The process is identical to doing a standard
"incorporation" and I have done this in Delaware with my small
start-up company. This needs a little money. A start-up website is
needed. This also needs a little money. At least one dedicated phone/FAX
line, with answering machine, is needed and this takes a little money
too. A mailing/physical address is needed and I have some ideas on this,
too. A commercial bank account is needed (they charge a monthly fee), and
an IRS EIN is also needed. Eventually, if this thing gets off the ground,
say, four years from now, then a desireable Washington DC address would be
nice. An endowment fund would be nice, too. We don't want a
"foundation" however (too much legal work is needed).

Second. There are some issues that need to be taken care of. One (of
many) is that the organization's website needs to name names. I've seen a
number of websites where there is an agenda, and an email address, but no
names, no information on membership size, or who funds it, or where,
exactly, their office is. Two, is that the organization needs to be
"open" at least in the traditional "science" sense (i.e. free and open
communication, no secrets or proprietary crap, and it needs to be
fair!) and traditional "international" sense. 

Third. Goals. It can't be dominated by one person. Or, one
narrow agenda (or component of the research career problems). The
disadvantages of the "bureacratization" and "commitification" of the
organization have to be devalued in favor of "consensus" and having an
"organization" behind what is presented to the outside world, either
to individuals or to entities. The only goal is something along the lines
of the preservation and stabilization of people in research careers. This
sentence can be expanded, tweaked, splintered in many ways for many
specific subtasks. There will have to be studies, contact with
adminstrators in academia (maybe also the industrial sector) and contact
with government offices. There will also have to be fundraising efforts
(and I have some ideas on that, too). It may be that in the early phase,
a temporary and informal name be used until more details are worked out
and documents are prepared and then a final group name can be decided.

Fourth. Spirit. Contributors to this effort will have to be more
interested in the "make it work" or "work it out" ethic than the "I and my
opinon are more important than anyone or anything else" ethic. Effort will
have to include learning, possibly from other advocacy groups, how they
got started, how they run, how they survive and what they
actually accomplish. 

Lastly (and I have stated this in the past, too) I am willing to put some
of my own cash into some startup costs. 

Anyone who might be interested in this effort should either contact me by
private email, or an open post, with what they are willing to put into
this effort. I don't think this organization will get off the ground with
anything less than at least a three year commitment and we need a total of
about four people to start. 

The above represents a first, short, rough draft. I am sure that within a
few minutes after I post it, I will think of lots of things I forgot to

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
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