No Insults Intended, But...

David Kristofferson kristoff at genbank.bio.net
Mon Feb 11 02:02:05 EST 1991


> Most researchers put up with anonymity and low pay and the constant 
> hassles of teaching and grant writing so that they can Do What They
> Want To Do.  And to suggest otherwise is ridiculous and, in fact, 
> insulting.  Saying that a researcher should not be "hung up over 'real
> science'" is like telling an aspiring actor that s/he shouldn't be upset 
> at having to wait on tables, or telling a college athlete that if s/he 
> doesn't make the pros he can still play in a league on weekends.  It's 
> just not the same thing.

You continue to miss my points and "paraphrase" them to absurdity.
Having also spent close to ten years under the same kind of conditions
I too once thought that way.  After about seven of those years it
wasn't clear to me that I was really doing "what I wanted to do" but
instead, looking back on it, I kept on going because "I wasn't a
quitter ... I had so much invested in it ...  I loved the academic
lifestyle and didn't want to get tied down to the slavery of an
uncreative 9-to-5 job ... (I'm sure you can fill in the rest)."  I
have seen several people stick to this line of reasoning for so long
that it cost them their marriage.  I am well aware of the sacrifices
that can be exacted and have a certain "respect" for those who have
the stamina to make them.

My message was/is not directed to those out there (of whom I assume
you are one) who still find their career choice to their liking, but
instead to those who opted for academics and feel like they *have* to
keep going despite their misgivings.  You may find my message
insulting, but it wasn't intended to be.  Instead I meant it as a
message of hope to those who might be thinking about a career change,
but couldn't get up the nerve to do it.  My message was simply that
life can be pretty good on the other side of the wall.  I put up with
a fair number of insults from those who thought I was bailing out,
quitting, etc., and it was a very difficult decision to make.  You
chose the metaphor of still being able to "play in a league on
weekends" but that is also not my point.  I make ***absolutely no
pretense*** about doing any research any longer.  My point was that I
found other things to do which I enjoyed even more.  I am NOT trying
to convince you to change your career, but I would be vehemently
opposed if anyone used metaphors of failure like the above to pressure
others who might be thinking about leaving the field.  I have seen
this kind of thing done too many times before, and, given the current
funding situation, it will probably occur many times again.

The economic fact is that the research funding situation is not going
to grow sufficiently to accomodate everyone who tries to go on in
research.  Some people obviously have a much better chance of getting
a slice of the pie than many of the people who come from less
high-powered institutions.  There are many people out there who are
continuing to strive hard against odds which may be impossible for
them to overcome.  However, when anyone tries to tell them that there
may still be hope for them elsewhere, the usual barrage "if you do
anything other than science you're a failure; you're only playing in a
weekend league" starts up.  I hope that you *do* succeed in the career
which you are striving for.  I wish everyone who wants to succeed in
research will do so.  I too have known the excitement of waking up at
2 AM with a brilliant idea and of rushing into the lab to test it out.
I published about 12 papers in graduate school.  However, after a
series of personal events during my time as a postdoc which I need not
bore you with, I made the decision to leave the field.  It was an
extremely difficult decision; I remember being **extremely** depressed
about the whole situation.  When I finally did make up my mind there
was very little support, but lots of people who would make comments
about going back to the bush leagues, etc.  It seemed to me that some
people had to try hard to convince themselves of the correctness of
their career choice by denigrating mine.

My point, *once again*, is that there are other things in life that
people trained as scientists can do, can do *well*, can enjoy, and can
make a decent living at.  I apologize to anyone who is offended by
this, but I stick by this statement.  If you love what you are doing,
then best wishes for your success; you can ignore my blithering.  If
you don't like your current situation, my message is simple: don't
give up hope.  Even though a career change out of research is a very
difficult thing to reconcile oneself to, you may find yourself smiling
after it is over and wondering why you took so long to make your mind
up.

Now someone can come along and accuse me of undermining the will of
American researchers .... 8-).  I have no apologies here.  If the
country really wants more researchers, the money will be found and
there won't be legions of people who can be undermined.  I still think
we are faced with an oversupply situation in research, and it is more
humane to help people find other jobs.  One can always point to other
countries spending more on research as a % of GNP, but it will be
interesting to see if those percentages are maintained once their GNP
reaches the size of ours.  Given the shape of some of our industries,
I would think that the country might want to encourage some of its
more talented people to direct their efforts there, so that hopefully
there will continue to be people in this country who can pay the taxes
to support the research effort.  I would hope that American academic
institutions would work more closely with industry because the net
result could be mutually beneficial.  However as long as industry is
viewed in academics as a "weekend league" this country will continue
to shoot itself in the foot.

Dave Kristofferson



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