What is a scientist?

scarr at kean.ucs.mun.ca scarr at kean.ucs.mun.ca
Tue Aug 30 18:09:14 EST 1994


If that is the criterion, then every 4-year-old is a scientist.

If you have first-author and single-author publications in peer reviewed 
journals, have initiated and completed this research on your own, have
applied for and received the funding to complete research on your own 
merits,  then you are a scientist.  And normally, you need a Ph.D. to do
any of these things.  The Ph.D. is generally a necessary but not sufficient
condition for doing "real" (or complex) science in the modern world.  Until
then, you are a student of science, not a scientist.  You can do 
independent
research and publish papers, but you cannot submit proposals or apply for 
grants in your own name until after you get your degree.  


[Of course, many (most?) newly-appointed assistant professors won't be
starting on 01 September with a grant in hand. I think that the junior
author on Watson and Crick 1953 had neither Ph.D. nor any single-author
pubs, certainly not in biology (that was then and this is now). In my
department, several faculty have only the M.Sc. and obtain outside
funding, besides publishing (and several Ph.D.'s do neither).

	In general, granting agencies will only consider grant
applications from persons with faculty appointments. At National Labs,
or federal agencies, here and in the US, persons do research and publish
without competitive grants.

	"Scientist" is a polythetic term: it involves some combination
of academic degree (often a Ph.D.), publication (second author on a 2-
author paper counts), funding (competitive grants are nice but my
contract buys polymerase too), and (oh yes) maybe a bit more brains
than average. Most of these, but no particular subset.

	I prefer to deal with this question as a practical matter. Nobody
except the census people will ever check a box next to your name that says
'scientist'. Journals, granting agencies, search committees will look at
the above inter alia, and each will assign different weights because each
has different purposes. My letters of recommendation for the same candidate
to a big research university and a small teaching university will emphasize
different aspects. Many search committees won't hire the candidate with 
three post-docs and no teaching, and may prefer the one with a semester's
upper-division experience.]


However, if you are regularly intiating and doing independent research and 
publishing papers, and have 3 or more substantive papers of this type, then 

your school should have already given you your degree.  If they haven't, 
they're just using you for cheap labor ....

[There are two schools of thought. (1) Write the thesis (remember the
thesis?), then abstract one or more subsets as peer-reviewable MSS.
(2) Write the MSS, publish, bind them up neatly and call it a thesis. My
experience is that the former lets the student develop thoughts/data to
the limit of her/his ability. Thus we evaluate the candidate. If (as
usual) I then contribute heavy editing, my name goes on the MS because
I'm an author. It's a rare student who can get single-authored paper
accepted in a refereed journal, first time out [I'm on the committee of
one now: she doesn't have her degree yet because she hasn't handed in
a thesis. When she does her pay scale changes. The MSS will be multi-
authored because it's collaborative research and there are multiple authors
.]


, and you should pack your committee 
with eminent people from the outside that have edited your papers and/or
provided positive, signed reviews of your papers (i.e. they know your work
probably more intimately than the faculty that's trying so hard to ignore 
your
work, the proof being in the fact that they haven't given you your degree 
yet),a
nd just blow through the degree-granting process.  Schedule your defense,
have all these big guns show up, and watch the rest of your committee cower
in the corner.  Then you have the bona fide qualification you need to get 
the 
promotion and the raise you deserve for doing postdoctoral level 
independent 
research.  

['Round here, they're called external reviewers. They are variously:
Tougher than internals, because they come knowing only what you wrote
and not knowing that you just HAVE to finish with a minimum of corrections
on account of that waiting postdoc, or, Milder, because Hey your committe
passed this dreck, why should I get bent out of shape, it's not my U.
Which is fairer to you as a "student of science"?

Anyway, a favorable review of an MS two years ago is no guarantee that
the thesis today is acceptable.]

[increasingly ad hominen & feminem stuff deleted, except for...]

Working next to, and doing similar work as a man with a BS or an MS.
And you'll be getting less pay, since he's been at it all the years you 
wasted i
n
grad school.  

[Cuts both ways. Senior faculty with MSc, no grants, no pubs, lighter 
teaching load makes 50% more $$ than me, since she's been at it etc.]

Don't kid yourself.  Sexism, discrimination and harassment have THIS affect
.  

Cheryl

[Regionalism has the same effect. I'm not a Canadian: I sometimes suspect
that my federal grant is smaller because the panel doesn't have anyone
on it from my postgraduate University. Neither has my present university 
been represented on the panel the last several years. So I work harder:
I publish, write & obtain grants, train undergrads, grads, and postdocs ....
(Teaching! Damn, I KNEW something was missing from that definition of a
20th-century scientist) and all those things that pertain to 'scientist'.

Don't think: do. I ran a computationally-intensive calculation while
writing this. Now I'll go look at my science.

Steve Carr
Dept. of Biology
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's NF A1B 3X9
Canada

scarr at kean.ucs.mun.ca     ]




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