NY Times Magazine

Linnea Ista lkista at unm.edu
Mon Jun 5 13:40:14 EST 2000

SLF wrote:

> Does anyone read the Sunday New York times?  the magazine section today
> (06/04) featured an article about "science geeks" in a NY high school ,
> who are
> active in real biomedical research. The goal is to build technologically
> capable
> students who will go on to do great things in research or business.
> None of them sounded particularly interested in a research career.
> can't
> blame them;  who wants to earn a pittance when a lucrative high-tech
> future beckons?  Especially for women--if you're not going to earn as
> much as the men (and you won't),  then at least you want the average
> to be higher, e.g., in industry, rather than paltry academics where
> there
> is always some excuse to pay you less.

This is also something we must consider as we are trying to increase ethnic
diversity as well.  The last statistics I heard ( a couple of weeks ago on
NPR) were that Anglo women make 75% of what Anglo men make, whereas for
Black women the number was 66% of what an Anglo man makes and Hispanic women
55%.  Given that most people these days are leaving school with some serious
student loan debt to begin with, I don't blame them for not choosing
academic science.

This actually comes up occasionally as a bone of contention at home.  My
husband, who ran out of money to complete his bachelors degree, works in
high tech construction.  He is the guy who oversees putting computer and
telecom systems into new buildings.  He currently out earns me by several
dollars per hour.  I COULD make a lot more money in the private sector (and
I think my boss is realizing that and starting to move to get me more
substantial raises), but I LOVE what I am doing so much that we always
decide that job satisfaction counts a lot -- and actually the University
provides one of the best benefits packages in town. Still, we are kind of
hoping that more biotech moves this way and perhaps I could be doing the
same thing and earning  twice as much.

> And why put up with the abuse, mistreatment , hypercriticism and
> negative reinforcement of an academic career?  the petty competitions
> and mean-spirited reviews?   Not to mention an anti-intellectual popular
> culture that is suspicious or frightened of scientists.  (Are there ANY
> benevolently-portrayed scientists in the media?)

One of Sabrina's aunts (the cool one -- Zelda?) on "Sabrina the Teenaged
Witch" is a physicist, although you never see her in the lab.  You do hear
occasionally that she is writing a paper or something, but that is it.

Science fiction shows tend to have good scientific characters, many of whom
are women (Dax on DS9, Torres on Voyager).

There are also the "science" shows-- Beakman's World and Bill Nye the
Science Guy-- although both are a little geeky.

> Of course, without replenishing the basic research ranks with the best
> talent, like these kids, there won't be  many discoveries from
> curiosity-driven research  that cross over in years to come to
> support the next generation of  high-tech and the next new economy.
> I continue to be amazed--well, at least, disappointed--that our
> profession
> is not actively challenging the status quo within and without  to make
> it vibrant and central to our culture.  As scientists we are supposedly
> challenging the future, out on a limb ahead of everyone, but we are so
> entrenched in  our ancient exclusionary profession that science looks
> like the most   conservative, regressive business there is.

For the monetary incentive--

Student loans are currently forgiven for certain teachers (those who work in
low-income area, etc) and other professions where a social need is clearly
defined.  How about the same for scientists?

Something that has been batted around on one of the lists I am on-- that
academic science seems only for those who want to be professors.  I will
admit to being biased on this, being employed as a staff scientist with an
MS, but I think many of our problems could be solved if there were more
permanent, nonfaculty positions within academe. If there were permanently
employed hands and brains, it would reduce the need for so many PhD grad
students who then have to all find jobs after graduation -- and because
there is a glut of them, the salaries are also low.

I work in an engineering department where MOST of the grad students want
master's degrees, so they can go out and start at 60 or 70k per year.  As a
result, I have noticed that postdoctoral salaries (35K) and those for
beginning faculty (50-60K) are much higher than I ever heard of as a biology
grad student.  These salaries are higher, yes, but notice that someone with
a lot less invested in their education can still go out and earn more than
someone who sticks through it.

I think part of the problem with our lack of positive image comes from the
same sources that make life unpleasant for those of us trying to storm the
color or gender blockades -- the stodgy old-timers who think only one type
of person deserves to be a scientist and it is a person who looks, acts and
thinks like they do.  Business is way ahead of us in the sense that it is
recognized there that diversity means more innovation.

Also we are under attack from both sides of the political spectrum:  the
extreme religious conservatives who are waging war on ideas like evolution
being taught in our public schools AND the extreme left, particularly animal
rights groups and some environmentalists who use as part of their arsenal
the image of all scientists as greedy, fame driven, uncaring people who are
totally disconnected from life around them.  While some of the topics
brought up by these folks-- What IS going to be the global impact of
genetically engineered plants on society?-- for example, too often "our"
side adopts the "we are far smarter than you/this is much too difficult for
you to understand without YEARS of education/this can ONLY bring good to
human kind/trust us" tactic.  It is easy to forget that the speed with which
technologies that are not totally understood are deployed is more a factor
of decisions by big corporations, which are only too happy to let science
take the heat while they reap the bucks.

Any other viewpoints?

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