Monday, June 18, 2012

An interesting comment on what doesn't motivate scientists

Father's Day was yesterday and one gift from my wonderful wife was a copy of "How Economics Shapes Science" by Paula Stephan, a professor of economics at Georgia State. I'll be blogging about this; it's pretty illuminating, even though it's mostly about the economics of academic science.

I really liked this comment by Prof. Stephan in the conclusion of a chapter about monetary rewards for academic scientists:
No one would become a scientist solely for the money. There are too many other, more lucrative careers that require years of training and fewer hours of work and pay higher salaries. Nonetheless, success in science is accompanied by monetary rewards, and scientists are not immune to their allure. 
 A very, very true statement. 

15 comments:

  1. I hear a lot of people say "You shouldn't get a PhD for money!" But when's the last time you heard a professor say that to undergrads? In fact, apart from some of these blogs, who makes this statement at all? Professors don't. Politicians don't. Hell, influential guys in industry don't (Liveris has been cited on this blog a few times recently).

    So a lot of this message is wasted on people who thought they'd be able to make a good living after grad school and are coming to a sad realization that they've been misled but can't do anything about it now.

    Let's start by getting this message out to the clueless morons on Chem Reddit. When we can turn the tide of "You'll only get a high paying/interesting industry job with a PhD" there, then we'll be on our way to making a difference.

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  2. @Bender,
    only until politicians turn off the study influx of H1B visas will there be a change. Most companies only consider visa sponsorship for foreigners holding PhDs. Other countries are very glad to send an endless supply of PhD candidates to the US - because PhDs will not get to or want to stay in the US. With an endless supply of PhDs, salaries for PhDs/MS/BS chemists all fall to terrifying lows. Taxpayers fund this endless supply of global scientists.

    The US does not fund a global supply of JDs or MBAs, which is why these salaries are much higher. The reason they do not fund JDs or MBAs is simple. Many politians hold such degrees. The ones in power are protecting their own.

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    1. I wonder if we could get rid of all the lawyers and MBA's by funding their degrees?

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    2. Addendum - not necessarily get rid of, but drive their salaries down to postdoc levels!

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    3. Anon @5:27
      You really have no idea what you talking about, right?

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    4. Actually they eat their own. JD salaries have been steadily falling in recent years as more and more graduates are unable to find jobs. Additionally many of them leave law school with hundreds of thousands in debt. PhDs don't have it any better, but at least we have the option of full funding while we're in the program.

      PhDs not wanting to stay it the US? Where have you been seeing this? My experience is that it's about 50/50, depending on the person's original goals for coming to the US in the first place.

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  3. I thought they were already there, at last for the recently graduated.

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  4. Pr. Stephan is repeating the same worthless drivel Madeleine Jacobs has been pushing for years. "Do the science for the love of it, and learn to grab your ankles."

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  5. Huh, I guess I was lucky that my family was poor when I was small and lower middle class when I went to college. That's why I don't really care about big monetary rewards. Lower middle class lifestyle in the States is good enough for me. It was pretty awesome as we still had a TV and I saved up enough money to buy an SNES and some games. I guess I have a higher tolerance level to crappy living than you softies. But then, maybe if the old folks were richer (now they are doing a lot better, but still have some debts), I would have gone into something else and not chemistry which I just liked.

    Besides, I figured out after hearing about Denmark's Porske that chemistry could make you a lot of money if you lucked out. I don't think anyone told me to go into just for the love of it; it was just a coincidence. I think even if I get a crappy job unrelated to chemistry, but one that the degree helped to get, I'll never end up living together with rats in the same apartments like I did as a kid. And that's a plus. Thank you graduate school.

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    1. I hated the fact that it was never a guarantee the utilities would be on when I came home in the afternoon. Of course, uppity me assumed that hard work in chemistry at a burn out pace will guarantee the riches of running hot water! And clothes that are clean without holes in them. I will now have to learn how to cope with my entitlement complex and humbly move back into the shadows.

      Look, maybe it isn't that dramatic, but it certainly could be if no one stepped up to try to advocate for themselves and the rank and file of the field. I think in the long run things will certainly be FINE, and my dreams of stable nutrition, clothes, gas money, and hot water will come to fruition. It just may not be from working in a lab.

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  6. "uppity me assumed that hard work in chemistry at a burn out pace will guarantee the riches of running hot water"

    There are a lot of people who work very very hard (i.e. real work, you know, sore back and calloused hands) without any certainty. Maybe it's not fair, but it was ever thus and always will be. Maybe try whining to farmers in Manitoba how hard you work for so little pay.

    "try to advocate for themselves and the rank and file of the field". A nice idea, but the whole academia-industrial complex is built on a steady supply of cheap post-doc and grad student labor. Scientists seem to learn early on to shut up, put your head down, and keep working for a low wage ("I can post-doc 80 hours a week for you for $30k/year, oh yes, thank you thank you sir").

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    1. I wasn't trying to dismiss that there are hard working people who aren't getting their fare share. Labor is certainly being hoodwinked, and they are perhaps a generation behind in asserting themselves.

      This is more than a problem of just some sniveling postdoc/grad student who feels entitled to his up and comins'. This is a greater problem for the established chemists that are passionate about their work, their contributions to society, and the inevitability they have to sell this lifestyle for science to continue.

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  7. Lot of passionate, established, poets out there. Poetry is doing OK (I think).

    As long as we have new generations of grad students and post-docs willing to work long hours for little to show for it (and if we run out of Americans, we can start bringing in Asians, Indians, Africans, Eastern Europeans, whatever works).

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  8. Science is a business expense with low probability of generating revenues. Companies dont want to spend money in R&D, chemists will see all the low level bench works outsourced to china/india and eventually all the R&D jobs will follow. No amount of motivation will help bring the chemical industry back to its former glory.

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    1. The problem with the modern economy is that virtually ALL businesses proportionately generate low revenues. Especially when compared to finance. We have an unrealistic expectation on returns, and have come to worship bubbles.

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