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[personal profile] indecisionwins
Crazy, depressing story about academia, from NPR:

Apparently, a researcher who made an important contribution to the research that won the Nobel prize in chemistry this week is now driving a bus for a living. Apparently, he wasn't able to get any grant funding, didn't get tenure, and now hasn't been able to find a job in academia.

Audio at:

According to the comments in a blog post about this, while he wasn't included in the Nobel prize, his work was important enough that it very well could have been.

I posted about this to the SWIL chat list this morning, but it's hard to stop thinking about it (especially with the reflective mood of Yom Kippur). I mean, I don't think this is all THAT common (is it??), and there could very well be somewhat more to this story than we hear from this. And I'm guessing that at least for him, his fortunes will improve some with the attention from this story. But

Date: 2008-10-09 07:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My parents like to say, people who can't find jobs in academia choose not to find jobs in academia.

It came up once when I was a teenager: I was talking to a middle-schooler I'd just met at a party who was complaining how hard it is in biology--her mother had been unemployed for years (but luckily her father was like a lawyer or something, so her mother could afford to be a housewife). I asked my parents about it... my parents had actually talked to this girl's parents at the party, and the girl's mother had been utterly disdainful that my parents chose to teach at community college.

Nevermind that community college pays well, there are always job openings (and occasionally they have to resort to hiring people who only have Masters degrees because there are too few applicants), and if you really want you can often do research on the side by being a "visiting scholar" in someone else's lab (both of my parents have done this at various points).

And if research is what you really want to do, there are always companies that are hiring. Especially if you pick a big company, funding isn't even an issue. Plus government labs (which, granted, are more selective), where funding also isn't an issue, and often you can work on whatever you want.

If this guy is driving a bus for a living, there's got to be a lot more to it than simply being unable to get grant funding and failing to get tenure.

Date: 2008-10-10 06:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good points!

Date: 2008-10-10 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
NIH can reject over 60% of its applications. Some are close, but some are just bad.

I too find it a little hard to believe that he couldn't find any work in the sciences. In the story I heard on NPR, he said that he really enjoys driving a bus, that he really enjoys meeting people and benchwork was too lonely.

I've known several people who have dropped their Ph.D.-level jobs to work for less than $10 an hour, voluntarily. I'll never understand it, but I think the desire for something different may be playing a role.

Date: 2008-10-10 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
NSF rejects 75-80%. And yet, people still manage to find funding... Think of all those little projects, at all those little state schools, that no one's ever heard of and will never be Nobel worthy, but contribute a little bit to their field--someone's funding them. They're successfully getting grants. It's not that hard to get money from somewhere, and be able to do something.

Again, if that's what you want. It doesn't sound like that's what this guy really wanted.


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