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Why I hate being a scientist, #1067

Even if you discover something new and earth-shatteringly important, people will not be happy. In fact, they will get irritated, and make you do things you have no interest in. And woe betide you if you are a student, for your work will quickly get absorbed into more important people's.


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Feb. 8th, 2005 03:36 am (UTC)
"Research Lab" - A place where ideas go to die.

Been there done that. And if you think it gets any better as a post-doc, it doesn't. When I was in industry in the US I had so many of my good ideas hijacked, turned into products and go towards furthering someone elses career that I stopped sharing them. Technically the company still owned them, but I locked the best ones away in my head for later.

However, not all supervisors are complete --insert disparaging remark here--, some are good, honest people. Unfortunately, in science that's not the sort who gets ahead. So they are rare. In academic science you need to be a political animal and willing to form strong alliances, steal ideas and subordinates work and stab other people in the back. Good science hardly comes into it. Thats why my PhD Supervisor is ridiculously overworked and clinging to their job by their fingernails until retirement.

And look at the story of Watson and Crick. A lot of their conclusions were "borrowed" from other people's work, like Rosalind Franklin. The ranks of Novel Laureates are littered with people who were not directly involved in developments but made good political maneuvers. (In the movie "Contact" the interplay between Ellie and her former PhD supervisor was so true to what I've seen in real life that it truly got me angry.)

And me? I don't take my career too seriously. I find it's easier that way; plus I don't have to become the type of person I loathe being. I just have to be philosophical enough to be content in the knowledge that I might never rise much above my current level.

But whatever you do - don't give up. I know what I'm saying seems depressing, but there are highs too. And you learn to play the game a little. Just last year I made a breakthrough that I could see getting pulled from me, and to my surprise I managed the maneuvering needed to retain partial credit (by witholding the knowledge of the inventive steps required to justify development). I know it's only partial credit, but I'm kind of proud I managed that; my first minor victory.

Sorry for the long post.
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