Over time, I’ve been exposed more to the side of research I really detest – the cutthroat, competitive, nepotistic, money squandering, high-impact-chasing side of science. Or rather, scientists. I’m pretty sure I could play the game my way and maybe even change some things for the better, but I don’t even want to be a part of a world like that.
This follows on the heels of Jean-François Gariépy's post on leaving science (my responses here and here), where he talked about the "highly-competitive environment... [with] scientists to be more preoccupied by their own survival in a very competitive research environment than by the development of a true understanding of the world", scientists who do pretty much what Sweetscience says above.
I wrote at length that my world isn't Gariépy's world. He was skeptical of my response, but that's his right and his perspective. I'm not going to try and persuade Sweetscience of anything. Her post is well-reasoned and she, as did Gariépy, is making a hard choice. The quote above comes from her third point, the first 2 (really 4) points are very much about who she is and what she wants. Her post differs from Gariépy's in that she believes she has made a mistake. I'm not sure it's her mistake, but I wish her well in moving on.
What strikes me is that I think, no, I know that it is possible to be in a different world. Not all parts of science are cutthroat. There are subdisciplines and labs that not competitive, nepotistic and glamour-chasing. There are mentors who believe in promoting, protecting, and cultivating their mentees. There are mentors who support not just students and postdocs, but junior faculty, not just the glamourous ones, but the solid ones doing good work in the trenches. And, it's not just one or two, here and there. There is a reason the journal Cell gets lumped with Science/Nature. But there is lots of biology that is not cell biology, or molecular biology or optogenetics. There are whole fields where people are not pushed the way they are in the "cutting-edge" labs.
I do not deny that the
exciting pathological world of glam-chasing exists. Its why I left MRU. It's why lots of folks I respected left my Old-MRU. But if one doesn't wish to live in that world, one doesn't have to. There is some choice in the matter. It's not always easy, and often it involves compromise. But how does that make it different from any other decision in life? It's different only if you believe that that either the world owes you an R01 or that your snowflake-ness will mean you glide through the problems. And, hey, stop looking at that person at the other bench who, to your eyes, had a cakewalk through life. She's just making different decisions and choices than you.
Sweetscience seems to be making the right choice for her. But for the rest of you out there nodding your head in agreement with the assessment that it's a totally ugly world out there... there are alternatives, you just have to find them. As my grandmother said "if ya' lay down wit da' dawgs, ya' gonna git up with da fleas".