The Joy of Research

The distinguished scientist  Garret (one ‘t’) A. Fitzgerald of the University of Pennsylvania writes in today’s Irish Times about the joys of a highly-successful research career: you can read it here.

Although it is written in the context of encouraging Leaving Cert students to consider science as a career option,  his description also fits other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.

8 replies on “The Joy of Research”

It’s a well-written piece that is accurate were it not for such things as university politics and administration.

It also reflects the naviety of so many natural scientists. The freedom to decide what you will research today also means that there is no one to blame if tomorrow you’ll find out that you made a bad choice. Having friends and colleagues from all over the world also means that there is a real prospect that you will be the uprooted one. That scares many. The masses crave security and predictability.

“We must communicate more effectively the excitement, impact, altruism, personal fulfilment and material rewards of this career choice, if we are to continue to enrich humanity through science by recruiting the best and the brightest of the young.”

Maybe in generalising, money should come first and altruism last.

As for the “best and the brightest,” David Halberstam wished to convey the irony of that term, which is more often ignored than not.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that successful entrepreneurs are not always the ones who get the best grades.

One outcome of the crisis might be a reduction in the proportion of the brightest and best that spend their time trying to predict the outcome of a roulette wheel at financial firms.

However, recent pay outs at Goldmans suggest otherwise. You can be a multimillionare by the age of 30 if you are successful at these firms. Once u make that kind of money, well, lets just say you have a lot of options.

Did Colm Mc Carthy not propose a cut in funding to research? So it is probably less researchers we will have rather than an expansion in this area. I agree with Fitzgerald that being a researcher is one of the most agreeable of lifestyles one can have. I did a year for a M Sc and loved every minute of it but then reality kicks in and you realise that you have to make a “living” so back to the economic grindstone.

“This career pretty much guarantees you a materially comfortable lifestyle. Indeed, if money is really important to you and you have luck and talent, you may become extremely rich.”

These two sentences, at least, don’t really fit for the humanities and social sciences, alas…

What about all those
1) Archaeologists who did well (some very well) from the roads programme
2) public servants with humanities degrees who, say, make even say Assistant Principal or Principal Officer equivalent grades in the Irish public sector
3) Teachers who become successful writers, benefiting from tax relief for creative artists – something not available to creative scientists or technologists who do not get royalty income frompatents?

Taking account of job security and public sector pensions (a deferral of pay), they are guaranteed a materially comfortable lifestyle. Some have used the security of public service positions to become extremely rich eg. founders of businesses, politicians.

“We must communicate more effectively the excitement, impact, altruism, personal fulfilment and material rewards of this career choice, if we are to continue to enrich humanity through science by recruiting the best and the brightest of the young”…… Bulls**t!!

In my opinion, the best way to “enrich humanity” is by constantly innovating and improving existing systems. Research in Ireland is far too removed from commercial reality and I believe students, trained by academics who have never themselves left the safety of academia living in a fantasy land removed from reality.

I have worked with students fresh out of college and few can think for themselves and must be hand-fed by supervisors. the supervisors in turn came directly from third level institutions without spending time in industry and have a limited view of the world.

By all means try to attract new entrants into the research area however we need to look at new models for ensuring that research contributes not only to “humanity” but also to the Irish economy. We need to seriously address effective models for interaction between academia and industry and adopt a blended approach aimed at producing innovative graduates as well as innovative outputs which will contribute to the economy. Our knowledge based economy approach will probably take a bit of a battering in terms of funding in the coming years however when the expediet the upturn, we must ensure we produce commercially aware researchers who can commercialise the outputs of research or effectively disseminate the research to companies who can best use it.

Comments are closed.