One of my first memories is myself, 5 years old, going to my mother and declare to her, as serious as only children can be: "I will be a scientist."The author describes the challenges facing those who choose a life in research, especially the challenges in attracting funding to support that research. It's also clear that the decision to leave research was very difficult and painful - and a long time in coming. This isn't something that happened on a whim. The author has thought deeply about his future and his options and concluded that the life he wanted was a "noble addiction." It saddens me to think that science is apparently losing someone so thoughtful and passionate about science.
Yesterday night I was in my office in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge packing my stuff, resolved to not go back to research again -at least not in the shortcoming future.
I'm not going to argue that the author made a mistake, that if (s)he had simply tried a bit harder and stayed in the trenches a bit longer it all would have worked out. (S)he's right. There are a lot more young people receiving Ph.D.'s than there are tenure track positions at major research universities. This author might have been one of the ones who got such a position after a few more years of work, but there's no guarantee, and (s)he needs to decide for her/himself how to balance that chance against other things that are important in life.
That's too bad, but it's not what saddens me.
What saddens me is the world of science he describes. Some of it I don't recognize, like "people that have given a purportedly crippled software to a collegue to sabotage his project". Maybe I've just been lucky, maybe since I'm one of those who happened to find a position at a major research university, I don't know what it's like.
But there's something even more fundamental that saddens me.
The author seems to equate a successful life in science with being a research professor in a first-rate university, with the implicit understanding that only the research that professor does matter. Again, maybe it's because I've been lucky, but to me that defines success far too narrowly. Discovering new facts about the world is immensely rewarding, but so is sharing those discoveries through teaching or public outreach, so is helping organizations make better decisions about how to improve life for all by using the knowledge and skills a scientist has.
Students at Podunk U. deserve just as much attention and effort as those at Cambridge. In fact, they may need it even more, because their background and circumstances may not have given them the advantages students at Cambridge have.
Those of us who train graduate students and post-docs have done our jobs poorly if those we mentor think that a career devoted to research at a major research university is the only way to be a successful. In fact, we've done worse than poorly. We've failed.
It's our fault if our students and post-docs think that success comes only with a tenure-track positon at a major research university. We have to do better.