Along with an estimated forty thousand other scientists, I braved the rains to attend the March for science in Washington DC. I went with a bit of trepidation, as I was wondering if anyone would attend, but the staging post at the based of the Washington Monument was absolutely packed.
Donald Trump blamed rain (a brief smattering of drizzle) for poor numbers at his inauguration, but pouring rain and cold did not deter the masses of scientists who attended the March. Although we be derided as “snowflakes” for protesting the current administration, clearly scientists are snowflakes made of Titanium.
A few years ago, we organized a group of marine conservation scientists to meet to discuss, and list, the most urgent issues that need to be studied. The resulting paper came up with 71 questions which urgently needed to be addressed, because a lack of an answer was severely impeding marine conservation. However, during this exercise we also came up with a list of other questions – these were issues that were controversial, that everyone knew were important, but were unwilling to raise as being an issue. These were the Voldemorts of marine conservation questions (they that shall not be named), the elephant (or elephant seal) in the room questions …. or as we more aquatically termed them: “the kraken in the aquarium” questions.
At my university, we recently received a missive from the academic powers that be that faculty research productivity (and thus promotion, raises and tenure) will primarily be measured by the “amount of research funding (direct and indirect) received by the department and the college”.
I think this is a major problem and is a common one across universities.
It’s well known that some fields have lots of research funding available, while other fields don’t (for example). So effectively the above missive means that academic hiring and promotion decisions will not be done on a level playing field. Read More
The other day I overheard an academic tell an upcoming graduate student that they should pick a PhD project by finding an advisor who already had a project set up and who had funding and that they should do research where the funding was rather than where their interests lay. This was so totally contrary to my PhD experience it left me reeling.
Many years ago, I was offered a job doing restoration work at a coal company while perusing festival booths in Fairbanks, Alaska. Still wearing my college-aged rose colored glasses, I was skeptical of working for conservation within industry, said thanks-but-no-thanks, and returned to upstate New York to finish my degree. Looking back, I honestly believe I could have enacted more positive change for the earth had I taken that job than I have in the almost decade since.
I recall this story because while at a recent all-volunteer biodiversity festival, a friend asked me ‘why can’t people do all this great work as their paid work?’ A group of us stood around silently for a few minutes, realizing that this question derived of innocent curiosity delved deep into issues of societal values, our current economic system, and conservation philosophy. In short, the answer is that because conservation brings in none of its own revenue, but depends on the tax money or philanthropy of others. When that dries up, no conservation careers are available. And even when they are, a high percentage of time on the job is spent looking for future funding through grants. Read More