In an effort to promote collaboration and the number of U.S. scientists in Europe, a joint venture between the U.S. NSF and Europe’s ERC was finalized earlier this month at the Euroscience Open Forum when NSF Director Subra Suresh and European commissioner for research and innovation Máire Geoghegan-Quinn signed the agreement. The deal allows for selected early career scientists funded by the NSF CAREER awards to spend 3-12 months in labs funded by the ERC. While at first glance this seems like a good way to accomplish their goals, the funding might better be directed towards scientists still in the postdoctoral role. In an era when scientific funding is scarce and the average age for a scientist to receive their first grant as a PI is in their 40s, it is imperative that early-career scientists remain in their own lab to establish themselves, their lab, and their careers. A new PI does not have the luxury of leaving their lab without leadership and an established crew. Their lab needs oversight and leadership to be productive and pump out papers so that they can obtain more funding and have a successful career.
A better idea is to target postdocs as tools to increase worldwide scientific collaboration. Postdocs are often more available and willing to move to a different country/lab where they can learn new techniques and establish connections with future collaborators, provided that it will help them further their careers as scientists. However, the current situation for the U.S. postdoc abroad is dismal. While it should open new doors and promote future collaborations, there is very little funding for postdocs to explore these options and it is harder still to return to the U.S. and obtain a PI postition, mainly because of the difficulty in getting your first independent funding. One thing that makes it easier to get your first independent funding is to establish yourself as a fundable postdoc, which must almost exclusively be done within the borders of the U.S. It is a vicious cycle that makes it almost impossible to remain in academics for those that try. If today’s scientific leaders and policy makers truly want worldwide collaboration, they should aim more of their efforts at postdoctoral scientists and reward those that have spent time honing their skills abroad.
I recently came across an article in the Washington Post discussing an all too familiar phenomenon of research scientists unable to find employment in neither academia or industry. Currently, with unemployment hovering over 8%, jobs are scarce in a lot of sectors. What makes it difficult for the research scientist to grasp is how can somebody have doctoral level training and not be desirable to potential employers?
The problem is two-fold. First, academic funding has NOT increased to meet the demands of a growing research community. Without federal grant funding, it is simply impossible to obtain a coveted tenure track position at a research institution. A decade ago, those who chose to leave academia easily found work in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector. That isn’t the case any longer. More and more pharmaceutical companies are boarding up their research facilities in the United States and Europe and moving them into Asian markets for the benefits of cheaper labor and the ability to remarket their current prescription portfolio.
This current trend leaves many research scientist contemplating how to progress their careers.
This is exactly why RateMyPI.com was founded — to give the research investigator better opportunities for success. In this era of high unemployment and dwindling NIH funding, it’s more crucial than ever to make informed choices regarding your collaborators, employers, and employees. These choices are often paramount to the success of your career. Don’t become an unemployment statistic; let us help you achieve your career goals.
The Scientist recently ran “Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data” regarding the Office of Research Integrity’s finding of scientific misconduct against Mona Thiruchelvam, a former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey. Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data reported in two federal grant applications (R01 ES016277 and R01 ES015041) as well as two published papers (Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry). This data was used to inaccurately support the role of pesticides in dopaminergic cell death – the key neurotransmitter implicated in Parkinson’s disease (PD). While Thiruchelvam has agreed to retract the papers as well as enter into a voluntary exclusion agreement for 7 years, the results of these fabricated data have consequences beyond this one scientist’s career.
At a time when grant funding is scarce, Thiruchelvam beguiled both the NIH and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for PD, into funding this erroneous research. But, stealing money from other researchers is only the start. The scientific misconduct affects more than just the United States tax payers who ultimately foot the bill for academic research. Combined, both papers have been cited over 100 times. Countless numbers of collaborators, post-docs, and graduate students unknowingly used this fabricated data to support their own research. These are the individuals who have lost the most; the scientists who spent the better part of 7 years dedicating their careers to this line of research. Do you think Thiruchelvam considered the negative impact this would have on their careers? I think this question is as easy to answer as the validity of Thiruchelvam’s data.
Has this research affected your scientific endeavors?