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This is the first diary I've ever written on request; it was a diary to give some idea of why us young scientists, those few Americans among us that have stood by the profession for as long as we have, are fools.  Brainy fools, but still fools, goes the conventional wisdom.

But those of us who have stuck it out, love what we do.  I certainly do.  Being a lab rat has been in my blood since childhood, and certainly since my young adult days of Christmas Counts and Breeding Bird Atlases.  

There's a little research in it, a few links to folks better then I, but for the most part, it is anecdotal; most of what you will find about the science labor market is indeed anecdotal.  I choose to center where I currently am; the postdoctoral world.  Graduate school is a whole separate ball of wax (and deserves a journal of it's own).

Follow me below the cut for some facts, figures, links, and scuttlebutt from within the National Institutes of Health, of the uncertain future us young scientists are facing.

So what exactly is a postdoc?

Think, for a moment, of science like a medieval craft, or a knighthood.  The graduate student is the apprentice or squire, with extremely little control over their ultimate fate.  The Primary Investigator (P.I.); professor, scientist, etc., is the master.  And the postdoc lies in between -- we're literally journeymen.  Itinerant scientists, not considered experienced enough to be signed on as full fledged scientist or faculty.

Although 10 years out of date, one of the seminal studies done on what has been happening among postdocs is The Postdoc Crisis.  I cannot recommend it enough.  It covers the basic problems and points very well:

  1. Postdoc numbers have been exploding for a long time -- close to 20 years, in fact.
  1. Faculty/science positions both in and out of academia have been declining, with academia experiencing the steepest decline.
  1. Postdocs are paid less then half to one-quarter what a full professor or scientist earns.
  1. Postdocing has spread beyond academia even to the previously well-paid environs of industry.

A more recent perspective came from The Real Science Crisis.  Though it says much the same thing that the Postdoc Crisis said, it had some unique, even counter intuitive, things to say:

In a perverse way, such surges in financial support could actually exacerbate problems for young scientists. Biomedicine learned that lesson the hard way after Congress doubled the NIH budget from $13.6-billion to $27.3-billion between 1998 and 2003. Since then, the agency's appropriations have not kept pace with inflation, which has eroded the actual amount available for research.

The doubling had sweeping effects, spurring universities to go on a building and training spree that in some cases defied budgetary realities. One survey of 84 medical schools found that they expected to expand their research space by 26 percent between 2003 and 2008, and that they would need to increase the amount of NIH support they receive, despite the tightening of that agency's budget. (See article.) The universities added graduate students and postdocs in biomedical departments, but the number of permanent jobs available did not significantly increase...

It summed things up very nicely.

"What's happening in the biomedical sciences — it's a crisis."

On a more personal level, I recently heard that my advisor/mentor was in charge of a search committee for a new scientist at the NIH.  He received over a 1000 applications in 3 days.

He had to narrow it to 50.  All of those 50 have diamond publications: multiple "first" (primary) author publications in the best journals in the field: Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Getting such publications involves equal parts dedication, wealth (to network into the best universities and with the best mentors) and raw luck.

And even those that do manage to get into a new P.I. position face almost insurmountable odds to go anywhere with it.  Most institutions require their new scientists to bring in an "R01", or primary NIH research grant within a certain number of years, so they can skim a certain amount (often around 40-50%) of the grant for their own pockets.  Grant income is one of the biggest sources of revenue for a major research university.  Those that do not get the R01 in time are usually summarily fired.

And what's the odds of getting an R01?  Well, the last payline from NIAID was listed at 10% for established researchers, 16% for new researchers.

Think about that.  16 percent, at best.  That means 74% of grant applications are rejected.  What that translates to is a very good many stellar research projects -- and researchers -- never get that R01 grant, and even after overcoming impossible odds after impossible odds, they end up right back at square one -- the unemployment line.

Even within the NIH, it is no different for new researchers.  Intramural (internal) funding is far more freely given, but publication expectations are, according to new P.I.s that I have talked to, insane to the point of being inhuman.  I've seen the signs of stress on these people myself.  As afraid as anyone in this economy, despite their seemingly privileged position.

It's a terribly screwed up, twisted system.  And what of me?  I've found temporary refuge, as I said, at the National Institutes of Health.  At one time, such a postdoc might have come close to guaranteeing me my pick of scientist positions afterward, even without stellar publications.  But that time passed 20 years ago.

In a way, I am privileged.  I have a job for at least 8 more months, possibly about 20, at a salary enough to keep me in frozen pizzas, Trader Joe's and the occasional meal out here in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

But after that...

Even though I am researching (and have been researching for many years) non-P.I. positions, and long ago gave up any idea of working in academia...I wonder if my close to 20 year quest to become a scientist is simply a form of lemming diving off a cliff.

I'll close with a couple of cartoons that sum up the life of a postdoc in modern times absolutely perfectly.

The Postdoc Phenotype.

The Invisible People.  

(That whole thread is worth a look; Jorge Cham is simply awesome, even if his humor can't help but to be a little black).

(Edit to clarify an important point: I am not necessarily unhappy with being a scientist, only nervous and scared about my future as one.  That's the real point of the diary.

Originally posted to ArchTeryx on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:13 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Add to this the prevelance of adjunct faculty (13+ / 0-)

    and you begin to wonder just what universities are doing with the bazillions of dollars they get in the door.  It sure isn't used for teaching ...

    This space for rent.

    by bherner on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:19:00 PM PST

  •  I read your diary title.. (10+ / 0-)

    and I went "er... what? Who wouldn't want to be a scientist?" Maybe I'm biased, but... for serious, assuming you actually find a job for yourself, you'd get paid to indulge your curiosity. What could possibly be bad about that?

    (This is why I've applied to grad schools.)

    Ask not any question of the Eldar; for they will give you three answers, all of which are true, and all terrifying to know.

    by Shaviv on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:19:11 PM PST

  •  Well, I didn't do science to become fabulously (14+ / 0-)

    wealthy, just almost famous.

    :)  Peace

  •  Well thanks, now i'm depressed (11+ / 0-)

    Just finished up in Cell and Molecular and due to the significant other am restricted to a one university search for post-docs.  Lets see, I've got one interview with someone who said they don't have money but we still should talk, awesome, but I would like to eat at some point.  Starting to look at post-docs in another field, should be interesting.

    Agree it's a screwed up system with the way we subsidize industry with our research but get penance in return.  

    Ah well, there's a lot of freedom and benefits, and I can't think of too many other jobs I would like to do (if I can get something to work out)

    Till finding a job I'm planning on traveling on what I saved as a grad student (yup, saved a whole years salary in my five years there - mmmmm ramen)

    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

    by bvig on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:21:34 PM PST

  •  You are doing science! (13+ / 0-)

    There is no more honorable thing you can do with your life.

    I don't know what consciousness is or how it works, but I like it.

    by SocioSam on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:21:53 PM PST

  •  Isaac Newton was so committed to knowledge (10+ / 0-)

    that he slid a blunt needle into his own eye socket, under the eyeball, in order to learn more about light and human vision.

    It's a shame that the system heaps more obstacles in the way of young scientists, when the path to knowledge is already plenty harsh by itself.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:22:37 PM PST

    •  Ol' Isaac was a megalomaniacal masochist. (5+ / 0-)
    •  The truth of the matter (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yuriwho, soarbird, FarWestGirl

      is that academia is just competitive...  It's among the most competitive career paths that one can choose, not far behind that of athletics or acting.  Unless you make contributions through your scholarship, chances are you're just not going to land a position, full stop.  If you're lucky, in that scenario, you can land a community college position with salary and stability, but then you're largely out of the lab.  That's just the reality of the matter and there's not much of a way around it.  The primary function of universities is not education, but research.  Teaching is what academics do on the side, not their primary function as professors.  Harsh but true.

    •  Especially Since Like Neuromuscular Skills, Some (0+ / 0-)

      science talent if I understand correctly seems to peak pretty early.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 09:36:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I want to be the Grandma Moses of Science... (0+ / 0-)

        I have NOT peaked!

        I'll win the Noble Prize one day. For sumptin, dunno wha, doh.

        "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle

        by Aidos on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 10:45:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Made AAAS reservations today! (6+ / 0-)

    I fully expect to see (again) huge efforts by other nations to recruit our scientists. Last year the entire center of the exhibit hall was filled with European Science recruiters.

    It will take an immense effort by the Obama administration to convince American scientists that they are valued and have a future here.

  •  But but... (5+ / 0-)

    how could you not do it if it is in your soul?  

    I saw the handwriting around 1994 or so.  I was in journal club and one of the faculty came in. We were making small talk before club started.  I asked him how the new faculty search was going.  He said that they had received 400 applications in the first few days.  This was before everyone had email, mind....

    It was clear to me that if you weren't the right fit--you weren't the "yeast guy" or the "zfish woman" you were out of luck even if you had stellar publications.

    But I was more attracted to industry anyway, and I don't regret that at all.

    Have you considered curation?  For example:

    You get to keep up with literature, but the focus is different.  

    Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

    by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:26:52 PM PST

  •  married to one scientist (8+ / 0-)

    full professor in material science engineering, emphasis in polymer physics.

    raising at least one scientist and giving the two kids an environment rich in reading and problem solving and creativity.  

    life with NSF has been grim from time to time.  

    "Gloom we always have with us . . . but joy requires tending." Barbara Holland

    by jlms qkw on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:33:46 PM PST

  •  My niece (4+ / 0-)

    wants to be a writer.  She really wants to attend a year-long writing program, go to a liberal arts school with weak science requirements, and write, write, write.  

    Now, keep in mind that I made it through college without taking any math or science thanks to the wonder of AP courses, terrible scheduling for intro science courses, and a goal not unlike my niece's.  (I have since remedied this absurdity.)

    I have strongly encouraged her to study the sciences as hard as she studies the arts.  I'd love to see her double major in biology and English, say.  Why?  Well, she likes and is good at both.  And because it will make her well-rounded, intellectually.  And because, if she wants to be a writer, she's going to have to pay the bills, and she could make a decent living doing freelance technical writing and the like if she had the proper background.  And (one more) because of the discipline, precision, and the chance to spend time around people who love their work.  

    My bait?  The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.  If anyone can convince her, it's Feynman.

    So, I'm not (necessarily) addressing your diary, but even people who don't become practitioners can benefit immensely from a strong science background.

    Someone is wrong on the Internet! To the Kosmobile!

    by socratic on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:34:25 PM PST

  •  We have a lot of failures in our system (13+ / 0-)

    I'm 15 years ahead of you, and one of the lucky ones, a PI with tenure. In some ways, the job gets worse and worse;  no money, lying awake nights wondering how I will keep th students and postdocs funded;  endless demands on time by the community, and by the university;  non-stop grant writing;  playing politics to get a paper accepted, or a meeting invite.  The universities see research as a cash cow, and since they run increasingly like a business, the pursuit of pure knowledge is no longer supportable.

    all of that on top of the full time teaching and research that supposedly make up my actual job.   I'm worn out completely and my science has suffered enormously.  It's no wonder students don't want this job.  In many ways I don't want this job.  

    Not surprisingly, we are seeing a real drop-off in the students applying for PhDs;  bright  people find other options.  And of course education is in such straits that minimal literacy in math and science is declining frightfully at the secondary level.  My kids are woefully ill-educated by the public schools.  Once the pipeline slows sufficiently, it will all be in a death spiral and our national dominance in science will be over.

    I wish I felt more confident but I ddon't.

    •  You embody... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chingchongchinaman, FarWestGirl

      The pressures of being the captain of the ship.  It's something I've given alot of thought to, as well.  You sound like one of the better P.I.s, one that cares about and takes responsibility for the people under him.

      The number that don't even bother any more is legion.

    •  that's sad (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My cousin is a psychiatrist and says her profession has slid into the pits.  She can't do what used to do.. get enough time to treat patients properly.  Focus is prescribing pills..pill for this, pill for me in the morning.

      After 8 years of darkness, a great nation chose to reapply power to the beacon of light America stands for.

      by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:08:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well said IT... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      worldwideellen, FarWestGirl

      The thing about academia that people outside of academia don't realize is that it never ends.  You are constantly working and constantly beholden to this life, whether in the form of the administrative responsibilities foisted on you or your endless research and requirement to publish.  It's not for everyone and is certainly not a lifestyle where you get to pick where you want to live (unless you become a superstar) or come home at six and just put the day behind you.

      •  True dat (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I would ike simply  to live in the same city as my family (we are another commuting academic family).  People don't understand how with a PhD from a top school one can't "write one's own ticket" and live where we want.  I have  a good job, but it's not where the family is.

        I agree there are a lot of bad PIs.  Most of them I worked for were that way.  But that is part of the problem:  the system does not reward people who are concerned with educating their students and their postdocs, as opposed to using them.  The system rewards the s@#$s.

        One colleague who came to give  a seminar at my institution said, "your lab loves you.  My lab hates me".  Guess which one of us is fast tracked to Fame and Hughes and which one of us lives hand to mouth worrying about the students and the PDs and R01 resubmissions.

        And, yes, in my late 40s, having "arrived" in the obvious ways (tenure, full prof, etc) I am working if possible harder than I did as a postdoc.   This is crazy.

    •  Well We've Decided to Be Financiers and Cops (0+ / 0-)

      with our national economy. Who the hell needs you?

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 09:38:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Have you knowledge of China and its science? (0+ / 0-)

      You might find yourself more respected and better paid abroad.  China? Arabia?  Where's all the smart money now?

      I was in China, in 1981, as a newly graduated RN.  I noticed that its academia was pitiful, in the dark ages, before the invention of the calculus, then voila...they're launching our satellites.  How does that happen?  From NO calculus courses in China to ROCKET SCIENCE?  I heard that the Chinese have launched their domestic satellite!  Again, HOW does that happen?

      I suspect that the Bush family has a parachute or a hot air balloon to land them in their new OZ.    I think the Bushes own lots of land in China.  That family is part of a global royalty that controls who gets the money, technology, etc....

      BTW, I never met a conspiracy theory I didn't like.

      "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle

      by Aidos on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 10:53:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    0wn, gansterr

    but you didn't say a single word about the fact that science is one of the few labor markets in America open to the whole world via the F1, J1, O1, and H1-B visas.

    Not one word?

    That's dishonest.

    There is an entire world of educated people for whom that measly salary is a fortune.

    That is also why even when the government pumps money into science, Americans don't make better salaries in science.

    Let the mega banks fail, restore depositors, and watch smaller, regional banks flourish! NO BAD BANK! (for the love of God, Barack, it's not that hard!)

    by Paul Goodman on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:36:09 PM PST

  •  oh yeah, a story (4+ / 0-)

    A couple of years ago, my niece was doing a school report on a rather involved science topic for a 13-year-old. As part of it, she had to call around a few places (universities, a couple of research centers, etc.) to find out about the field.  And it wasn't just "What do you do?"  She was asking specific questions about specific issues.  And every single one gave her the cold shoulder.

    Now, that's just crazy, for at least two reasons that would be of interest to a community like this.

    Someone is wrong on the Internet! To the Kosmobile!

    by socratic on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:36:28 PM PST

    •  wow, that is so terrible. I would never do (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      socratic, worldwideellen, FarWestGirl

      that to a kid working on a science project. I would have invited her to the lab for a day. We encourage interaction with school students whenever possible. I visit schools, our students do community outreach during brain awareness week, and we are setting up  a high school program. we're not all like that. sorry she had such a disappointing experience.

      "there's a bailout coming but it's not for me!" Neil Young

      by UTvoter on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:58:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh Hell, a Total Annular Solar Eclipse Passed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      thru Cleveland a decade ago or so.

      My retired schoolteacher mom packed us up and drove us to 2 schools in the yacht club district where she'd taught, to offer them our "Humble Telescope" pinhole-mirror setup to beam the image into classrooms from out in the yard.


      "Why do they have to schedule these things so inconveniently?" asked her former principal.

      Yacht club district. We're not talking inner city.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 09:41:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  "Yacht club district." Explains It (0+ / 0-)

        People who think that they're fucking masters of the universe. The kind who was born on third base and thought they'd hit a double (yes, they're oblivious and dumb). They've become so insulated from the real world that it'll probably take lightning striking them on the golf course to make them realize that it exists.

  •  "Pipette" Ready. (16+ / 0-)

    I have seen some of the best scientists I have ever seen stuck in Postdoc limbo for years and finally give up on academics. It's ridiculous.

    It's amazing how much more we would know in this world if we funded more. With 10% funding rates, there are so many avenues of research that aren't being pursued.

    As I say, all these projects are "pipette" ready.

  •  If it weren't for Algebra II, I woulda done it. (4+ / 0-)

    That's why I'm stuck being a lawyer.

  •  Pharmaceutical tax (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jblumes, unterhausen, Compound F, Norbrook

    all businesses pay taxes but...pharm take our research and profit big time... they should have an extra tax that goes straight back to research that subsidizes them.

    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

    by bvig on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:41:09 PM PST

    •  Now THAT... (5+ / 0-)

      Is an awesome idea.  They'd squeal like stuck pigs, but let them subsidize part of the basic research teat that they suckle so eagerly off of while they devote all their money to marketing!

      •  I am sure (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that I wouldn't mind not seeing pharma commercials for 5,000 derivative products of some 'breakthrough' like seratonin reuptake inhibitors or whatever.  Then there are the kickbacks to doctors who 'specialize' in prescribing certain drugs...on and on.

        After 8 years of darkness, a great nation chose to reapply power to the beacon of light America stands for.

        by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:18:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  There are big problems with Big Pharma, (0+ / 0-)

      that's not one of them, however . . .

      •  what's not the problem? n/t (0+ / 0-)

        Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

        by bvig on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:49:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "taking our research and profiting big time" (0+ / 0-)


          •  i'm baking and mistyping (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            yuriwho, Philoguy, Norbrook, FarWestGirl

            i meant pharmaceuticals take basic research from government funding and they profit from it without any payback except for general taxes.  I think that they should help pay for some of the basic research that goes into making their products.  They keep griping about how R&D is so expensive for them, but truth is, that's not what they spend the majority of their funds on.

            Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

            by bvig on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:59:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Publically-funded research is almost (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lemming22, jabr

              all published and the results are available to anyone.

              Why don't *you* profit tremedously from it?

              Could it be because you don't have tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars to spend on clinical trials?  'Cuz that's where the vast majority of the costs of drug development come in . . . not in the basic research per se.

              The aim of basic research is to figure out how things work,  for example, what makes a cancer cell distinct from a healthy cell?

              Once a "breakthrough" is achieved - let's say the identification of a new oncogene (which probably costs hundreds of thousands to a few million dollars) - then Big Pharma has a new molecular target for drug development.

              But, to actually bring this to fruition, they will need to spend way more than the original publically-funded research just to screen their millions of drug candidates for favorable interactions with the target, and then do animal testing with a selected group of compounds.

              Then, the aforementioned clinical testing comes into play.

              All in all, Big Pharma's investment in any particular drug absolutely dwarfs the public investment that made the whole thing possible.

              And Big Pharma shouldn't be punished for doing this with excess taxes - in fact they should be encouraged (since this is exactly what they've stopped doing in favor of advertising gimmicks and that type of thing . . .)>

              •  Sorry, but you don't know what the hell (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bvig, FarWestGirl

                you're talking about.  I grew up in a big pharma family and it doesn't work remotely like you say.  Rather, the research is publicly funded and then various corporations get private ownership of the patents.  This in turn drives the prices up exponentially.  It is not a boon to everyone and it is fundamentally wrong.

                •  Not at all . . . (0+ / 0-)

                  NIH funded research is patented by the sponsoring institution (usually a university) and the scientist who actually made the invention.

                  Not various corporations - unless, of course, they buy them.  Why don't you buy them and obscenely profit, if it's such a lucrative set-up?

              •  Where'd you come up with those facts (0+ / 0-)

                I've never seen a reference that says pharma puts in more money than they take from basic research.  That would be interesting to see.  And I don't think pharma should be sponsoring clinical trials is the right way to go, it's led to pretty poor comparisons.  And pharma does play a role in bringing discoveries to market, but does that mean as the last man they should be the beneficiary?  

                You know all these free trade things that are popping up.  The cocoa farmers harvest the beans but it takes Hershey to put it into a chocolate bar, and it's most efficient with a chocolate plant which costs money.  This means that Hershey should be able to rip off the cocoa farmers because the cocoa farmers can't make a chocolate bar without them.  I'm guessing you don't buy free trade, cause that's the logic you're using.  

                Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                by bvig on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:30:18 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  You analogy is bizarre. (0+ / 0-)

                  I imagine that your contention is that electrical engineers also "rip off" the basic mathematical knowledge required in their craft?

                  No, not really, it is a foundation of knowledge that is freely available to all, that when propertly applied, can be build into commercial products - like an iPOD maybe.

                  Similary, the primary function of publically funded biomedical research is to provide a foundation of knowledge that can - or cannot - be exploited by whomever for whatever purpose.  If Big Pharma is able to exploit it to make drugs (which, despite how evil they are, *do* help people . . .) and at the same time make money, what's wrong with that?

                  Just like Apple Computer is able to exploit basic mathematical knowledge - along with a healthy dose of technological know-how that was publically funded mostly by defense endeavors - to create obscenely profitable products?  Should they be punished with excess taxes? I say no, rather, I say good for them for taking a foundation of knowledge and creating something useful with it.

                  As far as drug development costs go, here's some general information in this pdf from the CBO.

                  And here's some dated statistics, but since NIH funding has not increased since then, the take home message is still accurate:

                  From 1994 to 2003, total funding for biomedical research in the U.S. doubled to $94.3 billion, with industry providing 57 percent of the funding and the National Institutes of Health providing 28 percent, according to a study in the September 21 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on medical research.


                  So, overall industry spends twice as much as the public, and since much of the NIH funding is not focuses on drug development per se, the real ratio for that specific process is skewed more towards a 10:1 contribution from industy.

                  •  some interesting points (0+ / 0-)

                    and I guess it's more of a failure of the pharmaceutical industry in meeting their end of the bargain, that I'm upset with.  In the end the tax is just because academic scientists are the ones making discoveries now and not pharma.  I think scientists would in general accept lower pay and have pharmaceuticals bring good products to market.  However, it is much different than physics because of the expense of clinical trials and fda approval to bring something to market so we are interdependent, whereas technology is much more easy to patent (and also more ethically able to patent).  Besides that people don't live and die over whether they have an IPOD.  

                    This makes for a divide in the philosophy between academic and pharmaceuticals, I believe that you shouldn't be able to patent genes, most people don't but it happens by pharma, and I think it's crap,  gene patent

                    Here's an article on some of the misconceptions of pharmaceutical R&D  bioethics

                    Taxpayers pay for most research costs, and many clinical trials as well.

                       In 2000, for example, industry spent 18% of its $13 billion for R&D on basic research, or $2.3 billion in gross costs (National Science Foundation 2003). All of that money was subsidized by taxpayers through deductions and tax credits. Taxpayers also paid for all $18 billion in NIH funds, as well as for R&D funds in the Department of Defense and other public budgets. Most of that money went for basic research to discover breakthrough drugs, and public money also supports more than 5000 clinical trials (Bassand, Martin, Ryden et al. 2002). Taxpayer contributions are similar in more recent years, only larger.

                    So the R&D that pharma does isn't paid for by themselves either, and in that CBO report that you provided it talks about the lack of innovation by pharmaceutical R&D.  

                    And this is the main problem:  Pharma is making a lot of money on many poor products.  They are the ones paying for clinical trials, which makes the system more corrupt.  Often when the drug makes it's way back into the hands of basic researchers, no difference is found than placebo or the drug has dangerous side effects.  Think Vioxx, Redux, Seldane, Rezulin, Lotronex, Baycol, and many others.  

                    So the main thing isn't the tax credits, it's just that academic researchers are the ones making the innovations but are dependent on huge companies to bring products to market, however, once in the hands of drug companies pharma doesnt add much and there's now an environment of secrecy, patents and unpublishable data, which have been shown to be either not better than placebos or underrepresent the danger to the public good.  And that's what's different, this isn't an IPOD it's people's health, and the people's taxes are paying for this innovation and then they're being ransomed, creating a sink for the pharm industry, which according to your cbo report has not been innovative in drug discovery.  It's a problem for drug discovery and people's health for that kind of sink for pharma advertising and CEOs to be created when many people work long hours for not that much money in order to help.  It's depressing.

                    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                    by bvig on Wed Feb 04, 2009 at 10:08:56 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

            •  And Pharma is the only one? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Roadbed Guy

              Yes, pharmaceuticals are ultimately derived from government-funded research.  So is the tech industry. So are the car companies.  So are just about every other industry on the planet.

              The only difference is, people complain more about pharmaceutical research because somehow it's "different".  It's not.

  •  come to janelia (4+ / 0-)

    they feed you real good ...

    I agree with a lot of what you say.  Science as an institution has evolved into something quite fucked up.  It is hard to do good work.  Too many demands, etc. etc.

    I just started my postdoc, and though I am very excited about working here, I get nervous about what will happen in 3-4 years...

    On the other hand, there is such a deluge of garbage out there, and honestly when you think about it, in many fields, 10% of the scientists make 90% of the progress.  I think in a way the cutoff between postdoc and PI means "science" can take her pick ... Frankly, the PI who can balance life and science is rare.  And science, because we spend literally over a decade preparing for the role of PI, becomes a life obsession, to the detriment of our loved ones, family, etc.

    But I think that's the point - as scientists, once we get to that final filter, if we feel it is too much, we shouldn't force ourselves through hell.  Life as a nonscientist is, after all, usually far more chill.

    Cookies ... I like cookies ...

    by chewbacca on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:47:03 PM PST

  •  I left academia and am starting my second company (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chingchongchinaman, FarWestGirl

    now. The academic route is indeed a rough one to get established in. There too much focus on paper counting and not enough on content. Also the politics are vicious since you are dealing with people who cannot be fired for unreasonable behavior. The business world is more of a meritocracy and less about who your friends are.

    "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

    by yuriwho on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:57:16 PM PST

    •  Oh, I'm seriously considering industry. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yuriwho, FarWestGirl

      I've worked in it a couple years already and liked what I saw, despite the vicious politics.  I suspect it will be just as hard to get into industry, though, in the current economic climate.

      •  The job market is tight right now (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bvig, FarWestGirl

        but in 3-4 years things should be better again. In choosing your research projects, think carefully about how they will train you for the job market. All the companies are looking for the perfect specialist for each job, generalists suffer.

        "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

        by yuriwho on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:04:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Believe me I know. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          yuriwho, FarWestGirl

          But it's very hard to predict exactly what sort of job specialties are going to be available 2-3 years down the road. So I'm training for as many things as I can while I am here.

          (Human stem cells, for example.  We have them in my lab, and I am training myself in culturing and caretaking of them).

  •  I left just over a decade ago (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chingchongchinaman, FarWestGirl

    I still miss doing research, in terms of the actual "do experiments" part, but I most definitely don't miss the grant writing and scrambling for funding part.  A few of my friends have on occasion asked why I don't go back to it, and there's simple answer.  It's tough to have a "career" when your livelihood runs "grant to grant."  In my current career I get to use my education, but I don't have to worry about whether or not we got a grant.  

    I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

    by Norbrook on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:59:43 PM PST

    •  What is your career now? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Norbrook, FarWestGirl


      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I took a several year side trip into computer systems and consulting - I'd developed programming skills as a function of my research activity  - as in, we need a program, and it cost money to hire a programmer which we don't have - after a grant fell through.  These days, I'm a manager in environmental protection/analysis.  I still get to do some field work, though.  :)

        I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

        by Norbrook on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:16:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Sounds really neat!  It's nice to hear there's someone out there making good use of their training off the bench.

          •  Thanks, but (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            my current work has more to do with my academic field (environmental biology) than my actual bench work.  I spent about equal time doing tropical medicine research and gastrointestinal physiology research.  I've had a ... varied ... career.  :)  I do miss being on the bench, but as I said, I don't miss all the crap in getting grant applications together.  

            One amusing thing was I used to do grant reviews, and one time we got a grant application that was incredible.  We all thought it was a terrific idea, a novel approach, and could open up new avenues of investigation.  The only problem we had was that it wasn't in the field we were funding!  No idea of how we ended up with it.  But, we did do some looking around, made some calls, and sent it back with a note saying "send it to these people, they'll fund you."  I also had to review some of the most gawdawful applications you'd ever want to see - I used to say that "my bullshit meter is pegging the needle on this one."  

            I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

            by Norbrook on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 09:19:53 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Lab rat here too (3+ / 0-)

    although I never went higher than BS.  I worked in research labs for nearly 30 years. I've been part time in a clinical lab for the past 8 years.
    I love science and envy the scientists today.  There is so much going on.
    Best wishes to you ArchTeryx.

  •  There's actually a shortage of postdocs (0+ / 0-)

    At least right now, relative to the number of people who want them.

    Of course the ratio isn't completely ridiculous the way the ratio is for tenure-track positions at research universities.

    "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is." - George W Bush

    by jfern on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:05:10 PM PST

  •  Hang in there (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is a lot of politics.
    It all becomes a big game to get the money.
    But hopefully not to lose sight that the money is just the thing that powers the game.
    But the science is worth much more than the money.

  •  You forgot another level between (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArchTeryx, UTvoter, bvig, FarWestGirl

    postdoc and PI.  The non-faculty staff researcher or scientist.  I speak from current, personal experience.  You have more independence than a postdoc, a bit more responsibility too, but you don't have a lot of the hassles of being a PI.

    •  Oh, I haven't forgotten it, believe me! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I didn't mention it in the diary, this is true.  And it's totally inappropriate for my current lab -- my mentor and I do not get along very well, and he already has a staff scientist.

      Staff scientist positions at the NIH also are competitive, and the competition is insane.

      But two possibilities are to leverage a second postdoc into a staff scientist position, in or out of the NIH, or taking on a non-research SS position (such as a core lab manager).

      •  There are staff researcher/scientist (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        UTvoter, FarWestGirl

        positions at the university level as well.  I'm at a Big 10 university and have been a staff researcher since 2003.  I'm pretty happy at the level I'm at right now. Of course, I still have to generate the data that my PI can use to put together a grant, but I like being once removed from that high pressure position.  Plus I don't have to serve on any committees!!!!

  •  Nice description of the postdoc world (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It does get better though. i of course have my own trials and tribulations but things are going well right now. always have to get more papers out and the next grant always needs to be written, but we are lucky to be able to do things we love.

    You know, of course an application for NIH would garner lots of applications, but the last position we had open we got less than 100 applications and ended up with someone who had offers from Stanford and Brown. She's awesome. I'm at the U of Utah. If you want ivy or howard hughes, that is tough. But I really like my position and the opportunities I've had here. So work hard, play nice in the sandbox, and call your senators for the Specter amendment (10 Billion for NIH)!

    "there's a bailout coming but it's not for me!" Neil Young

    by UTvoter on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 07:47:45 PM PST

  •  Big Science, Immigration problem too (4+ / 0-)

    The jump of science into the "BIG" science world (the genomics/proteomics/nano scale chemical synthesis realm) has increased the number of jumbo labs that are manned by drones.  Much of our university research has become so narrowly focused and dominated by the big boyz, some of whom could do very little but spout their mouths were it not for their post docs and cheap immigrant labor. The problem is the best are not in control in many if not most has become partly an age issue.  There is also the issue of MDs exploiting PhDs, while imposing their anti-democratic, conformist professional philosophy.  Creative minds are no longer valued, especially at the postdoc level.  The scientific maverick is a dying breed.  A return to smaller lab, smaller budget research would bring more bang for the taxpayer buck than what we currently get.  There is so much money and politics in the system that the peer review process at our top science journals and the granting process itself has been corrupted.  The scientific contrarian is silenced, particularly when the research may question the safety of current valuable drugs.  If the current system of bringing in foreign talent were employing and empowering the brightest minds and not necessarily the hardest workers and YES MEN, then I would have no problem with the status quo.  But that is NOT the case.  There is an entire generation of American educated scientists that have been bypassed by the greed of the people in power; using yesteryears ideas.  American scientific dominance is in jeaopardy and so is the future of our education system.

    •  I couldn't agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gansterr, WiseFerret

      more.  I saw your comment just after I posted mine saying the same thing essentially.  I have been in industry for a long time and see the exact same constraints to innovation.  And the big boyz are scratching their heads making a kazillion dollars a year wondering why truly innovative things are not coming out of their companies.  They are so dumb and greedy its pathetic.  They think exploiting cheap labor markets by throwing cheap educated bodies at innovation is what makes innovation happen.  

      The greatest innovations I still think will come out of garages and small labs.  

      After 8 years of darkness, a great nation chose to reapply power to the beacon of light America stands for.

      by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 08:18:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is very sad (4+ / 0-)

    a few years ago as a staff engineer at a company (still but not doing the interviews as much), I interviewed hundreds of engineers anywhere from 5 to 10 a week.  Most had BS, quite a few had MS's and Phd's.  They were all very desperate (a lot of fresh out grads) and most of their credentials were great...some had moved from city to city to be 'local' to improve their chances and had done so after graduating for 1.5 years.  I helped get 40 or 50 hired. Some of our customers picked them up as direct hires.

    One guy with Phd who ended up working with me told me he was a lot better off when he just had his masters degree.  Made more money and didn't get the over-qualified routine.  I've run into that so often it made my head spin.  Our company likes to hire people with MS and Phd degrees because its impressive to our customers but, in the end, they do the same work as a grunt BS degree people.

    All I have seen over the last 20 plus years is wage arbitrage with 'emerging markets' labor pools in all professions from research and development to manufacturing.  It seems the 'emerging markets' are producing engineers, scientists and programmers like puppy mills and the corporations are taking every advantage of it they possibly can.  Anyone can take a widget and make it different and better than the original widget but innovation takes freedom of scientific exploration and out of the box thinking.  Its so expensive for us to live these days it seems, we don't do it because we can't afford it.

    It drives me crazy just thinking about John Worrell Keely's experiments with water disassociation and sympathetic vibrational physics.  I'm a big believer in SVP, 'cus I'm a nut! If I had the money and time I'd setup a laboratory in my backyard to try to replicate some of his experiments.  I have so many ideas to play with, anyone got a good arbitrary waveform generator for sale for cheap?

    I had two jobs where I could actually do experiments, one as a rocket scientist and one as a system designer in an R&D department.  Both were the most interesting jobs I ever had particularly the rocket stuff (freakin awesome fun, design, development, experiment for new stuff, test, launch..the whole enchilida).  But in bigger companies it becomes a bureaucratic and political nightmare.  They just don't take risks and bother with some expense in unleashing small experienced, focused teams without all the constraints.

    I think it is why some of these small companies that have some funding can outplay the big boys. They do win every now and then.  They don't screw around with bureaucracy and political infighting which is the death knell for practical innovation.

    Probably some of the most innovative things will still come from a garage somewhere.  The constraints of profit driven corporate mentality actually leaves them vulnerable to the garage experimenters who stumble upon innovation.  

    After 8 years of darkness, a great nation chose to reapply power to the beacon of light America stands for.

    by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 08:02:34 PM PST

  •  If I had taught high school instead... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would be retired with health insurance and a good pension.

    Graduate students and post-doc's rarely get credit in a retirement program and certainly not like school teachers. You never catch up.  The research years were very interesting and heady - but that doesn't pay the bills now.

    Most graduate students are used as lab slaves and post doc's aren't treated much better.

    Contrast this to the bonuses given to the AIG employees that they were so afraid to lose. Why are scientists supposed to do science for the love of it rather than money? Any emergency funding because we are losing scientists?

    In my 2-year college teaching position we are supposed to so things to increase the number of science teachers to entice students to science, math and engineering. Yet today we are threatened with being furloughed or some such. That's the real message.

    Tonight I am tired, have little value left in retirement funds and am facing the fact that I will never be able to retire.

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