"The United States today has the finest scientists in the world and the worst science education in the world, or at least in the industrialized world," wrote Caltech physicist David Goodstein in "Burned By the Torch of Knowledge?," one of the very first essays Science's Next Wave ever published. "We have created a kind of feudal aristocracy in American science," he continued, "where a privileged few hold court while the toiling masses huddle in darkness, metaphorically speaking, of course. However, I also think inexorable historic forces have already begun to bring those conditions to an end. Our days at court are numbered."
It is remarkable to look back over the last 10 years and realize how little has really changed, at Science's Next Wave and in the broader world of science. The cast of characters has changed, as Next Wave editors have come and gone and as science trainees in the wider world have moved on to faculty positions, industrial jobs, and completely new lines of work. But as we celebrate 10 years of writing about scientific careers, the similarity between the issues of today and those of 10 years ago is striking.
Let's stay with Goodstein a while longer. "The period from 1950 to 1970," he wrote, "was a true golden age for American science. Young Ph.D.s could choose among excellent jobs, and anyone with a decent scientific idea could be sure of getting funds to pursue it. But, in retrospect, we can see that the golden age was merely the last 20 years of a long period of exponential growth in science that could not possibly be sustained."
Goodstein went on to point out that, with the end of the Cold War, defense-related science was waning. The national laboratories, many of which had a focus on national defense, had not yet discovered a new reason for being. And funding for scientific research--one of the few areas of truly discretionary government spending--was a victim of large budget deficits (this being one area in which, far from being unchanged, we have come full circle). "The great corporations," Goodstein continued, "have decided that central research laboratories are not such a good idea." The upshot of all these changes: fewer jobs for scientists, and less money to pay for science.
Then and Now
In Balance and Love , Clinton Parks profiles early Next Wave contributor Tyrone Hayes, who, since we first heard from him 8 1/2 years ago, has become the youngest full professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and fought a widely publicized battle at a large chemical company.
In What a Difference 10 Years Makes , Beryl Benderly checks up on several former postdocs to find out what they're up to and share the lessons they learned in their first post-postdoc decade.
When we first met Carol Plautz (née Zygar), she was nearing the end of her doctoral studies in biology at the University of Virginia. Since then, she has worn many professional hats --in bench research, Web site design, teaching, and, now, as dean of health sciences at the Community and Technical College of Shepherd in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Minority Scientists Network Editor Robin Arnette profiles Plautz.
One day in the mid-'90s, Linda Ko-Ferrigno was browsing through Next Wave and came across an article on making a transition into science journalism. It was, she says, a eureka moment. Nearly a decade later, Ko-Ferrigno explains how she made her own transition ... and how Next Wave helped.
Science's Next Wave has long been interested in entrepreneurialism, which is, after all, an excellent way to escape a dead-end postdoc if you can swing it. In Surviving the Crash , Jim Kling profiles Lee Jensen, Joe Chung, and Bill Hunter, all of whom started high-tech companies in the early 1990s and lived to tell about it. How have they fared? We find out.
Jorge Mira Perez, an assistant professor at the University Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and occasional broadcaster, reflects on his dual career and how a golden paragraph he read in Next Wave never quite left him. Elisabeth Pain reports from Barcelona.
Finally, Andrew Fazekas, Next Wave's Canadian correspondent, marks Next Wave's birthday by catching up with Harm Deckers, Cheryl Wellington, Caren Helbing, and Geula Bernstein, early Canadian readers of Science's Next Wave. They share their stories and explain the lessons they have learned along the way.
In 1995, the golden age of science had been over for about 25 years, but the implications of its end were just beginning to sink in, and they are sinking in still. Scientists were no longer a privileged class, a technological elite that could count on stimulating work and a high standard of living. The right of those who love science to make a living doing it was--and is--no longer guaranteed. That's the world Science's Next Wave was born into, and it's the world we still occupy.
In 1995, today's dominant trends had already commenced. "The students who come to join us" from overseas "are every bit as bright and eager as the homegrown types they have partially replaced, and they add energy and new ideas to our work." "Some of these," Goodstein wrote, "stay on in America, taking some of those few jobs still available here, and others return to their homelands, taking our knowledge and technology with them to our present and future economic competitors. It doesn't take a genius to realize that our state and federal governments are not going to go on forever supporting this playground we professors have created for ourselves."
So what's the bottom line? "The era of exponential expansion will be replaced by an era of constraint. Progress in science will no longer be limited by our imagination and ingenuity in revealing the secrets of nature. Instead, it will be limited by our threshold for pain." That's a message that many science students and postdocs who have passed through graduate school over the last 10 years can relate to.
So what could be done about it? "Birth control" for science Ph.D.s is one option that was being kicked around in 1995, but, wrote Goodstein, "I cannot bring myself to accept the conclusion that our salvation lies in less education." Nor can I. "Passing on the torch of knowledge cannot be wrong. The problem is not that we do too much of it; the problem is that we do too little of it."
But in these times of constraint, a vast increase in the amount of science we do is unlikely. And as the recent doubling of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget showed, even that is no guarantee of salvation. What, then? Goodstein proposed alternative careers as one solution, noting the thousands of high schools across the country that lack a single qualified science teacher. But that, he notes, is an imperfect solution: People must come to embrace work that, although not scientific research, is no less valuable, and accepting that requires changing attitudes. "The social revolution that would have to take place has at least as much to do with attitudes as it does with money," wrote Goodstein. "But attitudes may be the hardest thing of all to change."
Has there been a social revolution? Social revolutions are abstractions, summations of many individual actions recognized and validated by policy bodies--eventually. The agenda that Goodstein laid out has made it onto the agendas of august bodies such as the National Research Council, NIH, and the National Academy of Sciences.
Thanks in large part to Science's Next Wave (we like to think), the profile of many nontraditional careers for scientists has been raised. Next Wave articles have helped scientists on more traditional paths gain the skills that scientists in the 21st century require. Most important, many individual scientists have, with our assistance and a lot of courage, made difficult choices and found gratifying work and fulfilling lives--not so much a revolution as an evolution. Our collective threshold for pain has proved quite high, and we've made it through, some of us. Here are a few who have.