Thursday, May 28, 2009

Modern Science is One Big Pig Trough

And not just academia (administrators, faculty, postdocs/grad students) is beholden to it. There is also a huge related industry (annual sales in the billions of dollars) led by the lab equipment suppliers. So if you are one such company, how do you go about getting some of that stimulus money?

You trawl the top-ranked academic journals and send out unsolicited advertising emails to the authors of recent publications.

Dear Dr. takchek,

I read your paper in (kick-ass high impact factor in its subfield journal), and I wanted to send you a short note on recent technology that may be of interest.

We have been working with a number of research leaders in Nanomedicine and nano-drug delivery research looking to quantify nanoparticles in live cells. This effort led to the development of a novel system called "complicated-sounding name that only specialists in the sub-field understand (with acronym)"...Insert the advantages and coolness of this new technology...and must end with your targeted audience in mind...This technology has been specifically designed for use in nanomedicine, nanotox and related nanoscale investigations.

We are actively involved in supporting funding and grant submittals for the NEW (April 2009) Obama funding at NIH and NSF. If you are considering applying for some of the NEW $8.2 billion of grants for equipment PLEASE let us know. We can help!

Best regards,

On the other hand:

NIH received ~21,000 applications for the stimulus funds. They expected 1,500 and predicted 200 Challenge Awards will be offered. So the rejection rate could reach 99%. (Science, 2009, 324, 5925, pp. 318 - 319)

Amazing Depressing eh? I think it is easier to get into Harvard college than to win one of these NIH Challenge Grants.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reach for the Sky? Nah, Go for the Low Hanging Fruit Instead

I am getting disillusioned with Science. Apparently I have not seen the 'light' despite ~5 years of Grad School. There is only one metric to measure productivity and success at this stage: number of publications. So no high-risk, high-reward/failure "fishing expeditions". Go for already established projects which will pay some quick dividends. All the more so if I am a young postdoc still trying to land my first faculty job or a research position in a National Lab (with the field getting so ridiculously competitive and crowded) anywhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Socialeconomic gulf in school

I came across a Boston Globe article on low income students attending elite, private (and expensive) colleges in the US, and a link to a Stanford undergraduate honors thesis on the same topic.

Class and Inequality

If applicable, please describe a situation where interacting with others from a different social class background made you feel out of place:

"Students complaining about how they don’t have any money." - Student at Yale University, Class of 2008

"When I came to Stanford, everyone asked me where my parents went to college, just assuming that they did, and it’s really awkward to say ’nowhere.’ It’s also awkward to talk about family - like the cousins on Welfare who dropped out of high school - to peers." - Student at Stanford University, Class of 2009

"Knowing I don’t have enough money to do the things everyone talks about. Knowing I can’t afford to spend money at the rates others do (shopping, going out to dinner often, etc.)" - Student at Princeton University, Class of 2011

"When I was hanging out with my girlfriend and her family, they took me to a country club they were a member of and her mother said something about how she 'couldn’t understand how people can live without country clubs'. She went on to comment on trips to the Caribbean and various other topics that made me feel QUITE inadequate." - Student at the University of Virginia, Class of 2011

"My roommate’s family is far more affluent than mine. When he mentions his vacations, car, etc. it sometimes makes me uncomfortable." - Student at Yale University, Class of 2010

"Talking about what people did over summer break - I don’t go on vacation." - Student at Brown University, Class of 2010

"When interacting with those clearly from a more upper-class background - say, when someone is very well-versed in stock trading, or when someone has a lot of expensive electronic equipment in their room - I’m very aware of my relatively humble origins and my very different ambitions." - Student at Princeton University, Class of 2011

"While out at a fancy dinner, I recognized that everyone else was used to the setting/had been informed of how to act. It was completely different from my norm, and I felt out of place." - Student at Stanford University, Class of 2011

"Sometimes when discussing my application to law school (and undergrad for that matter), I am struck by how foreign my situation is for most people. My parents can’t afford to pay for any of my education, so I’ve had to make a lot of decisions based on how much I can make at part-time jobs and how much I’m willing to borrow. I feel awkward when I have to say that I’m not even aiming for top schools, not because I’m not qualified, but because I can’t afford it." - Student at University of California, Berkeley, Class of 2008


I know of 2 main types of responses:

a. one will either borrow (by hook or by crook) to keep up with the Joneses,


b. leave the social circle to find another more aligned to their socioeconomic backgrounds.

The first will most likely lead to financial ruin, while the second requires some sort of courage to make the break. Critics of the second will point out that the main purpose of going to such elite schools is to network with the rich and powerful.