Tuesday, April 3, 2007

You make it very hard to love you!

Is it just me, or does science sometimes suck! There aren’t many jobs in life where you can work 12 hour days for 7 days a week and still have nothing to show for it and get no praise from the powers that be whatsoever!

There must be countless young scientists out there that have been lumbered with projects that whilst being interesting and promising, produce (or not) data that has no chance of being published at all. Don’t get me wrong, I know it shouldn’t be about publishing and should be about the science itself, but having gone down that route, it seems that it will inevitably come back to haunt you when you come to looking for a new job. The problem with scientific research today is that it is rife with red tape, paperwork, hierarchy and massive competition and so negative or highly controversial data remain exceedingly difficult to publish. It’s just the way it works, either play the game or you’re out.

As every researcher knows, the right job is very hard to come by, even more so when you are at the bottom of the ladder. And to add insult to injury, your publication record is now a huge factor in your employment potential even at the very beginning of your career. It seems more and more employers are expecting newly graduated PhD students to have not just one, but several publications upon completing their degree. This is possible if you were lucky enough to be blessed with a supervisor that cared and a project that wasn’t dug out of the bottom of a file entitled ‘projects no one else wants to do’. Personally I was lucky to get one paper out of my PhD and I equally know people who were lucky enough to get a couple, as well as people who didn’t even get one. What angers me most is that even now, I am being held accountable for a PhD project that produced very little publishable data. A project that was not chosen by me and which I just had to do the best I could with to get my PhD.

I do now realise that I could have had more impact on the direction of my project had I had the confidence to confront my supervisor, but I was young and fresh out of university and whole heartedly believed that my supervisor knew best and had my best interests at heart. I now know that the only person you can trust with your project is yourself and that you should question everything all the time. I do realise though that it is hard when you are reliant on someone for their training and expertise and it is a very fine line to tread.

I am still hopeful that although I am coming to the end of a very short post doc that I will be able to pull some data together and submit a paper before the end of the summer. It is actually imperative that I do. I recently attempted to apply for a research grant that was quashed by my ever so supportive ex university on the grounds that my publication record is too weak! I am in my first post doc position and I’ve only been in that for 18 months! Am I missing something here? Am I supposed to have won a Nobel Prize by now??? It appears so! I feel betrayed by the whole system that seems to be intent on discouraging scientists like myself who might not currently be the Watsons and Cricks of the world, but would like the chance to try!