Intense competition in the biomedical sciences has been a hot topic recently, pinned as everything from the impetus to commit fraud to a symptom of the overall unsustainability of the research ecosystem. It drives us to hide our findings until publication, chase down scientific fads, and leave negative data to languish.
Although there may be quite a lot of science in the news lately (the Ebola scare, climate change, 2013 Merriam-Webster's "word of the year"), the sad truth is that the future for science research in the United States is bleak. For those of us in our PhDs or postdocs, this probably doesn't come as a surprise. You may have read the viral article, Why You Don't Actually 'f*@king love science' or have seen this depressing infographic. The research enterprise in the USA has been on the downward trajectory, losing critical funding (the NIH has lost about 25% of its "purchasing power" in the past 10 years). And what that means is that there is little future for a career in science, ESPECIALLY for our generation of scientists, the 20-30 somethings.
San Diego radio station KPBS reported last year that a local lab was looking for a PhD to work for free. The "Unpaid Volunteer in a Basic Science Research Laboratory" ad (chemjobber) on Craigslist requested a PhD and 2-3 years of postdoc experience to work on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) research. The ad quickly disappeared, but now a lab in Hackensack, NJ is offering a similar arrangement.
There are many reasons for wanting to go to graduate school: You want to become a professor, you love pipetting colorless liquids, you really liked your biology classes in college, or you are burning with an insatiable desire to understand biological mechanisms. Whatever your reason, you should know what you're getting into: Not only does your future happiness depend on it, but this knowledge may also determine your success. Let me explain.