Josh is currently a graduate student in the lab of Daniela Cimini at Virginia Tech. He is working towards understanding the role of karyotypic alterations in cancer. In addition to his interests in cell biology he is also interested in how science is practiced from publishing to funding.
When I sat down to write this essay I intended to describe how bad graduate student stipends are, how overworked we are, and how graduate school is slowly killing our love for science. We often joke, at least in my department, that our stipends are so small that we effectively live below the poverty line (we are actually ~200% above the poverty line). The financial struggles of graduate students may be more pronounced in some cities than others but it is not the whole story. We graduate students knew what we would earn when we signed up for this gig, and I would guess that if we had to do it all over again, we would.
When the public thinks of scientists, they probably think of Albert Einstein. After that they probably can't think of too many. Indeed, the majority of the public can't name a living scientist. There have been attempts to reverse this statistic and engage scientists with the public. Presumably, a public well versed in science can make better-informed policy decisions. At the very least, a public that understands and values science is necessary for the sustainability of science.
Scientific work progresses through the communication of ideas and almost every scientist I have ever met tends to talk ad nauseum about their research or science in general. Yet as much as scientists like to talk about their work and to publish their work, very few comment on articles. Indeed, every COMPASS Blog post has been read well over 100 times, yet there have been 0 comments. I published one research article that has been read over 22,000 times but has received only eight comments, two of which were our own (1).
I wonder why scientists do not comment on articles? So, rather boldly I ask you to comment below on why you may not typically comment on science articles.
1. Nicholson JM and Ioannidis JP (2012) Research grants: Conform and be funded. Nature 492, 34-36
Over a hundred and fifty years ago in the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin observed that different finches had different beak sizes and that these beak sizes corresponded to their functionality. A finch with a long slender beak could more easily eat the seeds off the fruit of a cactus than a finch with a shorter broader beak. Such phenotypic differences translated into differences in fitness for the finches. These seminal observations led to the theory of evolution, a theory so important that Theodosius Dobzhansky once wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." But what if Darwin never observed his finches and instead landed on a very bizarre island inhabited by some other creatures, perhaps much more strange than finches...modern-day scientists! What would Darwin have observed? Perhaps he would have noticed first that scientists work in groups and that there is a hierarchy among the groups. Some groups would be smaller than others, some led by males and some led by females. Maybe he would have noticed that some scientists are better at theorizing while others show great technical expertise. Or maybe he would have noticed that some scientists have many grants and others very few. Remarkably, since this whole situation is hypothetical, I have his notes! I invite you to read over them and to vote for what you believe the metaphorical beak of scientists to be (i.e. that which dictates scientific fitness).