May 3rd, 2017
I have now been in academia, in one form or another, for the last 12 years and while there is hopefully a long way to go and much to learn, there are also some interesting observations to make as I look back at all these years. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent some time in academia when I note that most of the research that I come across is incremental and a large fraction of it is what I'd call mediocre (which includes a similar fraction of my own work as well I concede.) I suppose there is space for this mediocrity in the current climate. Perhaps it is the climate (the administrative demands, the funding landscape, the short-sightedness) which breeds this incrementality but the effect is my sitting in many a talks wondering why anybody bothered to do the research and why anybody bothered to fund it.
I also note a surprisingly large contingent of professors who are not really interested in research but only in securing as much funding as possible and having as large a research group as possible. Large amounts of research funding and large research groups are unmistakable markers of success in academia nowadays which, to my sensibilities, is a shameful perversion of the original ideals of scientific inquiry. Moreover, I cannot yet comprehend how one can lose that attraction that one must surely have felt towards research when one was a graduate student at some point. How can bright, talented, excited, and sharp young graduate students turn into middling managers of the scientific enterprise in such vast numbers? Of course, I know the answers to all these rhetorical questions. I have seen it happen all too often in other areas as well. Reality sets in at some point. People forget what is truly important and they confuse the conventional markers of success for happiness.
Maybe I am still too green in this business to lose the idealistic view that I have for what a worthy scientific career should look like. Maybe it is the deep seated contempt which seethes within me, directed liberally at the wisdom of others and especially of authority ,which preserves, to some extent, my idealism from the headwinds of reality. Perhaps it would wither away someday but at least it hasn't yet.