Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thoughts about my career (and how the Sequester may mess it up)

So a lot of my friends and family ask me about my job, more specifically my career path, all the time. I explain it a lot, often to the same people over and over again, not because they don't get it or because they aren't listening, but because its really confusing.

Essentially, there is no steady career path for me. I am a scientist, I study the way that neurotransmitters affect the innate immune system, and focus specifically on how dopamine affects the development of HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). I hope to have my own lab someday, to mentor students and develop my own research program. I hope I can do it in New York.

I am deeply committed to public sector research. I strongly believe that scientists should work to understand the basics of biology, of health and disease, of the nature of things ... and should do so without chasing an endpoint, a cure, a marketable product. There is nothing wrong with that, but there should be a sector of the research community that looks at everything, otherwise the research is skewed towards some things and away from others by incentives  ... who would study a disease that only 200 people have if the only funding was from those people ... yet that disease might provide important insight into human biology.

Anyway, I am getting sidetracked here.

My career in public research, or more specifically the success of it, will be determined by funding I get, mostly from the NIH but also partially from private foundations. It is hard to get these grants, and it recent years it has gotten much, much harder - the average age for a first grant is now late 30's early 40's, it used to be much younger.

This is what brings me to the sequester ... and I guess the general state of government research funding.

That state is bad. The funding is decreasing, the funding lines (the percentage of people getting grants) are getting lower and it is getting more and more competitive and more and more difficult to carve out a career in science. The amount of money allocated to grants is decreasing, and the amount of publications, data and other demonstrations of scientific merit required to be awarded a grant is getting higher - and with less funding, it is getting harder and harder to get these things.

The sequester, if it actually happens, will make this much worse. It reduce already low funding, and force more young scientists like me to look elsewhere for jobs which have understandable (and achievable) career paths, jobs which allow them to provide for their families before they enter their 40's. We need to fix the state of government research - and the sequester is not helping.

Sorry to be gloomy and doomy (is that even a word) here, but with all the talk about the sequester recently, I thought I would give you a window into my current thoughts (and fears?) about it ....

If you want more facts about this, there are two articles, here and here, which give a lot of the details I am alluding to here.

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