I don’t think of you as a “leak.” But I’m in an undergraduate physics department, so unlike the people in the Ph.D.-granting departments where I trained I’m not in the business of training people to go for science faculty jobs. I’m in the business of teaching people some science so they can go out and use their training to pursue whatever opportunities interest them. You study ethical and philosophical issues in science and technology, so I’m assuming you make use of your science training in some significant way, even if you no longer do synthesis or whatever. You teach people. This is important work, it draws on your background, and I would count you as a successful person using your scientific training. …
[T]he pipeline does have to leak–there simply aren’t enough faculty jobs for every person who starts off studying science in college. To act like those who go on to do something other than a science faculty job are “leaks” from our pipeline is a horrible way to view students who decide to do something other than what their professors do. Even leaving aside the numerical issues, what good would my profession be if the only thing I did was train people to be like me, and I never trained anybody to go out and use that knowledge for something else? What would I be contributing to society if none of my students went outside the university? …
I’m not training anybody to be an assistant professor. I’m just trying to persuade 18 year-olds to think about spending 4 years studying my subject so they can acquire some skills and knowledge that will hopefully serve them well as they go do whatever they do.
You can forget sometimes how the environment in which you train to be a scientist (typically, a Ph.D. program at a university that does enough research to sustain a Ph.D. program in your field) gives you a very skewed picture of what success looks like.* Being a real, grown-up scientist, can end up looking like having a career very much like that of the academic scientist who trained you. And while the scientist who trains you may pay lip-service to the value of career paths that deviate from this ideal, there are some pretty clear messages communicated about who really counts as a member of your professional or intellectual community and who is Not Quite Our Kind.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons scientists use for not taking other scientists (or people with scientific training comparable to their own) seriously. This is before we even get to issues like how people dress, interests they may have outside science, and the like.
- You didn’t become a professor in the field I trained you in.
- You didn’t become a professor at an Ivy League university.
- You didn’t become a professor at a major research university.
- You didn’t become a professor at a prestigious liberal arts college.
- You don’t have Ph.D. students.
- You don’t have Masters students.
- Your research is not published in Science, Nature, or Cell.
- Your research is not highly cited.
- You don’t give research presentations at the important meetings in our field.
- Your research focuses on a marginal topic like science education.
- You care more about teaching than research.
- You didn’t become a professor at a four year college.
- You’re an adjunct.
- You work for industry.
- You work for the government.
- You work in the non-profit sector.
- You don’t actually “do science” any more.
- Despite studying science, you never actually “did science”.
- Your job is only peripherally connected to scientific issues or patterns of thought.
- Your job is totally unconnected to scientific issues or patterns of thought.
- Your job is only part-time.
- You don’t have a paying job right now.
- You haven’t had a paying job for a while.
Of course, if the question is whether another scientist might be a potential collaborator in your research, or someone who could give you useful feedback on the institutional politics at a particular kind of university, some of these details will be relevant.
But if the question is who counts as a member of the tribe of science, some of these factors render invisible lots of people whose knowledge, work, and interests look pretty darned scientific.
Does it cost the scientists at the top of the food chain anything to have a somewhat more inclusive view of who’s a scientist (or contributes to the well being of the scientific enterprise)? What does it cost them to keep discounting the scientists who don’t fit the narrow approved mold?
*This doesn’t just happen among scientists. Professional philosophers do it too, with a vengeance.