The economic turndown and subsequent reduction in federal funding of basic science research is wreaking havoc on the young scientists in academic institutions. Many young faculty who started their academic faculty jobs in 2006 - 2007, just before the meltdown, are now finding themselves looking for new careers. Because of the reduction in federal funding and the increased competition for the ever-limited grants that still exist, these highly trained professionals who are just starting their careers are now looking for new opportunities outside of academics and research. They are being forced to leave faculty positions to find work doing anything they can. It is no longer feasible to meet the requirements of the contracts they signed 5 years ago and universities cannot or will not support them during these hard times. The outcome of this decline will be that universities will be left with an aging faculty (who will not or cannot retire) and little new blood to provide new ideas and perspectives. Even worse, as the aging faculty retire (eventually), there will be no one there to take over. Few junior faculty will be employed at universities that understand the workings of academia to be able to lead these institutions when they are needed to do so.
Many articles about this have been appearing in the scientific press, but now more are being published in major newspapers. Dr. Carol Greider, a Nobel Laureate and professor at Johns Hopkins recently addressed this very issue in an article in the Baltimore Sun. (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-12-22/news/bs-ed-scientists-20111222_1_young-scientists-medical-research-funds-research) Although she did not address how to help rectify this situation, I think it is time to start thinking about alternative ways to fund basic research.
An increasing number of people feel that funding science is not a priority. I beg to differ. Science is an economic engine that has propelled the US for the past century. The rate of return on the federal investment has been in the range of 30 - 40%. Not too shabby -- throw in the advancement in technology (better scanning equipment, imaging machines, and treatment options to name a few) and the contribution of federally funded science is undeniable. I reiterate, maybe it is time for new avenues to fund science research should be explored.
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