Sunday, September 22, 2013

What is your passion?

Do you know what you want to do the rest of your life?  I do.  I want to be a working scientist.  Better yet, I want to be a productive scientist, meaning that I want to contribute good science and good training for the betterment of my field of study.  I really do not care if the science is published in a glam journal, as long as the data is accessible.  I do not care where I do the work, as long as I can provide for my family.  

Like any postdoc or senior scientist, I have taken time to prepare job applications for tenure track positions, or even lecture positions.  I have gone through the process a couple of times, but fell short of a faculty position.  This is disappointing, but there is an odd sense of security in the realization that most of my former co-workers are not in faculty positions.  Some realized that they were not willing to move to another city or state, others just grew tired of the time spent marketing themselves.  Like myself, they hated giving up the time needed to look for a job, when there are so many experiments left to do.  

My friends who have found positions, have done so with a price.  Either they moved to cities that were less desirable, or took a position that offered less salary, bench space, and/or more teaching than they really expected.  I am proud of them for their sacrifices.  Unfortunately, I have reached a point in my life where the family's happiness is more important than my title.  I can no longer move from city to city chasing a tenure track position that will likely never happen for me.  

Does this mean I have given up? means that I have changed my focus.  For years I believed that my only options were industry or academia.  But I now see there are many more options that scientists do not consider, including freelance, consulting, and commercialization.  Another option is to be independent, really independent.  No academic affiliation, no industrial application.  The appeal is the freedom.  The fear is the lack of a safety net, which includes retirement, health insurance, and a dependable salary.  

A few people have been public in their independent pursuit, including the Perlstein and the Leto Labs.  Perlstein has trumpeted crowdsourcing as a way to fund his research, while Leto's motto, as taken from his website: "We fund ourselves, so that we do not have to worry about being ignored or constrained by those who do".  I am certain there are other independents, who fashion an approach that works for them.  In fact, I think the independents have always been around, just largely ignored.  

I will stress that I plan to do something a little different.  I want to provide a PATH for other independent scientists.  My personal struggle to create an independent, productive lab is not interesting enough unless I help the future independents.  It is time to provide reasonable competition to the current academic model.  I predict that a new wave of independent scientists are coming.

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