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Insights Science for Love or For Money - Comments

  1. Jul 16, 2015 #1
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 16, 2015 #2
    There's money in science? I only know debt...:cry:
    Edit: had to get in there first :P but seriously the reason I decided to study science was very much the same. We are and will always be enamored with the days/nights spent in the garage/basement or in the kitchen(oops). My mother used to get so pissed at me when I was little and I would take like literally everything in the house apart (good times)
    I'm a little younger so I don't have any professional anecdotes to add, but remembering the days when literally everything was a mystery still almost brings a tear to my eye.
    I'd like to add an open apology to all mother's of itty-bitty scientists all over:
    Sorry we took everything apart. Especially your favorite hair-dryer, but you should keep in mind that at least 50% of the time we were able to put it all back just right. So maybe don't get so mad about those ones.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
  4. Jul 17, 2015 #3
    "I’ve never allowed not getting paid for a project keep me from pursuing interesting scientific ideas." - great quote!
  5. Jul 17, 2015 #4
    I've never gone into debt chasing scientific ideas. Gotta make enough dough to keep the ship afloat, and it has never been a problem.
  6. Jul 17, 2015 #5
    There's a proverb along the lines of "All hard work brings a profit, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgement."

    Eventually, good science has a pay day (at least the expectation value of good science is a positive return). It's hard to predict when and where and how it will happen. I try to worry about doing good science and not worry too much about counting the beans.
  7. Jul 17, 2015 #6
    Doing science 'for the love of it' gets extremely old when you're approaching 40 years old, have little saved, still have student loan debt to pay off, and are still a post-doc hoping and praying for a faculty position that doesn't exist.

    Tons of scientists are employed in healthcare or biopharma related fields, and R and D jobs constantly get axed. My former boss was an ivy graduate, 20+ years experience, 300+ articles, 40+ patents, and head of discovery. He's been laid off multiple times over the course of the past 5 years and has had to constantly relocate. How can anyone buy a home or establish a family in a certain place if you have to constantly sell your house and relocate because scientific jobs in industry are so unstable? It gets old fast.

    Even when you make it in academia the problems still don't end. Ever work for a PI with a funding problem? I think I've seen my PI age by 10 years within the past 2 years. We're down to 2 people now after cutting down from 7 and have been plagued with funding problems for the past several years with no end in sight. This gets old too after your 12th straight grant application gets rejected.
  8. Jul 17, 2015 #7
    When I was a farmer, I was appalled at the other farmers who always had someone else to blame (often the government) when earning a living was harder than they had hoped and the things that worked last year don't keep working indefinitely. My attitude was more entrepeuneurial. I wasn't owed a good income just by being a farmer and working hard and producing lots of food. It was my responsiblity to develop markets and make sure the food I was producing could be sold at a sufficient profit to keep the ship afloat.

    While I made money as a farmer, profit potential did not determine my level of satisfaction with different farm projects. We never made much money in the sheep business (we did in cattle), but I liked raising sheep and it was very satisfying for the hired shearer to remark that when he died, he wanted to come back as a sheep on my farm! The way customers clamored for our tender and tasty beef was more satisfying than cashing the checks. Grapes were much more profitable than apples, but oh the smell of the apple orchards in October!

    I've made a lot of money as an engineer and as a teacher, but it is not the sound of money in the bank that satisfies me. It is simply the joy of a job well done - the students who succeed beyond their wildest dreams and the products that deliver on all their promises to the customer.
  9. Jul 17, 2015 #8


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    Do science for nothing and chicks for free (I want my MTV).
  10. Jul 18, 2015 #9
    That's got potential to be a great parody. You and Weird Al should work it out.
  11. Jul 18, 2015 #10


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    Thanks, : ) , I will have my people (i.e. me) email his people.
  12. Jul 18, 2015 #11


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    @Dr. Courtney: when were you a farmer?

    Also, how was the USAFA barrel friction project self-funded. How much did it cost, and did you pay or the cadets pay?
  13. Jul 18, 2015 #12
    :approve: :oldwink:
  14. Jul 19, 2015 #13
    My wife and I owned a small farm business from 1995 to 2006.

    The barrel friction project was paid for by the small company my wife and I own, BTG Research. If I recall correctly, it cost about $2K. The Army Research Laboratory had been in need of accurate methods for measuring bullet friction for sometime to support their internal modeling efforts (computer codes to predict muzzle velocity and chamber pressure based on powder burn) and to make projectile and barrel choices to reduce friction. Barrel friction robs 20-30% of a projectile's energy in 5.56 NATO. The Army had paid about $54k for a contractor to develop tests measuring the force required to push bullets through rifle barrels with a rod at relatively slow rates. This effort produced some papers like these:


    We had first stumbled upon our method by re-analyzing a data set from an experiment that had originally been performed to test a new formula for predicting gyroscopic stability of bullets in flight, so the method more or less fell into our hands for free once the bullet stability experiment had been completed. We immediately knew that we had not only solved the Army's problem for needing a simple, cheap, and accurate way to measure bullet friction, we had also invented a way to test whether the purported bullet lubricants touted in patent and marketing claims really worked.

    The new method and our results in several applications caused a nice stir at the 2014 International Ballistics Symposium. I expect it might be a nice funding stream for us once the DoD starts funding small arms research again in earnest.

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  15. Jul 19, 2015 #14


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    Dr Courtney,
    Do you think there is a parallel , or "isomorphism" between Love vs Money and New , original , ideas and avenues vs gradual, technical improvements? I mean, publish-or-perish does not give you much of a chance to experiment, least you don't produce on demand, but love allows you to develop research "you can believe in". .
  16. Jul 19, 2015 #15


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    Great post Dr . Courtney!

    I think it's easy to focus on the funding and allow that to impede the answer to problems. Once a person becomes a properly trained scientist, and develops an interest in some practical problem, there are lots of opportunities to make a significant contribution.

    I think sharing experiences like this is very important to help people move away from the idea that you need to get the right pedigree and a grant from the right institution before you can make any progress in science.

  17. Jul 20, 2015 #16
    This is an interesting question. One might make a better case for parallels in theory than in experiment. I can certainly think of more counter examples in experimental science.


    I recall vividly David Pritchard's explanation that he wanted his group (atomic physics, MIT) and the physicists he trained to be the trailblazers leading the charge to discover new and interesting things rather than the technical clean up crew who followed behind crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. We were neighbors to those guys on the second floor of building 229, so I interacted with them often.

    I was in awe both of the atom interferometer experiments (led by David Keith as a grad student) and their trapping and cooling work (taken over by Wolfgang Ketterle en route to BEC). It's hard to imagine how this kind of physics could be done without external funding.

    So I think there is likely a bimodal distribution in the probability distribution of likelihood of trailblazing physics vs. funding level. There is certainly opportunity for productive work at any funding level (including zero), which was the point of my original article.
  18. Jul 21, 2015 #17
    One think I have noticed as a key difference between responding to a new idea with just doing it vs. writing a grant proposal is that writing a grant proposal introduces a long delay in between having the idea and executing it.

    Even if a grant proposal gets funded, the delay of months or years can cause a loss of momentum with regard to following up an getting started on the original research idea.
  19. Jul 21, 2015 #18


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    I lost all of my money while doing power electronics projects, though I was a registered design consultant for last 6+ years and had around 11 years of design experience before that in some private companies. The hard luck began when I got my foot injured while practicing taekwondo on a heavy duty training bag at my home with full power many years back. i still feel the pain of same magnitude if stand up for couple of hours. I was bound to continue engineering design profession due to my interest in research and development area. The good thing that I'm still practicing taekwondo, however now my specialty in cardio taekwondo in which there is no sparring or body contact and whose main purpose is to develop health and fitness along with it's defensive nature. Now I'm shifting my career back to physics lectureship after 15+ years and have applied in many schools, academies, institutes, and universities. If I can't get offer from there then I'm ready offering home tuition services.
  20. Jul 23, 2015 #19

    Sorry to hear of your financial difficulties.
  21. Aug 19, 2015 #20


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    Luckily I got teaching job. At least now I would be able to manage my very basic expenses! Thanks.
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