Being a good citizen.
As pointed out by an alert reader, drugmonkey wants to keep talking about this point on a previous post about how/whether we can change the way science in the US is currently broken. Oops, I mean, whether we should have a say in fixing it.
One of the points raised was regarding this NIH RFI we discussed a while back.
I just want to point out again that when the NIH puts out an RFI, it's not advertised to everyone. Grad students don't hear about it, and neither do most postdocs.
Most of the PIs I know can't keep up with their email to save their lives, much less forward these things along to their lab members. They might be getting awards for being great citizens, but nobody seems to notice or care that they aren't doing anything to train their lab members or invite them into the scientific community.
I think this is why NIH got so few responses, and why everyone's vote doesn't count equally. It's designed to solicit input from a limited audience for a reason.
I think the system works really well right now to squash input from the youngest members. They don't want us getting distracted from our assigned slave labor. If we stopped to look around, they'd be in big trouble.
No, the system works really well to ensure that most grad students and postdocs are dog-paddling just to keep their heads above water. They're not sitting around saying,
"Gee, how can I make the system better? What can I do?!"
They're just trying to survive. They don't have enough energy or time to do more than that.
And most people's reaction to hardship is not to say,
"Let's fix this for future generations!"
The most common trend in science right now is actually:
"Get me the fuck outta here! Where's the door?!"
So they will do whatever they have to do to get out. That usually means keeping your head down and your shoulder to the grindstone.
I saw the same thing in school. All schools have to be reviewed every few years to maintain their accreditation, and mine was no exception. But the way they handled it was classic politics in action. Those of us who had, ahem, shall we say suggestions, were carefully hidden away (read: prohibited from talking) when the reviewers were present. They didn't want a real review. They just wanted to pass the requirements.
NIH does the same thing, just like the mainstream media, and the Bush administration, and any large group with power that doesn't want the naysayers to... have their say.
The same thing happened with Nature's stealth attempt at having an open access journal of their own. I personally think they did this on purpose. They didn't advertise it, and then they used their paltry turnout as evidence that open access will undoubtedly fail.
Similarly, some of these open access journals are purportedly less political/stratified than the traditional money making machines of commercial scientific publishing. But all you have to do is look at the publications fees to see that's not exactly true. Sure, they say they'll waive it if you're broke, but that's not exactly fair, either, since it means the rich labs are overpaying to support the poor ones.
I've written about this a lot, but I'll say it again: everything in science in the US is a hierarchy right now. And maybe it always will be.
Case in point: I get certain readers because I've declared that I'm a postdoc, and that I'm female.
I also get certain types of comments because of that.
Sometimes PIs come on here and tell me I'm wrong and what could I possibly know. Sometimes they're actually encouraging, but just like in my real life, that's the exception rather than the rule.
I get a handful of female grad students asking for advice, and even - oh, heartwarmingly! - stopping back in to say things have gotten better for them.
And I get a fair number of would-be peers, mostly green, male postdocs who come from a different caste of lab wondering why I'm so stupid that I didn't join a lab with infinite money, like they did.
Newsflash: even rich labs occasionally go through dry spells!
I might be complaining about being poor now, but I'm well aware that I'm more equipped to deal with limited resources than any of these people whose solution to everything is "switch labs and join a rich one."
But hey, I try to deal with my problems by a) venting on my blog and b) taking the long view.
What doesn't break me or make me stronger makes for interesting blog fodder.