Sheltering our young.
LC wrote this comment in response to 2 posts ago:
I understand that in life, politics seeps into nearly everything else, but in your opinion, are there places/labs in which politics is not so prevalent? Is it something particular to NIH, or just as acute at any other academic institution? I never noticed even the slightest hint of it it at the lab I work at, but maybe that's just because I'm not one of those people worrying about grants and stuff like that. Maybe I'm naive. I'd like to hear your perspective.
Politics does not "seep". Politics IS. It is everywhere. Until you know how to look for it, it's behind the scenes.
In science we have a long, honored tradition of hiding it, particularly from our youngest recruits.
In your opinion, are there places/labs in which politics is not so prevalent?
NO. It's always there. You can't run away from it. I've tried.
Here's the thing. You can find a pollyanna lab, and you might even be able to find a pollyanna department. But Pollyannas don't last. Even if you're lucky enough to be in a good place for a short period of nirvana, it won't stay that way forever.
The bigger the place, the more politics. And by big I don't mean size. I mean money and fame.
I don't think you'll ever find a pollyanna university. Or research institute.
I once worked for a Pollyanna PI. I think I've written about this before, but the take-home message is that those kinds of people lose their ideas, get scooped, lose their funding, and don't get tenure. You can't go around being nice to everybody and assuming they'll all be as nice as you. You're going to get stepped on. And worse than that, the people in your lab are going to get screwed.
I never noticed even the slightest hint of it it at the lab I work at, but maybe that's just because I'm not one of those people worrying about grants and stuff like that. Maybe I'm naive.
I really liked your comment because once upon a time, I was exactly like you. I was completely oblivious to what was going on behind the scenes in the labs where I worked.
We really are very good at sheltering our young. You're not supposed to worry about "grants and stuff like that", goes this thinking, but I think this is stupid.
You should have to write for funding at every stage of your research career, it would be better training and it would prepare you psychologically for what you're getting into.
I now know for a fact that the labs I worked in as a young chickadee deliberately waited until I wasn't there to fight amongst themselves and bitch about the boss.
I'm sure your lab is doing the same for you. The funny thing is, they think they're doing you a favor.
Some people think of the training years as a kind of childhood (this is one of my least favorite things about science, the extended period of arrested development, as it were, and the family metaphor is all too true). They think that at the early stages we should just show you how much fun it is to do experiments.
That's how they suck you in, right?
We've all discussed on various science blogs the pros and cons of giving students, for example, real projects (FSP's posts on this topic come to mind).
Real projects are ones that might have some representative degree of failure associated with them. Because grad school is not like a summer project. There are no guarantees of success. The only guarantee is that you will experience a lot of failure. You will make mistakes. You will get mad. You will have to learn how to forgive yourself for not being perfect, and forgive science for being unpredictable. And forgive your advisor(s) for giving you bad advice. They meant well, they just didn't know any better, right?
But what I find unforgivable is that we lie to you.
There were no science blogs when I was in school (actually the internet was very new and everyone was talking about this crazy thing called the World Wide Web).
What's amazing to me is how long the lies persist. Most people never understand until after they finish grad school. Corruption is not an exception. It is not rare. It is the norm. You just don't know it yet. A little bit can go a long way. And nowhere is immune. All it takes is one bad seed to spoil the bunch.
With perfect timing, I was talking to a friend the other night who worked as a technician for several years (and left science). In a rare example of the best reason to quit, he left science because he just wasn't that excited about it and didn't think it was the best way for him to change the world.
But even more amazingly, he still thought success in science was governed by two things: Luck and Hard Work.
Which I think is completely guileless, but probably pretty typical if you haven't been to grad school +/- postdoc and found out the hard way.
It just doesn't make sense, unless you want to include "politics" under "luck", which could work if you are not a minority (e.g. if you have the good fortune to look and sound exactly like the majority of white male PIs, and you remind them of themselves when they were younger so they want to take you under their powerful wings).
But seriously. Science is not immune to politics. If you're like I was in high school, you probably think it might have been once upon a time, but all you have to do is read some science history to find out that's not true, either (e.g. see the new books about Darwin and That Other Guy who also observed evidence for evolution).
Science has always been political. Always. And the cynical among us will say it always will be. Kind of like how some women think that women will never have equal rights or success in the workplace to what men have now. I hope neither is true. But lately I am not sure that staying in academia is the best way for me to change the world.
So here's what you need to know:
Science is hard. You have to be okay with constant failure.
Politics IS. It just IS. You can't get away from it. If you think science is going to be a haven of objective honesty, honor, and integrity, think again.
Being good at doing experiments, teaching, and thinking is not enough.
You have to be good at politics to make it through.
And if you're a minority, good luck. The system is working against you.