Stephen Quake is a Bioengineer from Stanford that studies microfluidics, or how to make devices-on-a-chip that can perform many biological tests at once.
He also published a column on the NY Times discussing his insights into the personal economic pressures that a researcher confronts. A very interesting read of you ever asked “Where do those scientitians get their money? How do they spend it?”
Where does the money come from to pay for our science? Mostly from the federal government — your tax dollars at work — and non-profit foundations. […]
When a university hires a professor, they typically agree to provide a start-up package to support that professor’s research over the first few years, after which the professor must seek external funding. This funding is needed to buy research supplies, pay stipends and tuition for graduate students, and even to support the salary of the faculty member. In fact, the university rarely pays the full salary of the professor — depending on the department, the professor must find between 25 percent and 75 percent of his or her salary from outside grants.[…]
If they can’t raise grants to support their research every year, they won’t get paid. So not only do they have to worry about publish or perish, it’s also funding or famine, in the very real sense that without a grant there might not be food on the family dinner table!
It is a dog-eats-dog world, where, unfortunately, the science can’t be the top priority.