Ever hear of Douglas Prasher? Probably not. He just missed out on this past year’s Nobel in chemistry. That’s not unusual, as many scientists never even come close to a Nobel. What is unusual, is that Dr. Prasher works at a car dealership, not in a lab. Despite doing the critical research on discovering GFP that became the work for last year’s Nobel Prize, he was unable to find grant money and a job to continue his work.
Prasher’s story is what concerns me with science, engineering, math, and technology. In the U.S., we are constantly hearing about how the country is falling behind in science. We need more scientists to fill all of those jobs we want to create. And the cure to that is to fund more PhD programs! Yet, when you ask graduate students and postdoctoral scholars what their individual experiences are, a science career is a very tough road with low pay and few career prospects. It’s such a tough path that an entire PhD comic strip was born to alleviate the situation with laughter. Why then, is there such a disconnect?