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Researchers Are Not Rock Stars

Researchers have a lot in common with punk rockers, claims Alison McCook in The Scientist.  “Creativity, do-it-yourself individualism, anti-establismentarianism, and attitude” are not only “the central tenets of punk music,” she writes, but “should sound very familiar” to “many scientists.” 

Punk is “about the freedom to express what you want to express,” McCook quotes Milo Aukerman, whom she describes as “a plant researcher at DuPont and lead singer with of legendary punk band The Descendents.  In many ways, research is the same,” she continues.  “More so than in other professions, scientists can set their own schedules and decide what they want to study.”
Well, maybe the relative handful of today’s scientists with secure, well-paid academic research positions.  But for many more researchers — for example, the scores of thousands of postdocs toiling on their lab chiefs’ projects — the ability to exercise such decisions probably seems like a distant rumor rather than a feature of their work lives.
In one important respect, however — though not any that McCook mentions — scientists do strongly resemble musicians in popular genres.  Both groups compete in what economists call tournament fields.  As noted a few months back in Science Careers, such professions afford huge rewards, often including fame, wealth, and stardom, to a very small number of people.  They also relegate the rest, including many whose abilities and accomplishments come close to matching those of the big winners, to obscurity and inferior opportunities.
In other words, the few researchers able boldly to pursue their own ideas are, to the many scientists now struggling to start or get on with independent research careers,  as such punk idols as the Ramones or Sex Pistols are to the countless would-be rock stars playing in their garages or at local venues.  Only a small percentage of these hopefuls will ever hit the big time.  The rest, know matter how talented or hard working they may be, will never get the big break that leads to stardom.

2 comments on “Researchers Are Not Rock Stars”

  1. Svetoslav Pavlov says:

    I liked that. I am a true “Punk” outside the Academic Society.
    Check them out:
    I’m good in Visual thinking and that’s why I’m into Modeling :)
    Thanks for Attention !

  2. josh einsle says:

    umm I actually think that the author is dead on. very few punks make any money and that would actually be against the ethic of the whole subculture. while bands like the clash and sex pistols were top 40, many more of the punk scene went out of their way to happily make music/art in their own individual way with little care for the wider society. The whole point of punk was to reject the gross over the top trappings of stadium corporate rock and roll ( which is all about being a super star). From my experience in both academics and the high tech sector there is tons of room for scientists to be accepted as individuals and make a path that is on their own terms. Many of the people I have known are doing that and it is not simply for the money and fame.

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