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Academia (vs. Industry)

Decline of the Midwest?

Here’s an article at The Atlantic (via the Washington Monthly) that should concern anyone involved in R&D. It’s about the funding problems of many of the large public universities, particularly in the Midwest. Chemists will recognize several historically strong departments in that part of the country – but may also have noted that faculty poaching (always a feature of life in academia) seems to have been increasing over the years. The biggest private universities have, for the most part, been operating on a more stable financial footing (and usually at a much higher baseline) than the schools that have to depend on their state legislatures. And state-level financial problems don’t allow for much optimism about where those funding levels will be going.

As the article points out, there are some large public universities (such as the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia) that get more of their funding privately than from public funds. But Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State, and many others are caught in bad positions. It did not pass without notice when Wisconsin fell out of the top five schools in the NSF research rankings for the first time ever.

A continuing slide like that will be bad news, because a lot of research gets done at these places, in a lot of different fields. That matters to science as a whole, and it matters even more to the universities’ regions themselves, where they (and the companies that have spun off from them) are often the main technology-based employers. The risk is that entire sections of the country find themselves sliding off in a different direction – and as someone who did not exactly grow up in a technological wonderland (Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas in the 1970s), I don’t like the sound of that. We have enough places that feel as if they’re stuck years behind everyone else without creating more of them.

I realize that I’m being a bit self-serving here, because I’m implicitly conflating “lack of any scientific research” with second-rateness, and scientific research happens to be what I do for a living. Convenient! But in these cases, we’re looking at places that really have been large-scale research centers that may be allowed to slide into that second-rateness, which is really shameful. I have the greatest respect for the work being done at the Harvards, Stanfords, and MITs, but I don’t think that we should sort of throw up our hands and allow university science to concentrate in their hands alone. There’s too much to do, for one thing, and the more sets of eyes (and hands) we have working on all these topics, the better off we are. Industrial research at least has the startup route, where small companies come along and tackle problems on their own, but starting your own university is not such an easy task. Keeping the ones we have going would seem to be a better plan.

But even in industry, there’s been a tendency towards just this sort of thing, albeit for different reasons. I write this from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and you cannot throw a rock around this neighborhood without going through some biopharma or tech company’s window. Northern New Jersey and Connecticut are not exactly Pennsylvania coal-mining country, but from a biopharma pespective, they’ve been emptying out pretty thoroughly in favor of a few big concentrations, Boston-Cambridge very prominent among them. This is not good for the places getting emptied, but at least the R&D is still being done somewhere new. But no one’s going to relocate Ohio State to a hipper location; it stands or falls where it is. Letting it and the other big public schools decline gives you the worst of both worlds.

Update: as pointed out in the comments, this problem doesn’t break on strictly geographic lines. The state of California, famously, has severe budget and tax-base problems, and that’s been showing up in the funding of the state’s universities. When there’s turmoil at a chemistry department as historically strong as Berkeley’s, then you do have trouble indeed. What we’re looking at is more of a state-versus-private breakdown, rather than a Midwest-versus-the-coasts one; it just so happens that the Midwest has a lot of big public universities with strong research histories.

Update 2: I also meant to include a note about Neal Stephenson’s memories of growing up in Ames, Iowa, in the atmosphere created by the university (in his introduction to David Foster Wallace’s “Everything and More”). Some of that shows up in this interview as well.

59 comments on “Decline of the Midwest?”

  1. student says:

    Interesting fact: I’m applying to grad schools this fall, and I was considering the University of Wisconsin until I found out that Raines and Kiessling weren’t there anymore.

    1. Meh says:

      You’ve overestimated how interesting that fact was

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        No, that was fine. That’s one data point, but I think that there are (and will be) a lot of others like it. The problem is that the effect will take place slowly enough that people might not notice it until it’s much harder to do anything about it.

        1. TruthOrTruth says:

          Unfortunately, I agree Derek.

  2. anon says:

    The phenomenon is not limited to the Midwest, just look at the level state support for the University of California (and the loss of faculty members).

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      That’s an excellent point – I’ll add something to the post to that effect.

    2. Sam says:

      California should reform it’s state employee pension benefits to redirect savings into the University of California, and Cal State Universities.

  3. Anon says:

    WRT faculty poaching: Not surprising that established/rising faculty are moving to private schools. Look at what the MIT, Emory, ND, and Stanford chemistry depts did last year. If you were in charge of senior faculty recruitment wouldn’t you target these schools as well? Grad students beware!

    On a separate note, I am curious if this phenomenon will start the contraction of PhD programs. As has been discussed ad nauseum, the job market does not support >120 PhD programs churning out students.

  4. Hap says:

    In OH, tax burdens have been shifted over the last twenty years from businesses to individuals, so it’s harder to ask people for money. (It might be a feature, because taking responsibility for where the money comes from is probably good, but I assumed it also meant that it came more from people who didn’t have much, and so shifted burdens to people who could not bear them as much.) I think that it’s hard for people to see what added funding and a robust research institution does for them – what jobs it makes, what inventions it uses to make their lives better – and without that, it’s hard to ask for money (which would likely have to come from new taxes or increased old ones. I thought that tax burdens had shifted some from the federal to the state governments, which also doesn’t help – it means that states have to come up with more money, and are not likely to want to fund universities with it.

    Because states aren’t funding universities as much, the universities try to get as much money as they can other ways; people see that and figure that they’re acting like businesses and so shouldn’t be funded like public institutions. The loss of funding then becomes autocatalytic. In addition, the high costs of school and the job market (and its tenuousness) mean that people don’t look at school as positively anymore. If universities train people for jobs that won’t exist for long but cost lots, their public face is not going to be attractive.

    We’ve decided that we don’t want to pay for universities, or we don’t like the knowledge they bring. Logical consequences really are a b&^*&.

    1. Electrochemist says:

      All good points. I would add the following theory: When the public thinks about Universities and their part in funding them, for the most part what sticks in their minds isn’t Chemistry departments and start-up spin-off companies. They are exposed to a daily torrent of politicized rhetoric comes from non-science departments (think: Univ. of Missouri, Berkeley). Higher education has done irreparable damage to itself by allowing a minority within its ranks to create a narrative for the taxpayers about what goes on at colleges and universities these days.

      1. luysii says:

        I’d like to think it is a minority narrative, but it isn’t. At Harvard presently there are clubs you can’t join without penalty and things that it is impermissible to say or write. This is not hyperbole — look what happened to the president (Summers) in 2006.

      2. Hap says:

        This article had useful things to say, I think. Universities are supposed to allow nutty things, sometimes – it’s the restraint on other people doing so (or saying anything you don’t like) that’s the problem.

        Part of the politicization is that at least a chunk of politics is opposition to universities and the knowledge they produce – that tends to mean that people that work at universities are self-selected for opposition to that view and to the people who hold it.

        1. Curt F. says:

          …People that work at universities are self-selected for opposition to that view and to the people who hold it.

          I think you have cause and effect backwards here. College faculty and staff have always been left-leaning, but in the last thirty years, this bias has been amplified tremendously. Academics as a group are now among the most politically slanted occupations in the US. The public will to fund state schools has evaporated only recently, well after the leftward lurch of our campuses.

          It’s true that science and engineering faculty have _not_ really been a part of this polarization. But the public doesn’t see nuances like that. They simply see that their state school is increasingly staffed and led by government employees (the faculty) that hold increasingly foreign ideals and values. Support for the school as a whole is weakened and R&D spending is unfortunately caught in the crossfire.

          1. Hap says:

            No…public school funding has been going away for a pretty long time (at least twenty years). See this. I don’t think the polarization of colleges in fact predates decreases in public funding.

            Also, we’ve gotten more polarized, so things that people might have tolerated or sloughed off are reasons for longer-term anger. Even if colleges had stayed at the same relative position on the political spectrum, they likely would have been less well tolerated.

          2. Greg says:

            Actually closer to forty years once you go into the social sciences. When I was at Maryland for undergrad in the late 1970’s, professors in the Pol. Science, Sociology and History departments had no fear of coming out and saying that students who didn’t agree with their far left viewpoints had two choices – drop the course or fail it.

  5. Flyover country says:

    Disclaimer – I went to University of Minnesota for chemistry graduate school.

    This trend will only accelerate in the future. In older days, say – the 1970’s, there was more parity in chemistry. Funding was easier to get and students from second & third tier graduate schools might not become professors at R1 universities, but they were likely to find a industry job somewhere – even without a postdoc. With the contraction of pharma in the United States, one essentially needs a PhD/postdoc from an top-tier, elite institution to find an industry job, let alone even consider a tenure track job. When funding at second and third tier universities dries up, the New York Yankees (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Scripps) of the academic world can use their deep pockets to poach away the top tier professors. Top tier professors will want groups the size of Phil Baran or Barry Trost – they don’t want to be limited to 3-10 graduate students at a Midwestern university.

    Assume for a moment that academic funding was stable or even growing to support Midwestern schools. Disregard being a tenure-track professor at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern, or University of Kansas (if you’re an assistant TT professor there, you came from Harvard/Stanford/Scripps). Where are you going to work? Pfizer destroyed the pharma employment scene in the Midwest. Essentially all that remains is Eli Lilly in Indy & AbbVie in Chicago. Eli Lilly isn’t doing too well & while AbbVie isn’t tanking – it can’t absorb all of the chemistry grads in the Midwest. The top tier & even the second & third tier students will flee for the coasts because that is where the jobs are and the best schools. There are some places to work in the Midwest for chemists, but not nearly as many as the coasts.

    The Midwest (sadly) is a second tier place for chemists work and go to graduate school in chemistry. This just exacerbates & accelerates the trend.

    1. Hap says:

      Once you stop knowing people who are chemists (or scientists), it’s going to be harder to understand what they do and why it’s important, let alone have empathy for them or even to see the point of what they do. (Our political problems probably stem in part from this.) Since companies have mostly stopped being part of the community (Glass House) then it’s hard for people in the places they used to be to to understand why they should care. It’s also harder for politicians to care if there aren’t jobs or votes in it for them.

    2. NJBiologist says:

      I think the focus on funding is dead on. Over here in biology, we’ve been watching the percentage of NIH dollars going to SF and Boston rising pretty much without interruption. Even without cutbacks, the Midwest is getting hosed.

    3. sendthescabsbackhome says:

      “one essentially needs a PhD/postdoc from an top-tier, elite institution to find an industry job”

      NOT TRUE!!
      Anyone that “works in industry” knows how many clowns with degrees from China and India, from god knows what University, work in US pharma.

      1. Adamantane says:

        sigh, too true…

        As a U.S. citizen who got his PhD in chemistry in a (decent, but not top) U.S. university/chemistry department, and was consistently told by the aforementioned people that I was unqualified to work in pharma, I have to agree with the statement, even if it is slightly xenophobic…

      2. Anon says:

        My experience has been that most of these “clowns” did either their PhDs or postdocs at good universities and with good PIs in the US. The vast majority of Chinese and Indian scientists I have worked with in US pharma are very competent. And I thought ITP commenters knew better than to make ad hominem attacks with racist overtones.

        1. SteveM says:

          “And I thought ITP commenters knew better than to make ad hominem attacks with racist overtones.”

          Ah, the ol’ racist charge to stifle debate. The fundamental question is, should immigration policy allow in workers to displace competent Americans? It has been established time and again that STEM immigration has seriously damaged American citizen technologists often driving them entirely out of their domain of expertise. E.g.,

          theatlantic dot com/education/archive/2014/03/the-myth-of-the-science-and-engineering-shortage/284359/

          spectrum dot

          Since when is common sense “racist”? There is nothing “ad hominem” about the facts.

          Corporate Cronies in bed with the Political Hacks are calling the labor force tune. It’s all over but the crying in the Midwest.

          1. Hap says:

            Except the reason we have the scientific infrastructure we have is because of immigration – just ask the Germans (from whom we got a whole bunch of Nobel Prize winners). That doesn’t excuse the standard practice of selling rosy employment scenarios to college students to get lots of cheap labor, but it seems like a bad response.

            Also, because there are enough people elsewhere to do the work, they can just send the work out instead of calling the people in (or already have been), which will probably get us worse in the end.

          2. anon says:

            Oh, you don’t like being replaced by someone willing to work for less pay than you? Welcome to America, it’s been happening for hundreds of years now. If you are bewildered that this could be happening to you, well maybe you just aren’t very bright.

            If your response is to try to change the system to give yourself an advantage, fine. If your response is to call your replacements “clowns” and to go onto online boards with a name like “sendthescabsbackhome” then you maybe deserve to be ridiculed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up embittered and unemployable.

            You grew up with a golden chalice in hand. Now that something is finally not perfect for your generation you guys you are showing your true colors and electing your inner-selves.

          3. Anon says:

            “Ah, the ol’ racist charge to stifle debate.”

            Someone with the username “sendthescabsbackhome” calling foreigners “clowns”: not xenophobic at all, right? And you conveniently talk about how STEM immigration has made it harder for American-born workers to find jobs while ignoring the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest educational attainment among all ethnic groups and are contributing massively to this country’s economy by starting companies and working at others. In addition as some of the other commenters pointed out, the people in this country have always had to compete with immigrants (you think poor Irish or Greek immigrants didn’t undercut wages?)

            You can have a reasonable debate about limits on immigration, but the above commenter’s comment about how Chinese or Indian workers educated in the US are less qualified was both inaccurate and xenophobic.

        2. anon says:

          They’ve been emboldened over the last couple years. No mystery why.

          1. SteveM says:

            About Eli Lilly and the Midwest, former Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter was calling for massive H-1B immigration even while Lilly was laying off thousands of STEM workers:

            abcnews dot go dot com/Business/drugmaker-eli-lilly-reorganize-cut-5500-jobs/story?id=8569627

            ibj dot com/articles/27905-lilly-ceo-immigration-tax-laws-slow-innovation

            See, the problem is that American PhDs are just too stupid…

          2. NMH says:

            The difference in view with immigration I think depends whether you have to compete with immigrants for a job. I cannot help but noting that tenured professors (and I presume industry people with solid jobs) tend to be accepting of immigration — it will bring in the best from around the world, and it wont hurt them if this happens. In fact, having more talent to choose from will help them.

            In my position where I do not have a good job and must compete directly with these immigrants, competing with the best from around the world really sucks.

            Then in my department we have inactive tenured faculty at retirement age (or beyond) who are removed from that competition entirely–my bet is they probably don’t have a problem with immigration. Must be nice to be a fat, overfed finch on some Galapagos Island where you don’t have to worry about predation.

  6. Curious Wavefunction says:

    Between the decimation of funding for large public research universities and an increasing number of Americans saying that college doesn’t seem like it’s worth the cost anymore, this country’s truly walking on the precipice.

    1. MTK says:


      The value of basic research as an economic driver and as a foundation for competitiveness is huge.

      Part of the problem as Hap noted may be that the general public does not see or appreciate the value of the research university. I would add that there is also a real streak of anti-elitism presently within America and nothing is considered more elitist than academicians. In a political environment where populism rules increasing funding for universities or for research doesn’t win you many votes.

      1. Rhenium says:

        Also the persistent and permissive anti-intellectualism of America as well, particularly on the right…

        1. always Relevant says:

          “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” -Isaac Asimov

      2. Humulonimbus says:

        The funding problem is much older than the most recent streak of anti-intellectual populism (even older than the 2013 budget sequestration). That said, we are in agreement that for science in the US, the political climate is dire.

        I would go further and say it’s up to scientists to change it, or else we will watch American science slowly unravel. If voters don’t recognize the value of basic research, it’s partly on us for not communicating it well enough. In my humble opinion, #scicomm is undervalued in the scientific community. I say this not to point fingers, but to offer it up as something within our power to improve.

  7. DCRogers says:

    The fall of public universities is also connected to the rise of student debt.

    I was likely the last generation to have taken advantage of the University of California when it was still (nominally) “free” for all residents, from a time where the state was growing fast, and felt it needed to generate a highly-educated workforce, a process that worked pretty well, for both me and the state . I got out debt-free, and later started a business here.

    A bill to stop student loan fraud by eliminating bankruptcy opened the floodgates, and state legislatures took notice, throttling support for universities, expecting them to make it up by raising tuition/fees at double-digit rates every year, passing the costs onto students.

    That works, until it doesn’t. Now legislatures have been trained to see public universities as a cost rather than a benefit to the state, students are maxed with debt and can’t pay more, and those who struggle through are so financially busted they have to find the highest-paying job at once, often elsewhere.

    I’ll always be grateful to California for what it did for me at its universities, but think the old deal worked out for them, too, in the longer term. The new deal offered to student stinks, and it’s no wonder it’s working out worse, for everyone.

  8. Emjeff says:

    No one else has said it, so I will. All of these problems can be traced to the loss of our chemical industrial base. If we had a thriving chemistry industry in the US, do you think we’d be talking about this? Of course not. The same applies to Pharma. We need to make it worthwhile for companies to bring back these jobs back to the US; we’re competing with China , India, and the EU now.

    1. anon says:

      This has nothing to do with jobs lost to China or India. The companies in the US refuse to invest in fundamental research and R&D. And it is not their fault. The investors (you) don’t want it. They want quick bucks.

      1. greasypocket says:

        What a stupid and/or ill-informed reply, anon. Emjeff makes the point that the chemical industrial/manufacturing sector of the US has been largely moved to China and India. We are seeing an increasing amount of bread-and-butter lab work being shipped overseas to foreign CROs – and guess what, anon – that means the fresh outta college grads aren’t going to get a job. Secondly, you’re point about the US refusing to invest in fundamental research is ridiculous. Thirdly, what the heck do you know about investing and why do you regard it with such frothing at the mouth disdain? Take your socialist troll tendencies somewhere else.

        1. Hap says:

          Except what have the “activist investors” been asking for (and getting)? At DuPont, pretty much the gutting of R+D, and I don’t think they’re alone. Even where R+D is intact, it is mostly focused on development and research likely to lead to products in the short term.

          The presence of low cost options elsewhere enabled companies to send their work overseas and out of company (in-country outsourcing), but that could have been a feature, not a bug. (you want to spend your efforts where they can yield the most for your company, or where economies of scale or large investments make it better for someone else to do it). However, there isn’t a good reason to send your core business interests out of country unless you don’t believe that your company has a future, and want to get what you can now. If that’s what you believe (or what you act like you believe), why invest in R+D?

          Employee training has also been substantially reduced over time = partly because of mobility (much of it employer-generated) but also because employees and their experience are not treated as assets, but costs, and expendable ones. Given these examples, the reduced long-term investment of US corporations doesn’t seem like a socialist fairy tale.

          The problem is that to keep those jobs here means either charging companies lower taxes or lowering wages to be competitive. The latter is probably impossible; the former is possible, but problematic – at some point, the infrastructure that people depend on to make those jobs generate more money here than elsewhere (education, roads, etc.) depends on a lot of things funded by government and taxes. If they don’t come from businesses, then they have to come from individuals.

          1. Free Radical says:

            How about extending patent lifetimes / related enhancements tied to jobs?

        2. anon says:

          You should have bought American made cars, phones and clothes. Too late.

        3. Thomas McEntee says:

          The party isn’t over yet…but jobs for grads is a major issue. For all the incessant talk of the decline of the US as a R&D powerhouse, when examined on the basis of per-capita research productivity, the US very likely still leads the world. Using the Elsevier Scopus database, I looked at the research output of China, India, Iran, the Russian Federation, and the United States for (a)1992 through mid-October 2017 and (b) for 2013 through 2017 to-date. In terms of Publications per year per one million of 2017 population, the (a)/(b) values are : China 139/320; India 40/100; Iran 208/540; Russia 265/420; and the US 1410/1870. Clearly, the per-capita output of non-US countries is increasing. These values account for all Scopus subject areas, including Chemistry.

    2. Some idiot says:

      Another (often overlooked or invisible) point in this area (and I am rigorously steering away from social questions) is the very negative effect of decoupling between R&D and production. As a process chemist, I am acutely aware of the need to be closely in touch with my colleagues in production. The problems and odd things that crop are there are extremely important, not only to keep the production going, but because they open a window to previously unrecognised mechanistic and/or practical issues that can give rise to improvements and further innovation (also often ending up with applications far from the original process). When production is outsourced, that critical connection gets amputated, and I have seen the losses that can result from it.

  9. Vader says:

    The U.S. economy is a house of cards at the moment. The big question in the economics community right now seems to be we aren’t already in a period of massive stagflation.

    It seems unlikely that academia isn’t going to feel this.

  10. Magrinho says:

    @Emjeff: no, all these problems cannot be traced back to the loss of a chemical/industrial base. The DuPonts and Dows of the world have always had global aspirations so making and selling chemicals has always been race to the bottom. Globalization has always been an aspiration.

    But what has changed is the notion that education and R&D (in any sector) must add enough value in order to justify NOT outsourcing/gutting. The problem is that assessment of value is increasingly based on balance sheets and it minimizes the importance of public life (universities, infrastructure, public services, quality of life, etc.). Basically, the things that a stable middle class takes for granted.

    You think universities are bad? Have you taken a close look at your local bridge lately? It is almost certainly falling apart. Truly sad.

    1. Hap says:

      Unfortunately, the infrastructure is much of what makes the US deliver worthwhile inventions, so cutting that ability makes it likely that future investment by companies will be less productive (because they were able to take advantage of it before and now are not), which makes further job cuts and infrastructure cuts more likely.

      The cost of being able to play in a mobile economy is the loss of social structures that maintain people through hard times (and are proposed/used as an alternative to government welfare) and helped people to work usefully and meaningfully at other times. I don’t think anyone did the ROI calculation on civil war.

  11. BigSky says:

    I wish more of this information was placed in some kind of context because it really comes down to the 55% of voter-age Americans deciding who to send to DC and what those representatives decide to do with the tax dollars (and borrowing) available. For instance, the Atlantic article cites the 63.7B$ spent on R+D in 2014 (total Federal R+D spending, including public universities). For comparison Congress spent 80.2B$ in that same year just in Afghanistan.
    So it remains a choice and Americans have decided one is more important than the other, the hollowing out of public education in the Midwest (or any other region) is less important than the hollowing out of Afghanistan (or some other region).

  12. Dr. Manhattan says:

    And Boston/Cambridge (as those of us in the area know all too well) is very expensive to live in (particularly housing) and congested with traffic. Public transport is just OK, not great. Oh yeah, and they are bidding on attracting Amazon here, after luring GE out of Connecticut.

    Almost all of the big pharma and biotech is located in Cambridge, whereas the medical community (Harvard Medical School, Brigham & Woman’s, Beth Israel & Dana Farber) is concentrated in the Longwood area of Boston. A 5 mile, 45 minute commute.

  13. dearieme says:

    A few years ago a research student of mine took up a post doc position in a renowned midwestern public university. On arrival he felt a chump: his lab was so ill-equipped that he could scarcely believe it. He now works outside the USA.

  14. Malfitano says:

    I don’t know what you lot are whining about. Post-Brexit, the entire UK university system will be in what I believe you refer to as the dumpster.

  15. CAprof says:

    I was at the Univ. of Illinois a couple of weeks ago. Still strong, but Kelleher is now at Northwestern. The public to private trend is real. I happen to work at Stanford. When I got here in the 1990s, the big labs were just that – big. Trost had 40-45 and Wender has 35+ and Zare bounced around 50. Not any longer, for sure. So, the contraction is being felt everywhere, so be sure. Stanford’s deep pockets do a little bit, but not very much to insulate labs here. The president doesn’t routinely run through the labs showering us with 100-dollar bills. But, those deep pockets do make recruiting easier.

  16. CountryBoy says:

    This trend is quite concerning considering that Widwestern universities are an accessible pathway to which ordinary white working-class Americans, a voting majority, can work their way into the elite ranks. It’s becoming very apparent that quality education is now a luxury for the wealthy few who can afford the Ivy League, and it’s no surprise that anti-elitism has become such a powerful political weapon. Although, I do speak from Australia, but similar issues are starting to be faced here as well.

    1. Luysii says:

      Hopefully Princeton has continued taking smart, non-wealthy kids. One person I interviewed and who got in (30+ years ago) was the daughter of the business manager of a very small western symphony orchestra. Back then they paid for airfare to and fro, and all her books. Nick Cozzarelli (editor of PNAS for 10 years) was the son of an immigrant shoemaker from Jersey City. They claim that nearly 20% of the class of 2021 will be the first member of their family to ever attend college — hardly surprising when you consider that presently 12.5% of the US population was not born in this country.

      1. CountryBoy says:

        I hope so as well because their political opinions would probably carry a lot of weight to most people being drawn to the far right. After all, being afforded opportunity based on ability rather than social class is the very foundation of the American dream. These type of stories helped me through a PhD, despite being brought up in a small town by a single mother on welfare. I relied on a rural university (>1000 km from home), similar to the Midwestern ones, for undergraduate studies, mainly because the cost of living was within my reach. Once my confidence and finances approved, I won a PhD scholarship to Melbourne. So without these stepping-stone universities, I probably wouldn’t have bothered at all.

        1. luysii says:

          Although there were (and are) plenty of bluebloods at Princeton, Samuel Alito, supreme court justice was the son a high school teacher himself an immigrant, and Sonia Sotomayor’s parents were born in Puerto Rico.

  17. Biff says:

    There also are cultural and quality of life issues. I’ve received many offers over the years to work in places like Cambridge and the San Francisco Bay Area, and I have worked at top-tier institutions in New York and elsewhere, but I have no interest in leaving behind the quieter, more suburban lifestyle and relatively sane cost of living that my family and I have enjoyed for the last few years. As I’ve traveled around, I’ve noticed a peculiar cultural myopia that develops in places like Cambridge and San Francisco, e.g. a false belief that good science, quality cultural attractions, and good people are impossible to find elsewhere. Unfortunately, we seem content to accept centralization of science in a few urban centers as inevitable. It’s just not smart.

  18. dearieme says:

    “we seem content to accept centralization of science”: it might lead to the lack of the only sort of diversity that matters – diversity of thinking.

  19. Middle of the road says:

    I trained in one of these universities mentioned and now work in the Midwest. An interesting data point related to declining nih support and brain power in the Midwest: the Chicago area had the 4th most director new innovator awards in the country, only behind Boston, San Fran and NY, ahead of many other areas on the coasts.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Rather than Reply to a few different comments, I’ll put this here.
    1. We discuss the rising costs to develop new drugs. Roughly, the cost of chemistry is about the same but more and better clinical trials to meet higher standards are raising costs tremendously.

    The cost of higher ed is rising faster than inflation and most studies show that the money is not going into adding faculty or raising salaries. The major driver is the increase in ADMINISTRATION. The money isn’t just going away, it is going to OTHER purposes. An emeritus prof said to me, “When I arrived in 19xx, there was the Pres, the VP, and the Provost. Today, we’ve got so many VPs, the Provost’s office has ballooned, …” etc. SOME of that might be mandated by law. You’ve got to have a VP (or a Dean) for Minority Affairs, VP for Title 9, VP for Housing, VP for Dining, VP for Recruitment, VP for Retention, VP for Development, VP for International Students, VP for Employee Relations, VP for Safety and Regulatory Compliance, VP for VPs, … and so on.

    2. Foreign trained students: I generalize, but I often noticed that 1st year grad students from China and Eastern EU would come in with NO DEBT and resumes that read something like: BS XXX University 0000, Researcher, YYY Chemical Company 0000-0003, MA XXX University 0005, and maby a few more research items. They enter a grad program with PhD level experience and book knowledge. Many US educated students (BS and straight to Grad School) cannot compete, get dismayed and even leave the program. The foreign superstars are snapped up by the top Profs who want the best hands ASAP. The foreign superstars have already mastered advanced material and ace the exams and the US educated appear dumber than they are (well, not always).
    3. I was in industry with many (actually, ~50%) foreign co-workers, most of whom followed the curve. Some dumb as rocks in science but masters of working the system to get visas, etc.; some good; the most amazing guy was amazing! BS / MS / work China; PhD Major European program; then, ~7 more years as a post-doc in the same top lab; ~5 years as a post-doc in a major US academic lab; the guy knew everything in the field and was excellent in the lab. But, as you can see, it’s unfair to compare “just hired post-docs” that can’t possibly be compared. (That recent post-doc out of top programs with ~20+ years experience vs the BS/4yrs to PhD/5yrs to Post-Doc/2 yrs guy.)

    3. Some years ago, many colleges did away completely with MERIT based scholarships and replaced them with NEED based scholarships. I think that my alma mater would not allow donors to create a MERIT based scholarship for a while. They might have relaxed that by now. (Hay! Money talks!) Personally, I say BRING BACK MERIT BASED SCHOLARSHIPS (with built-in safety nets and counseling rather then just cut throat termination for a screw-up).

    I forget … is this topic about the Decline of Midwest Universities or something else? If I’ve drifted too far off, sorry.

  21. hn says:

    This is a med chem site, and I’m more on the med chem side myself. It hasn’t been emphasized enough that the Midwest state schools do a huge amount of important research in agriculture, regional environmental, regional geology, entomology, etc. Stanford, Scripps, and Harvard aren’t going to do this kind of unsexy research. We’ll all pay the price from the decline of the Midwest state schools.

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