Author: Cliff Mintz
The “publish or perish” principle of academia is certainly not a new one and is likely as old as scientific research itself. And, while persons who choose scientific research as a career are often motivated by curiosity and the desire to improve the human condition, they soon find out that academic research is highly competitive and oftentimes dominated by overly ambitious and egocentric individuals. I’m sure that most of you have been told that in order to excel your research must be published in the highest impact journal possible. This, coupled with diminishing research funding can place enormous pressure on individual researchers to gain a competitive edge via less than ethical (and possibly illegal) behavior.
To that point, there was an article in the NY Times that described a postdoc who intentionally sabotaged the efforts of a rising star in a cancer research laboratory at the University of Michigan. While this is only one incident, I do not think that it is the only example of intentional sabotage taking place in academic research laboratories. In fact, this recent incident brings to mind a candid discussion that I had with a prominent academic researcher many years ago. He confided to me and a colleague that he intentionally sabotaged a fellow postdoc’s work because he did not like his competitor and did not want him to get recognition for a discovery (BTW, this discovery led to a patent that made the researcher a very wealthy person).
There is no doubt that in present times, working in an academic lab can feel like working in a pressure cooker that is about to explode. That said, it is important to realize that you are not alone and that learning coping skills can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety about future career opportunities and employment. However, there is never an instance, when cheating, fabricating data or intentionally sabotaging a competitor’s experiments is acceptable. In fact, any researcher who behaves in this manner ought to be called out, censored and disciplined for their actions.
If the pressurized academic rat race is not for you, there are plenty of jobs available at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies for qualified candidates. Unlike academia, there is no publish or perish pressure, working hours are much more regular and the salaries are usually very generous. While in the past the transition from academia to industry was a fraught process, the emergence of translational medicine coupled with advanced genomics technology has made the process a lot more navigable for academicians who want out! Further, the availability of online courses and certificate programs that offer training in the so-called “soft skills” which can make the transition from academia to industry much easier.
We are living in uncertain times in which hypocrisy, lies and alternate facts are acceptable to large numbers of people. As scientists, we are responsible for facts and “the truth.” Any deviation from this obligation is unacceptable. In the end, people always look to scientists and researchers for answers, solutions and hints of the truth. It is important that we do not succumb to today’s economic and political pressures and continue to be the purveyors of facts and “the truth.”