I got out of academia because of something that happened at Babies R’ Us. My wife was expecting, and I was still a RA. I was looking around for baby decorations and cribs and other things, and I realized that I couldn’t afford any of the stuff on a RA salary or a post-doc salary. It’s hard to describe the awful, humilating feeling being in a large room full of decorations and baby things, and to realize that other people can give that stuff to their babies, but you can’t.
I got back in because of something that happened in Room 26-100 at MIT a few months ago at the reunion. The physics department had set up a bunch of physics demonstrations, and my kids were just loving it. There is the pendulum that demonstrates potential and kinetic energies, and I was able to use them to use that to teach my six and eight year-olds some basic facts about phase diagrams and resonance. When I was going through that, I was thinking to myself, you know, I’d make a damn good physics professor if someone just gave me the chance. I was also thinking to myself, maybe my kids are a little too excited about MIT. They think of it as some fun cool playground (which it is). I didn’t quite have the heart to tell them about the bullsh*t undergraduate admissions process which elite universities use to separate the worthy from the unworthy.
I had the same bad feeling when I did the video at wikimania for the MIT Media Lab and MacArthur Foundation. When you start me talking about science, I start getting very animated, but in the back of my mind, I feel a little disgusted with myself. Actually more than a little disgusted. I’m getting people interested in science and then submitting themselves to an inhumane and terrible system that will brutalize and abuse them, that turn their idealism into bitterness and worst of all will make them think that its their damn fault.
I mean, we have this really, really, really stupid stuff like the NSF report on the future of science in America. I am utterly amazed at how the brightest minds in the science and engineering can come up with just total stupid garbage. It’s because the people writing the report are the “winners” of the system and there is no way for us “losers” to say anything useful. People are trying to get more and more kids interested in science and engineering while ignoring the fact that there are no science and engineering jobs at the back end.
This is just disgusting, and the more one thinks about it (which no one with an NSF grant has) the more disgusting it is.
The people on the NSF panel are some nice people, but their institutional interest is to get more funding for science and technology for universities. If this results in a massive overproduction of scientists and engineers, they don’t see it as their problem, and they certainly aren’t thinking of the human costs of getting kids interested in science and engineering.
You are getting kids interested in a field, and having them enter a brutal process designed to weed them out. What the HELL is all of this about? I’ve seem just too many bright and idealistic high school seniors at University of Texas who want to be physicists and engineers that then go into those stupid undergraduate weed-out classes (which I should point out that MIT does not have), which leaves them bitter and brutalized.
OK, that’s merely anger. What is turning this into total rage is this…….
If I don’t do something to change the system, my kids are going to go through it.