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Funds For Academics

November 8, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 45

Allen J. Bard got it right in spades in his guest editorial, “It’s Not the Money, Stupid!” as he so effectively described the current “money driven” culture of academic research (C&EN, Oct. 11, page 3). Academics who year in and year out successfully raise significant research funding generally do so at the expense of significantly reducing their direct involvement in the research, in the supervision of graduate students conducting the research, and teaching in and outside the classroom. As a result, they function more as research managers and less as traditional professors.

An issue not raised in Bard’s editorial, and one that I seek feedback on from him and others, is whether or not the current money-driven academic research culture is actually more efficient. By more efficient I mean, per dollar of research funding, are the numbers of graduate students who obtain M.S. and Ph.D. degrees and the numbers of peer-reviewed publications produced (the products of research) greater or less than those produced by research directed by faculty using more modest amounts of funding? Over my 20-year academic career, personal observations strongly suggest to me that money-driven/big academic research is in fact less efficient.

I will value hearing the experiences and opinions of my fellow chemists and C&EN readers on this topic important to all of us.

Alan E. Tonelli
Cary, N.C.

I’m surprised that Bard believes there are “problems with attracting good young people to careers in academic science.” My understanding is that there are hundreds of qualified applicants for every new tenure-track position at U.S. universities. Could Bard clarify exactly what kind of problems he is experiencing? As far as I can tell, the only problem is that 90% of people who want to be professors will never be given the opportunity.

Sean O’Brien



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