Thursday, 17 June 2010

Not in the job description

I've been trying to figure out what I want to write about today that doesn't depress me so much it makes me want to hide under a blanket on my couch and never come out. Gulf Oil Spill? It's bad, getting worse. The Unimak caribou situation has turned into a political fight by both sides. I could comment on how I like the rain for putting out so many of the fires (I can breath!), but I'd be just stating the obvious.

Part of my lack of inspiration has come from the fact that usually, I have at least a little time to read over new papers and try to chew over them. But the last month I've been so busy with clearing out two research projects in advance of the fiscal year. "In advance of thewhowhatnow?" you might ask. That's about my reaction to it too. What's a fiscal year, and why the heck do they end at the end of June? And why do I have to clear out several grants before then?

Here's what they don't tell you in college: They spend all this time stuffing your head with bits of science and technique, and even bits of art and history on the side (since every degree has some general education requirements). Most people leave their undergrad with this feeling that at all you need to be a good scientist is the ability to do good science. This is a lie; it is a sin of omission. What you need is not the ability to do science, but to be an Accountant. In fact, the best academic scientist in the world must, by my reasoning, be a great accountant because so much of our time is lost in mindless accountancy. Balancing budgets, tracking cash flow, coding things to account, submitting logs with attached invoices, applying for new money, negotiating overhead, budget related expenditures, and god forbid if you're going to travel. I hope you kept your receipts from sneezing.

It's maddening. Pure madness. It's like you spend 50% of the time begging for money, 50% accounting for the money they gave you, and less than 0.1% of the time making science go forward. I exaggerate a little for effect, but there's a kernel of truth there.

And in all of the learning we do at university, not one day of our science courses is given to how to do any of this stuff. I envy the naturalists in the 1600s, where they were either people with life-long sponsors, or they were nobility. No reporting agencies, no paper trails. All you had to do was avoid getting strung up by angry peasants.

2 comments:

Katie said...

I'd argue all real-world jobs operating within the capitalist environment have a higher degree of management/accountancy/economics than college courses lead students to believe. Nothing happens in the world with out a budget (time, $$, etc.)

Sarah said...

Hmm...I can give lessons at our next family Christmas. That'll be my gift to everyone. Woo! Accounting!