2013 - 04/20: Gregory Petsko Speaks on The Future of Science in America

Gregory Petsko Speaks on The Future of Science in America

Authored by: Samantha Olson, Edited by: Vinal Patel

On April 22, 2013, Stony Brook Graduate Career Association hosted the first of a planned series of talks to stimulate conversation on the future of science research among professionals, peers, and those pursuing research careers.

The series will cover the issues of science funding, cost of scientific research, training, economics impact, and policy from the perspectives of economics, demographers, and scientists.

Dr. Gregory Petsko, Professor of Emeritus of Biochemistry and Chemistry at Brandeis University was the first speaker whose concern for the status of current graduate education has propelled him to discuss the many facets that will affect the future for science in America.

Professor Petsko’s research has focused on protein structures and the mechanisms and development of treatments for age-related neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. He has earned worldwide attention for his public lectures on population aging and its implications for human health, and has been a featured TED talk lecturer. His relevance for discussing the future of the science industry is based on the past twelve years of writing for a widely read column on science and society, which is also published in book form.

According to Petsko, “You will probably hear many people talk about alternative careers and what they mean is working in a biotech company, working in a pharmaceutical company, being a science writing, going into public policy, working in an investment bank in a venture capital firm, doing patent law. And those are alternative careers. No they’re not,” Petsko said. “I’m the alternative career. The odds are only about one in seven will end up in an academic career. That is the alternative career.”

Petsko goes on to describe that the majority of PhD and postdoctorate students will end up going into various platforms, whether it be law, pharmaceuticals or business. He said students should be made aware of this resounding fact when they begin their graduate career in order for them to prepare for what’s to come and the career paths a majority of them will end up in.

If students were told the chances and understood the probability of their career path, according to Petsko, they could be more aptly trained to do something else besides academia. The falsified notion that they will most likely work in academia, ultimately stunts them from effectively training for the careers they will most likely have after graduation.

Professor Petsko touched upon certain topics such as the quantity and quality of educating scientists, training approaches, how long a postgraduate education should be in the field of science, career options that aren’t as readily apparent to students and the underground world of post doctorates and why is it that they not a more prominent part of society.

When exploring the statistics and likelihood of careers for PhD and postdoctorate students, Petsko wanted to define what a postdoctorate program is for. He and his team came to the conclusion that it was for advanced training in research. A definition, Petsko explained, is important for students to understand before pursuing such an endeavor.

Science does not apply to normal markets, such as the labor market. The labor market relies on supply and demand. If consumers are projected to purchase 500 items next year, then the company will require the labor, materials and overhead to fulfill the demand. Petsko explains that the National institute for Health (NIH) indirectly controls the supply and demand for science research, differently than the labor market.

Petsko concluded the discussion with a call for action. He asked the young scientists to demand more from themselves and from the universities and programs in order to teach them the skills they need to be successful in the world of science and the culture it is being raised in, such as proper peer review training for academic papers and theses, as well as a quicker and more effective publication process by reading the actual papers to ensure efficacy.

“It is not your fault that it is like this. It’s something we senior scientists have to do. We cannot stand for that,” Petsko “It is robbing young principle investigators of having the career they deserve.”

The Graduate Career Association is dedicated to assisting graduate students in exploring career options both within and outside of academia. The GCA coordinates programs, discussions, mentorship opportunities and informational and interactive seminars to connect leaders, such as Dr. Gregory Petsko, with the future leaders in science and research.