Tuesday is Science podcast day at gym and it was a good day for it. Musing about human behavior was good preparation, intensified by the dearth of teacher taliban and weight bouncers. I was even only slightly distracted by the noxious outpourings of the television sets that almost outnumber people at this time of the morning. As I was warming up and stretching I was exposed to the fascist babble of Reynard News – this is, after all, the old Confederacy where all central government is criminal and excessive.
The babble this interval had to do with the previous (modern) democrat chief executive going to Nawth Korea on a humanitarian mission. The passing thought was this seemed a clear indication of why the former first lady let him off on his sexual antics, after all someone in the administration has to have some faculty for foreign dealings.
But the attractor of the day was in the SCIENCE podcast. Roald Hoffman, the Benjamin Franklin of molecular quantum mechanics, has proposed that graduate students not be funded via teaching or research assistantships but by competitive grants. The big deal here is breaking the bonds of graduate student servitude to the professors who can garner big research grants and need slave labor.
This resonates strongly with me. Back when I was a new graduate student I wanted to do molecular quantum mechanics but the overall impression was that Hoffman’s group had that market cornered and so I ended up having to work on what the professors wanted to work on. This was why I left the campus of the Boneyard after two years. I was tired of working on projects I had little interest in. The system was a sham and a fraud, especially the whole idea of justifying a degree research project.
So rather than do marginally useless materials research, I came to the campus of the Tennessee and found a new hire professor who was at least willing to discuss a project of mutual interest, especially since I worked full time and so he did not have to spend any money on me other than his time. But he did get me to take his car to be repaired; he knew even less about them than I did.
That route doesn’t seem to work any more, not that it worked very often back then, but the academic world has become a lot more centralized and reactionary. Requirements I could talk my way into satisfaction are now matters of years of stress and dread for graduate students. Less education, more training. So Boo Yah for Hoffman. Let’s get some creativity and imagination back into graduate research.