Have you read the newspapers recently? If you have somehow avoided them, then you might not know that they are less than cheery about the future. As my vice-chancellor put it in his New Years missive “we are facing a challenging time ahead.”. A better translation in understandable English would be “Did you like money? Well there isn’t any! Good luck with that…”.
But good news – we’re all in trouble together as the financial squeeze is everywhere in science and research, from education to the study of particle chocolatology. Bosses everywhere want more science for less money. Or better yet, very valuable science that makes lots of money – like a hair growth formulae, or a noise cancelling machine that becomes more effective the more fake tan orange the skin colour of the speaker.
Now, one solution to this is obviously to find more money. Which rather obviously is what every scientist is currently trying to do. Sadly, there’s a finite amount of money and a slightly larger finite number of scientists trying to get it. So I have a better idea, but it’s going to involve something that doesn’t come easily to many people – we need to be nice.
More specifically – we need to be nice about helping each other. There are scientists in labs all over the world trying to build mass specs out of cardboard and pipe cleaners in an effort to save money. There are other scientists that have mass specs that are all but unused thanks to staffing cuts, or workload. I knew a company (I won’t name them) who had a brand new NMR sitting in a room unused for years because the person who knew how to use it had left. I know of other labs with equipment they use but so rarely it’s true purpose is a very expensive analytical dust catcher.
I realise that scientists like to compete but maybe, for just a bit, we could actually try helping each other out and solving both problems at once by sharing. I know this flies contrary to the normal competitive scientists outlook but I’m not suggesting that we all hand over our research to competing groups because “we don’t have the time to do this study, can we have yours?”. I’m suggesting that maybe we could just help each other out with services, lending equipment, and maybe even some materials.
So as scientists and lab techs around the country, let’s agree to quietly help each other out by running samples and pooling equipment for the good of actually getting some work done, rather than waiting for a big grant to come in so we can all have identical fancy equipment.
I know this sounds like a utopian dream – and to some extent it is. For a start, there are a whole bunch of inter departmental and company red tape and management politics that makes this about as likely to happen as this article suddenly turning into a pink elephant and doing the polka. I’m pretty sure if I ask management to let me do this even just internally with other people at my institute, I’d be given a list of prices to charge for every pippet tip I was proposing to lend.
But I have a solution to that too… Let’s not tell them.
Management are always happier when they don’t know why things are suddenly going well and being productive.
So, I have lasers, fibre optics, and more chemical coating equipment than you can shake a stick at (it’s in a clean room though, no sticks allowed). If anyone could use any of that then get in touch (or tweet #scienceshare). I hope you will all try reaching out and offering to help in any way you can. Because helping each other is going to get science done. And at the end of the day, I want to do science, not manage “challenging” financials.