Money and the Life of a Young Scientist

10 01 2012

The academic scientist’s life is pretty much set from graduating high school. Pick the science, get your Bachelor’s and Master’s, do your PhD and postdoc as fast as possible, and hope you get tenured. Variations exist (taking a break before the PhD or giving up during it are the commonest, and let’s not get started with individual situations), but in my experience, rare are those who get so disillusioned with academia that they give up the dream of having the research freedom that academia offers.

It’s no secret that that’s my dream as well. But I followed a radically different path, partly out of stupidity and impatience, and partly as a personal challenge. Basically, after my BSc., I left university. The reason is simple: I hate studying. I love biology, I love learning new stuff. But the sheer idiocy of the examination and grading systems had left an extremely sour taste in my mouth. I’ve had an inexplicable deficiency since elementary school in that I’m unable to perform on tests, resulting in abysmal scores no matter how much I know about a subject (it’s rare for me to actually get a passing grade in anything). This was an extreme handicap in school, and it was no different in university.However, I did manage to scrape through in uni because 30-80% of the grade (depending on the course) is given to projects, seminars, fieldwork, etc., and on those things I excelled. But on average, my diploma looks like that of a bottom feeder’s.

What was disappointing for me is that the latter typically consume one week’s time at the least. A test takes 1-3 hours, and isn’t even a proxy for intelligence or thinking skills, just of memorisation (hardly a useful skill for a scientist, I’m sure we can all agree). That tests can be seen as more important than research skills just does not compute in my brain. And so I jumped ship as soon as possible, because I simply couldn’t bear the thought of going through that bullshit for another 2 years, and came back to the Motherland of Cyprus.

I am extremely lucky that I have acquaintances and colleagues here, as well as parents. I do not have to worry (yet) about rent or food, and I am a scientific associate at an NGO that gives me the freedom and infrastructural support to pursue my research interests, and I hope that when my research and publications here pick up, I’ll be able to sneak back into the university system with a PhD project and get back on the path to tenure. The one thing I am not given is a salary – that will come with grants and projects, where my own standing has to be limited due to my lowly degree.

My expenses are all research-related. They’re mostly fuel for the field trips, for which I have a fuel-efficient car which gives me 3 trips up the main mountain and back for €40, and all this money is being spent from my life savings and whatever I have left from the deposit returned from my room in Germany. I have trouble collecting insects because I can’t afford equipment beyond an aquarium net and plastic cups (forget any Malaise or light trap!). Whatever insects I do collect are housed extremely badly in recycled jars and bottles (see photo of my desk above, taken with a shitty cell phone camera because I don’t have a real camera), because I can’t afford to get the proper pins and boxes and labels for the professional collection it’s supposed to be. Examination of the specimens is extremely slow, because I do not have a stereoscope easily available to me – the one at the office needs to be reserved ahead of time, making it impractical. And let’s not even mention the mess that is my fossil collection.

In summary, my research is stalled by my lack of money. Working a job is nary impossible. First of all, they don’t exist anymore in this economic climate, especially not for someone as unqualified as me. And I get fired from anyone I do manage to get almost immediately for being an unsociable prick, because apparently, productivity isn’t nearly as important as the ability to fake a smile and pretend you enjoy a boring asshole’s conversation.

So, I started looking into methods of getting money elsewhere. I can’t play a musical instrument, nor can I dance (but I do juggle!), so street entertainment isn’t a good avenue. Then I thought of the blog, but I am against internet advertising because it always misses the target audience by a huge margin, especially for a niche blog like this one (also, advertising is evil for feeding the corporate machine of consumerism. Keep in mind that my father works as a director and producer for TV ads. Heh).

Then I learned about Flattr. It allows you to make a donation directly to my bank account at the click of a button, a button that you’ll find at the bottom of every post with all the sharing buttons.

I only ask of two things: use those other sharing buttons and help this blog gain some popularity. I go to some pains to keep the archive easy to navigate with the Big Posts and Small Posts tabs, so I hope that when new readers arrive, they have stuff to read (and they can look on the side to see the top posts, which will hopefully get them hooked).

And if you have some gold to spare, I do not mind at all if you click the Flattr button and make a microdonation. Every bit will help, even if it’s just €2. Just to add some peer pressure, I would just like to say that I have received in the mail 4 books from readers over the Christmas period.

And since we’re a reciprocally altruistic species, I will offer rewards. I’ve always said that I demand requests so I know what to write about, so that doesn’t count as a reward. So that you know where your money’s going, I am willing to start an open lab notebook on a separate blog, in which I will document my day-to-day research in detail, including any money spent and on what.

I will tell you for sure that the money at first will be saved up to buy two crucial pieces of equipment: a camera and a stereoscope for use at home. With the camera, I will be able to document my frequent field trips, such as the picture above of me hunting flamingos with my net, for your enjoyment. The stereoscope will allow me to examine everything all night, and I can take pictures of everything with the camera (I can even include tutorials on dissection and identification, because the only thing stopping me from doing such things now is lack of suitable pictures).

These are things that need savings of course and will not be bought immediately. Smaller expenses, besides fuel, will include entomological supplies (pins, boxes, preservatives, etc.) and boxes for my fossils (which I can also document in the open lab notebook).

If you can think of other rewards, let me know and I’ll think about them. If you have other ways to get money from the blog that doesn’t require advertising or taking money from people (to be honest, I hate having to resort to this. It’s a cultural thing, I was brought up to never ever accept money from people), I’m all ears.

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One response

9 07 2012
mikron bilişim

Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to create a very good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

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