On this bright and clear mid-January day it’s practically a spring thaw with temperatures already in the mid 20’s—a positive sign during a usually cold Midwestern spell. I know I’ll enjoy being outside later today, if for no other reason than celebrating a friend’s winter admonition “A sunny day is a good day”. Just as a cold wind can be a sobering moment, the days are longer and spring is just around the corner.
Yes, there are sobering trends for science professionals this season also. On a national level the confirmed appointments and failed nominations for top federal science and technology positions are falling further behind historical trends 1. The proposed appointment of the most senior scientist position of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics division to a person without ANY experience in science ended with his voluntary withdrawal for consideration after thousands of negative complaints erupted. The network of science advisory boards for EPA and the Dept. of the Interior have seen substantial changes in the continuity of board members with many board members terminated rather than the more customary renewal process. In ‘Interior’ the newly appointed director has frozen the appointment process of 38 resource advisory panels pending an internal review. I’d like to hear from any of our members or colleagues who may have had direct experience with these changes—i.e. you are no longer involved in a panel advisory panel. In case you are interested in keeping up with such details you will find updates here: https://ourpublicservice.org
In the private sector several mergers of major biotechnology companies have either been approved or are in the approval process—notably Dupont-Pioneer and Dow, and Bayer and Monsanto. The public press releases mention a new term called “synergy savings” which translates as severe technical staff reductions. These staff reductions across our industry are in the hundreds if not thousands while the synergy savings are listed in glowing prose, which describe reduced costs in billions of dollars. However, I should note as part of the one such agreement, BASF has committed to maintain all permanent positions, under similar conditions, for at least three years after closing of the transaction.2
Despite the frigid statistics chronicled above, a reasoned consideration for the future is indeed brighter. My own experience working over thirty years for Pioneer, then Pioneer-Dupont included at least a dozen major cycles in agricultural boom and bust with their corresponding episodic changes in funding. In retrospect, these changes spanning a career were hidden opportunites to take on new and different challenges, work with different individuals internally and externally, and importantly to use SIVB as a way to maintain my professional equilibrium. I’d hasten to note that this does not lessen the profound angst, disruption, and uncertainty that many of our colleagues are now enduring!
Our society more than all the others with which I’m familiar offers the venues to continue to enjoy hearing about the newest advances in our scientifc repetiore and to query the best with our questions and concerns at length. We take pride in being accessible to our students, grad students, and postdocs because their enthusiasm is infectious and contagious and we are interested and confident about their future careers. And though it’s winter now, our sunny days assure us that our annual meeting is just around the corner.
1Washingon Post, January 16, 2018
President, Society for In Vitro Biology