Give me your insights into help advance science
October 29, 2009 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Science! How can I use my excessive tech / management / leadership background to enable science (while still getting paid a living wage)?

I'm 15 years in to a wonderful software career. I've done it all: financial systems, enterprise systems, large-scale public-facing systems, open-source. Lately I've been developing knowledge management / learning management systems. Within a dev team, I'm usually the 'architect', though I still do serious coding.

I did it all for the money. Broke, debt-stricken, I gave up a potentially glorious science career (right!), so that I could make it rich in the gold rush of software. I never made it rich though I've done well.

Now, I'm in my late 30s. Financially stable, no debt, great salary, interesting work. But, the ticking of time is haunting me. I want to do something seriously great before I die. I don't want to do it personally, but I want to be part of something bigger. I want to see such technological and scientific advancements that my hair shall rise.

Science is something I've always loved. Obviously, it wouldn't make sense for me to throw away all of my experiences and start afresh in a science Phd program. Plus, I work with lots of academics, and it's really an annoying bunch. Of the groups of academics I work with I will crudely summarize and generalize:
20% independently wealthy with nothing better to do,
20% did it for status and love of strings of acronyms behind their name,
20% ego-driven and interested in pursuing their ideas at all costs,
20% wanted an easy tenured lecturer role and ended up a paper pusher,
20% purely passionate, research-driven, but overworked and burdened with the other 80% of their peers.

So, obviously I want to help that last 20%. How would I do this? I'm thinking that there have got to be social/cultural/technological/financial impediments to their work.

So here's my question: What are the software / social systems that are missing today that would greatly help the pure researchers do the work that they've dedicated their life and energy to?

It doesn't necessarily have to be software systems. It could be people systems (e.g. new academic structures), financial systems, etc.

Let me know your thoughts.
posted by TheOtherSide to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No definitive answers for you, I'm afraid, but here are a couple of ideas that might trigger some discussion or better suggestions:

1. Funding for research, especially pure research with no obvious practical applications, is always tight. Can you think of any way to help procure money?

2. Social engineering (for lack of a better term) could be really helpful. Think of all the anti-science nonsense, like anti-vaxism etc, that's gotten traction recently. Can you think of a way to counter this? What makes a meme "sticky" and can you initiate rational pro-science memes that stick?

This sounds like a noble endeavor and I wish you the best of luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:48 AM on October 29, 2009

I wouldn't want to work with you if you think that 80% of my peers are what you say they are.

Ignoring that attitude though and just naming examples I know of in astronomy, NOAO and NRAO (national optical and radio observatories) are quite frequently looking for programmers/project manager types. It's not glorified, but good software from them can be a tremendous benefit to the astronomy community. Almost all astronomers are programmers too though, so though people will value your work, look elsewhere if you want to be treated like god's gift to the field. The same is true in most of physics. You probably won't be paid as well as you are now, either. The national labs (Fermi, Los Alamos, Lawrence-Berkeley, Sandia, etc) are more places to look, but I don't know anything specific.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2009

One important detail: what kind of science background do you have?
posted by Mercaptan at 10:05 AM on October 30, 2009

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