Monday, October 26, 2020

Interesting Opinion Piece at The Chronicle

On my Facebook feed I saw an interesting opinion piece published on The Chronicle by André da Loba titled, "Is Deep Thinking Incompatible With an Academic Career?"  As a computer science researcher who is interested in long-term, speculative research projects, and also as a person who, like the author, grew up in a low-income family and was considered a "gifted student," this article resonates with me, and I recommend reading it.

Our economy promotes short-term gains and not long-term initiatives; I blame over 30 years of artificially-low interest rates for this. This short-term thinking has affected not only industry, but also academia.  The heyday of 1970s-era Bell Labs and Xerox PARC with their focus on inventing the future, which requires long-term, risky research, has long ended; it's all about getting something shipped next quarter. Academia is not much better with its grant cycle and its "publish or perish" demands.  I believe one of the biggest problems in modern American society is its structural disregard for the future. Instead of saving and planning for the future, we collectively spend and live like there's no tomorrow. But what happens when tomorrow comes? From the standpoint of research, where will tomorrow's inventions come from if there's so much emphasis on next quarter's earnings or the next performance review cycle?

Alas, we need to pay our bills, and so we adapt and make do. But I'm starting to think that there needs to be an "alt-economy" for researchers, scholars, and creators who want to create, build, and pursue scientific discovery without the pressures of modern industry and modern academia.  I'm always contemplating my career, and I'm considering pursuing this vision when it is time for me to make my next career move.

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