The Modern Science Economy

An economy is generally defined as a system with surpluses and shortages.? This means that things become more expensive, have more value if there are fewer of them and there is a high demand to acquire them.?So when Pentax releases a new camera, like the K10D, and a lot of consumers buy that camera, and then need lenses to go with it – but the production of lenses isn’t enough to meet the demand of consumers, the prices of lenses on the open market (like eBay) will be very high.?

Science is generally not associated with the idea of an economy.? Science is thought of as a collection of financially independent knowledge.? It is the process of discovering new ideas and enabling a better society through the use of those new discoveries.? For this reason, the education of scientists and engineers generally doesn’t focus on economic or financial topics, with the exception of a few required classes here and there.? Certainly, there is little push to integrate economic ideals into the research process.

I visited a Basics in Management course last summer, and it took about five seconds to realize how one dimensional my pervious engineering education at Michigan State University had been.? The need for scientists to be well-rounded interdisciplinary students increases every year.? While connections between different technical areas are focused on such as: computers-biology, mechanical-materials, chemistry-physics, etc-etc, the idea of applying economic principles to the scientific process are generally ignored.

Research scientists are not exempt from the economic laws of society.? Sound management, marketing, and financing strategies are essentially for any research lab.

First off: Management

There’s an implied fallacy that the primary job of an academic professor is to do research and make scientific discoveries.? 20 or 30 years ago this may have been true, but the modern professor is first and foremost a manager. Understanding this concept and running your research lab according to sound management principles is essential to building a successful, sustainable research lab.

Most important: The Research Economy

An economy is a balance of surpluses and shortages, inside there’s competition between rats to win the race.? In the research world there’s a limited amount of available money, which is distributed through a biased, limited number of funding sources.? At any given time many different research labs are applying for the same funding.? The amount of awarded money depends on how well the submitted proposal was marketed.

Profit: The Product of Research

What is the product of a research lab?? Publications and know-how. Ideally the product of a research lab is pure knowledge, but knowledge is essentially useless if not effectively communicated.? How is this done?? Via publication of research results in peer reviewed journals.? Publications determine what the impact of a researcher’s worth is on the global scientific community.? So a basic question the manager of a research should be asking is:

“How can I streamline scientific production and increase profits?”

Profits in this case means the generation of publications and patents, since these are some of the main factors in increasing institutional funding for the coming years.

You could be a research scientist, a photographer, a blogger, a burger flipper, a teacher, a cab driver – whatever you do in life, learning and applying economic principles to your activities will put you in the position of understanding the world and lend more freedom to where you want to go in life.

5 thoughts on “The Modern Science Economy

  1. neoauteur says:

    You’re right. Having basic management and project planning skills are critical in any discipline.

  2. Mark says:

    What I’m learning more and more is that these skills permeate into everything, from work to mountaineering, and getting a good feel for them helps no matter what you do.

  3. Palm Coast says:

    Yup, I completely agree with you. I think the biggest thing people miss out on is proper management.

  4. I agree that the economic impact of science and engineering is important. The purpose of an educational institution normally would go beyond profit. Money is needed to have the institution flourish, but I would hesitate to measure the effectiveness of a professor by the profit contribution they make (that might be one measure of their success but not the sole one).

    For example, lets say that an engineering professor invents a device that can reduce the pollution of coal powered plants by 80%. One strategy could be to maximize the potential profits from this invention. Another might be to maximize the benefit to society. I do not think that if the choice is made to sacrifice profit to benefit society the success of the invention should be seen as lower than if profit were maximized.

    Some more on my thoughts on this idea can be found in:

    http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2006/07/01/the-future-is-engineering/
    http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2006/09/17/engineering-the-future-economy/
    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2005/08/16/purpose-of-an-organization/
    http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2007/02/07/educational-institutions-economic-impact/

    Another example is that if a professor were doing more basic research that then allowed others to create businesses that commercialize these efforts that is valuable. It is even more valuable to the university (and state, country…) if those benefits can be concentrated locally. And in general, this is true (location matters) – you can see the advantages areas with great research universities have for creating businesses related to that research (Silicon Valley, Boston…).

  5. Mark says:

    John,

    I agree with what you’re saying. I think that research labs creating spin-offs for their discoveries is the way to go. It helps separate the drive for business profits from education.

    Ideally the academic institution (colleges, universities) should go beyond profit, and exist as a place to promote learning and discovery for that intrinsic purpose. The fact is that scientific discovery needs funding, which is assigned based on the approval of grant boards, so a relatively small number of people can have a large affect on the type of science which is studied in the US.

    With less funding going to US colleges and universities from the government, those learning institutions have to profitize or monitize their departments to maintain their educational resources. Otherwise they have to raise tuition rates and fewer students are able to attend and earn degrees.

    Now creating spin-off companies from research departments is an ideal solution. It allows a profitable outlet for successful discoveries and boosts the local State economy. To serve this end, I think there needs to be a large integration of business classes in engineering degree programs so scientists are made aware of those opportunities. Silicon Valley is good example of success. On the other hand, there are states like Michigan, with very good universities like Michigan State and University of Michigan, but the overall state economy is in a decline.

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