Monday, 16 January 2012

The Science Brain Drain

I have lost most of my science colleagues with whom I started my scientific journey with to other sectors predominantly business development and banking. Regrettably I have to say I am tempted to join in the trend. So what is the cause of this scientific brain drain?

Personally I love the sciences. I find research exiting and discoveries intriguing. I have worked in research, worked in manufacturing and have experience from both academia and industry. I use to say I could really not see myself doing anything else as science is the only subject that has logic behind its reasoning. It’s neither vague nor abstract but rather presents you with facts and figures. I enjoy my time in the lab. It is almost as if you are in your own kitchen whipping up new recipes. The idea of bench to bedside research fascinates me. There is nothing more rewarding than an experiment finally going to plan or checking your flask in the morning to see a beautiful monolayer or proliferating cells. Regrettably as much as I have enjoyed my time in the lab I can no longer bear grudge against my fellow absconded scientist.

In countries like Ghana from where I originate, basic science and maths forms a key part of early education and most parents wish for their children to pursue subjects in the sciences. At the secondary educational level, students have a choice of three subject areas namely science, business and arts. Following on from these when it comes to university applications, science students carry on with the usual science subjects business student move on to business and accounting degrees and general arts students move on to pursue the likes of human resources, law and politics.

Here in the United Kingdom, parents tend to allow their children make their own choices, expectations are lower and options are vast. Science remains the least favourite choice with subjects in the Arts and vocational courses being more popular. The few who pursue the sciences like myself soon find that pursuing a scientific career is not as clear cut as you expect.

I can understand the reasons for the scientific brain drain in Ghana as most people tend to just go with the flow in the job market and banking and telecommunications are on the boom. I cannot comment on the pathway for engineers or technologist but when it comes to the Biologics there is certainly a need for review into career pathways.

Unlike other courses where you have the option of taking up other recognised certified CPD courses, options in biologics seem limited. The chance to be able to secure funding to work on your own research topic of interest is almost negligible without a PhD or even some post-doctoral experience.  Even then you would need some highly impressive recommendation.  Understandably data from research is very crucial as it has a direct impact on human life and as such there is the need for the person providing this data to be qualified, competent and experienced. I suppose it is the same concept of having to study for at least 5years to qualify to be a registered medic. If I want to trust you with my life I need to be certain you are qualified, competent and experienced enough to handle it. That is just the way the job goes.  

So what happens when you do not wish to sit behind a bench all through your career? Well this is the part no one ever tells you about, the vast scientific options outside the laboratory environment that does not require you to commit to a 3 – 4year PhD program. And hence the reasons for this science brain drain. Not everyone who sets off to pursue a career in science wants to wear a lab coat. The problem is that the choice of subject at university level are mainly tailored to the lab environment that if you wish to branch away into the likes of scientific writing or media or clinical studies and even scientific sales the course content is seen as inappropriate for these sectors. One would think you could then have the option of taking recognised certified CPD courses to enhance these prospects, only there is no such thing. Your best option is to sort something out yourself either through work experience, a top up degree or branching away altogether. Now not everyone can afford top up degrees or post graduate study.  

Now when it comes to these other sectors where we seem to be losing talented scientist to, they recognise and appreciate the analytical and thorough minds of Scientist and are more than happy to poach us. Aside my passion for the biological sciences, I love IT and my interest in technology has been heightened over these last couple of years with all the recent advances in the sector. Still I prefer science over technology which is why I am now in a dilemma as other non-scientific options have come my way and now I have come to understand the reasons why I’ve already lost some of my colleagues to these other more straight forward and lucrative sectors.  

So what have I decided to do? To have the best of both worlds and become a STEM Ambassador/ Science communicator and contribute my quota to curbing the science brain drain. Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths/Medicine....... We are all one family.

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