So you want to be a researcher?

Two days ago, I met a friend of mine by chance at Canteen B. We both are part of Bujang FC, a bunch of Bujang/Single guys who like to play futsal on Saturday morning. I’ve never met him outside the futsal court before. He’s a senior and graduated from Ph.D programme in 2008. He worked in industry for several years and decided to come back to university. Because he thought he can take a deep breath and slow down his pace in university, although it doesn’t turn out as expected.

He told me that nowadays everything looks so different. When he was a Ph.D student, the research world was not as competitive as now. It looked easier and he could foresee something to pursue back then. He could see that he will have a career here. But now, everything becomes tougher. Every research institution is competing to get more research funding. As a consequence, everything will be measured by numbers. Number of publications, number of patents. And every single research must be directed to where the money goes.

Yes, we’re not living in an era where we do research solely for the sake of curiosity and invention. In this interconnected capitalistic world, everything was driven by economic force (just like the case of Moore’s Law related technologies). Yes, innovation is different from invention. And sometimes, this linkage between the spirit of intensifying research and the drive to fulfill the market needs could obscure the very essence of scientific inquiry.

Publish or perish

Even in this rapidly fast-paced internet era, a Nobel Laureate thinks he might not be productive enough to fulfill academic system’s challenge. And the internet itself is both handy and scary at once. We may easily find useful information for our research, but at the same time some people may also get that slightly faster than us, solve the problem we want to solve, and publish a paper in a research we haven’t yet finished. Furthermore, the plagiarism issue becomes more problematic. You know, if we look back to the history of science, sometimes there were more than two groups conducting the equivalent fundamental experiment at about the same time but in different places. And they might also publish or try to patent for the same thing.

Having such a conversation, I wonder how would I take my path in this research world. What I really want to do in the future. Well, I myself haven’t published anything and barely step over to this ocean of research. In my second semester, my supervisor asked me to start writing a paper because I’ve done quite much in my research. But lately, he said that what I’ve done is quite good but, unfortunately is still not good enough to be published in a good journal.

And here, in Singapore, they are really ‘encouraged‘ to publish in top journals. From my discussion with Mas Tegoeh, there is no lazy time for professors, even for a tenured prof. They are measured by their publication, patent, and research grant. Moreover, here a professor must teach the class by themselves. They cannot just leave it to the TAs. Obviously, a very contrast situation can be seen in Indonesia where the lecturer hardly gets fired even if they don’t really teach and conduct research.

And you know what, when I asked my senior what is his plan for the future, he said to me that he wants to go back to Indonesia someday. Jeopardy!

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