nuturing motivation

April 13, 2005

in Science

I am currently reading a biography of William Beebe (1877-1962), early American naturalist and prolific author, long associated with the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society) as Tropical Research director. Although he never even finished his undergraduate degree at Columbia, he was carefully mentored by a number of superiors, who recognized that Beebe was an insatiably curious and highly motivated naturalist, as well as a diligent and thorough scientist who could write scholarly papers as well as engaging popular articles. For this, the the Society, the scientific community, and the public were all richly rewarded. He discovered many new species and published over 20 books and countess articles and papers.

It would seem that the era of nuture, encouragement, and support of the nature provided to Beebe are largely extinct today.  Nearly every talented researcher I know is mired in the myriad impedimentia that seem to be hallmarks of science today: endless grant writing, grappling for tenure, pursuing lines of inquiry to satisfy the whims or politics of the organization, publishing papers just to accrue credits rather than for enlightenment (excellent commentary on the latter here).  Many of us are discouraged by the current erosion of scientific integrity and the general byzantine course of our careers.  Most of us don’t seem to work in an atmosphere of respect and cultivation that fosters and motivates us to pursue, develop, and explore our strengths and vision, which could lead to truly relevant and great science.

Are any of us "Beebe caliber"?  I don’t know that we’ll ever find out.


{ 1 comment }

gaw3 April 16, 2005 at 3:36 am

I agree. Science is hard enough as it is, without the institutional demands. It's almost unimaginable to be able to do keep the paperwork going and nurture someone else's talent.

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