The slow strangling of marine science careers, as the Government Shutdown drags on

This isn’t the type of humor we’re used to at DSN – the news these past few weeks has been some new brand of twisted farce. If you haven’t been following the impacts of the Government Shutdownpalooza, let me tell you a little bit about the devastating impact it’s been having on marine science.

My heart aches deeper and deeper with each new horror story I hear from scientists affected by shutdown. Especially in Antarctica.

The research season in Antarctica typically starts around now, when things warm up enough to be merely frigid and scientists from around the world flock far south to conduct studies that affect our understanding of climate change, volcanoes, the family life of Weddell seals and much more. But with the United States government partly shut down, federally financed research has come to a halt for Dr. Levy [Jospeh Levy, researcher at UT Austin] and hundreds of other Americans. Even if a budget deal is struck, these scientists will have less time on the ice, and some will lose a full year’s worth of work as the narrow window of productive time closes….the effects will be felt beyond the inconvenience of a single summer…gaps in the record may damage data sets built on decades of work. “It’s tragic.” (via New York Times article)

You can read countless other stories online: Dawn Sumner at UC Davis (one of our lab’s close collaborators), James Collins at Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute – the list just keeps going on…and on and on and on.

And the impacts are particularly devastating for young scientists. The postdocs whose job prospects will depend on their Antarctic data. The new Assistant Professors whose tenure decisions will hinge on the success of their newly funded NSF projects. The undergrads and graduate students who can’t even bloody submit their research proposals (grant submission website are shut down as well!). I was visiting Gretchen Hofman at UC Santa Barbara last Friday while she was frantically arranging an NPR interview on this critical topic (the Antarctic program was cancelled while one of her postdocs, Amanda Kelley, was on the plane to McMurdo. Amanda only found out the news when her plane landed):

…one of the casualties, one of the things that we stand to lose right now is important productivity for junior scientists, people who are just starting their careers…I think one of the examples I can think of is someone at the University of Alabama. Her name is Samantha Hansen. I know this really well ’cause last season I was there. Samantha – Sam – and I were roommates in our science dorm. Sam’s a geologist and she deployed these very interesting, complex remote sensing instruments out in the Antarctic mountains. She’s interested in studying the processes that, you know, sort of essentially shape our planet and make mountains. And Sam’s instruments right now have data that’s really important to her, important to the science world. And if we can’t go get them, the data will be lost, the instruments could be buried in snow and it’ll be a complete loss for this charismatic young scientist. (Transcript from NPR)

What can we do about all this? I’m still struggling to figure this out, but I’m definitely angry and frustrated. I signed this petition at “Don’t Stop the Science! Congress: Shutdown Exemption for the United States Antarctic Program” started by Richard Jeong who works as a contractor at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I’m also going to write to my senator and representatives, and I urge everyone who loves marine science to do the same.

Doing science is hard enough. Getting grants funded is an even tougher game. But to have your funded research cancelled at the last minute (ruining observation data, or losing expensive instruments)? That shit cray. In a very sick way.

6 Replies to “The slow strangling of marine science careers, as the Government Shutdown drags on”

  1. The US government shut down isn’t just affecting American scientists either. I’m a postgrad student in the UK, and whilst I understand that mine and my classmates issues are much more trivial, we are being directly affected. Having to write assignments is increasingly difficult when you cannot access data and research articles that are held in the US. The number of US gov funded websites I’ve tried to get onto to access data only to be notified that is is currently unavailable, is crazy.
    I really hope the government sort themselves out too. For the sake of science it needs to be up and running ASAP.
    The research that is going on in Antarctica is fundamental to so many sectors of science, and in reality not collecting this years data is just not acceptable.

  2. What about starting a crowdsourcing fund to at least get the basic research mechanisms working again?

  3. This shutdown keeps getting better and better (typing this sarcastically). You are right, it’s hard enough to get funding and publish articles, but now the government takes away a field season that is not easy to sample in! That’s BS. It just goes to show how much of a cluster f**k this shutdown is. People don’t realize how important data from a field season can be, especially if the project has a restricted number of field seasons due to low funding. The Antarctic is a critical place of scientific knowledge, but we won’t be able to get that knowledge if we can’t get there!

Comments are closed.