출처 : http://newspeppermint.com/2013/09/23/epfl/
원문 : http://crypto.junod.info/2013/09/09/an-aspiring-scientists-frustration-with-modern-day-academia-a-resignation/
내가 박사과정을 그만두는 가장 큰 이유는, 더 이상 나는 학계가 우리 사회에 긍정적인 효과를 주고 있다고 믿을 수 없게 되었기 때문입니다. 오늘날의 학계는 차라리 거대한 지원금을 집어 삼키면서 무의미한 결과들만을 양산하는 진공청소기에 가깝습니다. 그리고 이 시스템은 학문의 진전보다 자신의 이력만을 신경쓰는 사람들에 의해 주도되고 있습니다.
아래에 구체적인 학계의 문제점을 지적하기에 앞서, 나는 두 가지를 먼저 분명히 하고 싶습니다. 여기서 내가 말하는 모든 것들은 내가 직접 경험하지는 않았지만, 세계 여러 곳의 학문적 동료들과의 대화를 통해 내가 느낀 점들입니다. 또 이 글을 읽는 모든 사람이 내가 말하는 문제점을 가지고 있다는 것은 아닙니다. 나는 이 글을 통해 특정한 누군가를 비난하려는 것이 아니라, 오늘날의 학계는 더 이상 제어 불가능한 상태로 빠져들었다는 것을 말하려고 합니다.
나는 오늘날 얼마나 많은 학생들이 실제로 무언가를 ‘배우고’ 학문에 어떤 기여를 하겠다는 목적을 가지고 대학원에 진학하는지 알 수 없습니다. 적어도 나는 그랬습니다. 만약 당신도 그렇다면, 내가 아래에 기술한 좌절들에 어느 정도는 동의할 수 있을 것입니다.
중요한 것은 더 이상 과학이 아닙니다. 비즈니스입니다: 우리는 어린 시절부터 학문의 목적은 우리를 둘러싼 우주를 이해하고, 진실을 찾으며, 이를 통해 더 나은 미래를 만드는 것이라고 배워왔습니다. 나는 이 진실을 찾는 데 있어 가장 중요한 것은 단호한 정직이라고 생각합니다. 그러나 여러분이 학계에 들어와 가장 처음 배우는 것은 ‘너무 정직함’이 곧 ‘너무 솔직함’으로도 불리며 여러분의 단점으로 생각된다는 사실입니다. 또 자신의 연구를 ‘광고’해야 하고, 자신의 이미지를 관리해야 하며, 단어의 선택에 있어서도 전략을 생각해야 한다는 것을 배웁니다. 사람들은 연구의 내용보다는 화려한 발표에 신경을 쓰며, 인맥 역시 부도덕하다는 생각이 들 때까지 활용해야 합니다. 이러한 학계의 모든 비즈니스적인 측면을 알고 나면 이런 상황에서도 제대로 된 연구가 가끔씩 나온다는 것에 오히려 놀라게 됩니다.
젊은이여, 열심히 연구하라. 언젠가는 당신도 연구하지 않아도 될 것이다: 나는 가끔 학계의 많은 연구가 나와 같은 학생들에 의해 이루어지고 있다는 사실에 어이없음을 느낍니다. 진정 학문을 전진시킬 수 있을 것으로 보이는 수많은 교수들이 학문 연구에 쓰는 시간은 극히 적습니다. 많은 이들이 학생이 작성한 논문을 읽어주는 댓가로 자신을 저자에 포함시키기를 요구합니다. 학생들 역시, 자신이 연구를 하는 이유가 언젠가 자신도 직접 연구를 할 필요가 없는 자리에 오르기 위해서인지 궁금해 합니다.
학계의 퇴행적 현실: 박사과정의 가장 큰 문제점은 이들이 스스로 연구 주제를 선택할 준비가 되지 않은 상태에서 지도교수의 취향에 따라 연구 주제를 할당받게 된다는 사실과, 이 주제가 충분히 의미있는 것이 아님이 밝혀졌을 때의 책임을 학생들이 지게 된다는 사실입니다. 거의 대부분의 경우 지도교수와의 알력은 학생에게 불리하게 작용합니다. 결국 학생들은 현실적 이유로 스스로를 어느 정도 속이게 되고 이는 이들의 미래에 지속적인 영향을 끼칩니다.
독창성은 곧 독이 된다: 독창적인 연구는 대체로 출판되기 힘듭니다. 또 오늘날과 같이 논문의 수가 중요시되는 사회에서, 결과가 나오기까지 적어도 10년이 걸릴 지 모르는 새로운 분야를 연구하는 것은 불가능에 가깝습니다. 따라서 이런 위험한 선택을 하지 않는다고 해서 이들을 탓할 수는 없습니다. 이상적인 학계라면, 이미 충분한 실력을 검증받은 사람들에게 이러한 도전을 권장해야 합니다. 그러나 대다수의 연구자들은 자신들이 이미 잘 알고 있으며 쉽게 논문을 쓸 수 있는 문제에만 도전하고 있고, 그 결과 그들의 이력서에는 하나의 분야에 있어 작은 차이들을 발표한 많은 수의 논문들로 가득차게 되었습니다.
유행을 따르는 연구자들: 사실 유행하는 연구주제를 선택하는 것은 오늘날 연구자들에게 매우 편리한 방법입니다. 우선 다른 사람들에게 왜 이 주제를 택했는지를 복잡하게 설명할 필요가 없습니다. 또 당신의 연구를 사람들이 인용할 가능성이 높아집니다. 인용지수의 상승은 당신의 인지도를 높이며, 당신은 당신과 비슷한 기회주의적 학자들 사이의 네트워크에 낄 수 있고 카르텔을 형성할 수 있습니다. 불행히도 이러한 경향은 연구의 질을 낮출 뿐 아니라 다른 분야의 연구자들에게도 나쁜 영향을 끼칩니다. 이들은 그 분야의 성장이 정체되었을 때 그 유행했던 연구방법을 적절하지 않은 다른 분야에도 적용하려 합니다.
숫자에 중독된 연구자들: 오늘날 수많은 연구자들은 인용 빈도(citations), 피인용지수(impact factors), 논문 수 등에 광적인 집착을 보이고 있습니다. 때로 이들은 익명으로 다른 사람의 논문을 검토하면서, 자신의 논문을 인용하라는 평을 남깁니다. EPFL의 총장은 매년 우리 학교의 순위를 이야기하는 전체 메일을 보냈습니다. 나는 항상 이 순위가 우리에게 무슨 의미가 있는지 생각했습니다. 만약 총장이 우리 학교의 연구가 세상의 어떤 어려움을 해결했고, 어떻게 더 살기 좋은 세상을 만들었는지를 말해주었다면 더 좋았을 것이라고 나는 생각합니다.
옹고집과 폭력성: 나는 종종 학계의 많은 이들이 불행한 어린시절을 보냈거나, 또는 남들보다 더 많은 시간을 공부한 것에 악이 받혀 늦게서야 남들에게 복수하고 있는 것은 아닌지 궁금할 때가 있습니다. 학계에서의 공격성은 다양하게 표출됩니다. 이들은 피어리뷰를 통해 다른 이를 공격하며 학회에서 직접 서로를 공격하기도 합니다. 나는 한 분야의 가장 뛰어난 학자들 조차 새로운 방법론을 자신의 마음에 들지 않는다고 해서 “쓰레기”라고 부르는 것을 본 적이 있습니다.
학계는 가장 성공적인 사기 시스템: 학계의 모든 이들은 진지하게 자신들에게 물어보아야 합니다. “우리는 정말 필요한 존재들인가?” 시간이 갈수록 점점 더 많은 돈이 학계에 쏟아지고 있습니다. 이들은 그 결과로 자신이 속한 소수의 사람들에게만 이해되는 결과를 내어놓고 있으며, 그 결과 이들의 작업에 대한 객관적인 평가는 거의 가능하지 않게 되었습니다.
위의 것들이 나의 관점에서 본 학계의 문제점들입니다. 아마 다른 이들은 또 다른 문제점들을 여기에 더할 수 있을 것입니다. 많은 이들이 “진짜 학문”은 이상적인 개념일 뿐이며 현재의 시스템에서 이를 추구하는 것은 불가능하다고 말합니다.
마지막으로 나는, 나 역시 이런 문제들을 해결할 방법이 마땅히 없다는 사실을 말하고 싶습니다. 내가 박사과정을 그만두는 것은 개인적인 결정일 뿐이며, 이것은 전혀 해결책이 아닙니다. 나는 단지, 사람들에게 이런 문제점이 있다는 사실을 알리고 싶고, 그들이 어떤 책임감을 느끼기를 바랍니다. 아직 나의 동년배들 중에는 “학계”와 “학문”이 동의어라고 생각하는 사람들이 있습니다. 그러나 나는 그 생각을 접고, 다른 방법으로 나의 학문에 대한 열정을 추구할 생각입니다.
한 때 나도 내 이름 뒤에 붙을 ‘박사’라는 호칭을 꿈꾸었던 적이 있습니다. 그러나 이제 나는 그 꿈을 버립니다. 그렇다고 내가 지난 4년간 배웠던 모든 지식이 같이 사라지지는 않을 것입니다. 적어도 그 점에 대해서는 나는 이 학교에 무한한 감사를 표하고 싶습니다.
I am writing to state that, after four years of hard but enjoyable PhD work at this school, I am planning to quit my thesis in January, just a few months shy of completion. Originally, this was a letter that was intended only for my advisors. However, as I prepared to write it I realized that the message here may be pertinent to anyone involved in research across the entire EPFL, and so have extended its range just a bit. Specifically, this is intended for graduate students, postdocs, senior researchers, and professors, as well as for the people at the highest tiers of the school’s management. To those who have gotten this and are not in those groups, I apologize for the spam.
While I could give a multitude of reasons for leaving my studies – some more concrete, others more abstract – the essential motivation stems from my personal conclusion that I’ve lost faith in today’s academia as being something that brings a positive benefit to the world/societies we live in. Rather, I’m starting to think of it as a big money vacuum that takes in grants and spits out nebulous results, fueled by people whose main concerns are not to advance knowledge and to effect positive change, though they may talk of such things, but to build their CVs and to propel/maintain their careers. But more on that later.
Before continuing, I want to be very clear about two things. First, not everything that I will say here is from my personal firsthand experience. Much is also based on conversations I’ve had with my peers, outside the EPFL and in, and reflects their experiences in addition to my own. Second, any negative statements that I make in this letter should not be taken to heart by all of its readers. It is not my intention to demonize anyone, nor to target specific individuals. I will add that, both here and elsewhere, I have met some excellent people and would not – not in a hundred years – dare accuse them of what I wrote in the previous paragraph. However, my fear and suspicion is that these people are few, and that all but the most successful ones are being marginalized by a system that, feeding on our innate human weaknesses, is quickly getting out of control.
I don’t know how many of the PhD students reading this entered their PhD programs with the desire to actually *learn* and to somehow contribute to science in a positive manner. Personally, I did. If you did, too, then you’ve probably shared at least some of the frustrations that I’m going to describe next.
(1) Academia: It’s Not Science, It’s Business
I’m going to start with the supposition that the goal of “science” is to search for truth, to improve our understanding of the universe around us, and to somehow use this understanding to move the world towards a better tomorrow. At least, this is the propaganda that we’ve often been fed while still young, and this is generally the propaganda that universities that do research use to put themselves on lofty moral ground, to decorate their websites, and to recruit naïve youngsters like myself.
I’m also going to suppose that in order to find truth, the basic prerequisite is that you, as a researcher, have to be brutally honest – first and foremost, with yourself and about the quality of your own work. Here one immediately encounters a contradiction, as such honesty appears to have a very minor role in many people’s agendas. Very quickly after your initiation in the academic world, you learn that being “too honest” about your work is a bad thing and that stating your research’s shortcomings “too openly” is a big faux pas. Instead, you are taught to “sell” your work, to worry about your “image”, and to be strategic in your vocabulary and where you use it. Preference is given to good presentation over good content – a priority that, though understandable at times, has now gone overboard. The “evil” kind of networking (see, e.g.,http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/networking-good-vs-evil/) seems to be openly encouraged. With so many business-esque things to worry about, it’s actually surprising that *any* scientific research still gets done these days. Or perhaps not, since it’s precisely the naïve PhDs, still new to the ropes, who do almost all of it.
(2) Academia: Work Hard, Young Padawan, So That One Day You Too May Manage!
I sometimes find it both funny and frightening that the majority of the world’s academic research is actually being done by people like me, who don’t even have a PhD degree. Many advisors, whom you would expect to truly be pushing science forward with their decades of experience, do surprisingly little and only appear to manage the PhD students, who slave away on papers that their advisors then put their names on as a sort of “fee” for having taken the time to read the document (sometimes, in particularly desperate cases, they may even try to steal first authorship). Rarely do I hear of advisors who actually go through their students’ work in full rigor and detail, with many apparently having adopted the “if it looks fine, we can submit it for publication” approach.
Apart from feeling the gross unfairness of the whole thing – the students, who do the real work, are paid/rewarded amazingly little, while those who manage it, however superficially, are paid/rewarded amazingly much – the PhD student is often left wondering if they are only doing science now so that they may themselves manage later. The worst is when a PhD who wants to stay in academia accepts this and begins to play on the other side of the table. Every PhD student reading this will inevitably know someone unlucky enough to have fallen upon an advisor who has accepted this sort of management and is now inflicting it on their own students – forcing them to write paper after paper and to work ridiculous hours so that the advisor may advance his/her career or, as if often the case, obtain tenure. This is unacceptable and needs to stop. And yet as I write this I am reminded of how EPFL has instituted its own tenure-track system not too long ago.
(3) Academia: The Backwards Mentality
A very saddening aspect of the whole academic system is the amount of self-deception that goes on, which is a “skill” that many new recruits are forced to master early on… or perish. As many PhD students don’t truly get to choose their research topic, they are forced to adopt what their advisors do and to do “something original” on it that could one day be turned into a thesis. This is all fine and good when the topic is genuinely interesting and carries a lot of potential. Personally, I was lucky to have this be the case for me, but I also know enough people who, after being given their topic, realized that the research direction was of marginal importance and not as interesting as it was hyped up by their advisor to be.
This seems to leave the student with a nasty ultimatum. Clearly, simply telling the advisor that the research is not promising/original does not work – the advisor has already invested too much of his time, reputation, and career into the topic and will not be convinced by someone half his age that he’s made a mistake. If the student insists, he/she will be labeled as “stubborn” and, if the insisting is too strong, may not be able to obtain the PhD. The alternative, however unpleasant, is to lie to yourself and to find arguments that you’re morally comfortable with that somehow convince you that what you’re doing has important scientific value. For those for whom obtaining a PhD is a *must* (usually for financial reasons), the choice, however tragic, is obvious.
The real problem is that this habit can easily carry over into one’s postgraduate studies, until the student themselves becomes like the professor, with the backwards mentality of “it is important because I’ve spent too many years working on it”.
(4) Academia: Where Originality Will Hurt You
The good, healthy mentality would naturally be to work on research that we believe is important. Unfortunately, most such research is challenging and difficult to publish, and the current publish-or-perish system makes it difficult to put bread on the table while working on problems that require at least ten years of labor before you can report even the most preliminary results. Worse yet, the results may not be understood, which, in some cases, is tantamount to them being rejected by the academic community. I acknowledge that this is difficult, and ultimately cannot criticize the people who choose not to pursue such “risky” problems.
Ideally, the academic system would encourage those people who are already well established and trusted to pursue these challenges, and I’m sure that some already do. However, I cannot help but get the impression that the majority of us are avoiding the real issues and pursuing minor, easy problems that we know can be solved and published. The result is a gigantic literature full of marginal/repetitive contributions. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s a good CV that you’re after.
(5) Academia: The Black Hole of Bandwagon Research
Indeed, writing lots of papers of questionable value about a given popular topic seems to be a very good way to advance your academic career these days. The advantages are clear: there is no need to convince anyone that the topic is pertinent and you are very likely to be cited more since more people are likely to work on similar things. This will, in turn, raise your impact factor and will help to establish you as a credible researcher, regardless of whether your work is actually good/important or not. It also establishes a sort of stable network, where you pat other (equally opportunistic) researchers on the back while they pat away at yours.
Unfortunately, not only does this lead to quantity over quality, but many researchers, having grown dependent on the bandwagon, then need to find ways to keep it alive even when the field begins to stagnate. The results are usually disastrous. Either the researchers begin to think up of creative but completely absurd extensions of their methods to applications for which they are not appropriate, or they attempt to suppress other researchers who propose more original alternatives (usually, they do both). This, in turn, discourages new researchers from pursuing original alternatives and encourages them to join the bandwagon, which, though founded on a good idea, has now stagnated and is maintained by nothing but the pure will of the community that has become dependent on it. It becomes a giant, money-wasting mess.
(6) Academia: Statistics Galore!
“Professors with papers are like children,” a professor once told me. And, indeed, there seems to exist an unhealthy obsession among academics regarding their numbers of citations, impact factors, and numbers of publications. This leads to all sorts of nonsense, such as academics making “strategic citations”, writing “anonymous” peer reviews where they encourage the authors of the reviewed paper to cite their work, and gently trying to tell their colleagues about their recent work at conferences or other networking events or sometimes even trying to slip each other their papers with a “I’ll-read-yours-if-you-read-mine” wink and nod. No one, when asked if they care about their citations, will ever admit to it, and yet these same people will still know the numbers by heart. I admit that I’ve been there before, and hate myself for it.
At the EPFL, the dean sends us an e-mail every year saying how the school is doing in the rankings, and we are usually told that we are doing well. I always ask myself what the point of these e-mails is. Why should it matter to a scientist if his institution is ranked tenth or eleventh by such and such committee? Is it to boost our already overblown egos? Wouldn’t it be nicer for the dean to send us an annual report showing how EPFL’s work is affecting the world, or how it has contributed to resolving certain important problems? Instead, we get these stupid numbers that tell us what universities we can look down on and what universities we need to surpass.
(7) Academia: The Violent Land of Giant Egos
I often wonder if many people in academia come from insecure childhoods where they were never the strongest or the most popular among their peers, and, having studied more than their peers, are now out for revenge. I suspect that yes, since it is the only explanation I can give to explain why certain researchers attack, in the bad way, other researchers’ work. Perhaps the most common manifestation of this is via peer reviews, where these people abuse their anonymity to tell you, in no ambiguous terms, that you are an idiot and that your work isn’t worth a pile of dung. Occasionally, some have the gall to do the same during conferences, though I’ve yet to witness this latter manifestation personally.
More than once I’ve heard leading researchers in different fields refer to other methods with such beautiful descriptions as “garbage” or “trash”, sometimes even extending these qualifiers to pioneering methods whose only crime is that they are several decades old and which, as scientists, we ought to respect as a man respects his elders. Sometimes, these people will take a break from saying bad things about people in their own fields and turn their attention to other domains – engineering academics, for example, will sometimes make fun of the research done in the humanities, ridiculing it as ludicrous and inconsequential, as if what they did was more important.
(8) Academia: The Greatest Trick It Ever Pulled was Convincing the World That It was Necessary
Perhaps the most crucial, piercing question that the people in academia should ask themselves is this: “Are we really needed?” Year after year, the system takes in tons of money via all sorts of grants. Much of this money then goes to pay underpaid and underappreciated PhD students who, with or without the help of their advisors, produce some results. In many cases, these results are incomprehensible to all except a small circle, which makes their value difficult to evaluate in any sort of objective manner. In some rare cases, the incomprehensibility is actually justified – the result may be very powerful but may, for example, require a lot of mathematical development that you really do need a PhD to understand. In many cases, however, the result, though requiring a lot of very cool math, is close to useless in application.
This is fine, because real progress is slow. What’s bothersome, however, is how long a purely theoretical result can be milked for grants before the researchers decide to produce something practically useful. Worse yet, there often does not appear to be a strong urge for people in academia to go and apply their result, even when this becomes possible, which most likely stems from the fear of failure – you are morally comfortable researching your method as long as it works in theory, but nothing would hurt more than to try to apply it and to learn that it doesn’t work in reality. No one likes to publish papers which show how their method fails (although, from a scientific perspective, they’re obliged to).
These are just some examples of things that, from my humble perspective, are “wrong” with academia. Other people could probably add others, and we could go and write a book about it. The problem, as I see it, is that we are not doing very much to remedy these issues, and that a lot of people have already accepted that “true science” is simply an ideal that will inevitably disappear with the current system proceeding along as it is. As such, why risk our careers and reputations to fight for some noble cause that most of academia won’t really appreciate anyway?
I’m going to conclude this letter by saying that I don’t have a solution to these things. Leaving my PhD is certainly not a solution – it is merely a personal decision – and I don’t encourage other people to do anything of the sort. What I do encourage is some sort of awareness and responsibility. I think that there are many of us, certainly in my generation, who would like to see “academia” be synonymous with “science”. I know I would, but I’ve given up on this happening and so will pursue true science by some other path.
While there was a time when I thought that I would be proud to have the letters “PhD” after my name, this is unfortunately no longer the case. However, nothing can take away the knowledge that I’ve gained during these four years, and for that, EPFL, I remain eternally grateful.
My sincerest thanks for reading this far