Academia is a weird monster. It preys on silhouettes of new thought foundations, but ends up eating itself. It is supposed to be the route with which mankind can evolve, and control its own evolution, towards a greater tomorrow. It is supposed to encompass the best that we as a species can generate, and, while I don't doubt that this is the case, I also know that it also encompasses the worst.
I have procrastinated writing this post, not because of laziness (although, it was factor), but because I didn't feel I had the experience nor had seen enough in Academia to make a well-informed argument towards it. I still feel the same way. However, as Oscar Wilde stated:
The young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.
I was interested in Research, at first, for romantic reasons: pushing the world forward, with a great possibility of teaching in the process. Then, the status of "Doctor" became my drive. My ultimate push was the frustration of the mediocre, greedy incompetence that plagued the Industrial sector.
I quickly realized that it wasn't all that different. That frustrating incompetence is also prevalent in the Academic sector, just with different resources, means, and hats. The objective is disappointingly still mainly the same: money, power, and notoriety. Even the noble act of teaching has been demeaned to a set of meaningless protocols where he who has the most history and/or connections gets to decide how, when, why, where, and what to teach. I appreciate the reasoning behind it (those with more experience have better judgement), but, as with most of the human psyche, "experience" can be subjective, and too much of it can actually hinder the overall Education/Research process.
I could propose some fixes, but it will involve solutions that every good scientist has thought of:
- Make Research be a joyous process, not just another job. Salary, bonuses, promotions, etc. should be removed, and the university/institution provide housing/entertainment/daycare services directly to the researcher. There would be nothing to gain for, just research results and bragging rights. This is very similar to the philosophy behind the Open Source initiative, and I believe it is more than adequate to be applied in Academia. It won't be glamorous, obviously, but that's alright, Research shouldn't be glamorous (just ask Paul Erdős).
- Bragging rights are just for that: bragging. They aren't supposed to be used as part of an argument to win an academic discussion. Meaning, the phrase "I discovered plutonium. I know what I'm talking about. I'm right." is a moronic way to make a point. Everybody, even the young ones, are allowed to be skeptic of anyone. It is the duty of the elders (and any researcher, for that matter) to present a logical, step-by-step argument of why they're right.
- All publishing committees must require to have, for every sought after publications, at least two reviewers with opposing views. That way, every algorithm or novel process that discredits or out-dates a current algorithm or process has a chance to be reviewed without a conflict of interest involved.
Like I said, nothing new, which is disappointing as there hasn't been much done in this regard, even though many fixes are right in front of everybody. Dinosaurs still roam the Earth, and offending them, even by means that are irrelevant in Research, implies little evolution. Well, doing anything, even nothing, implies little evolution, and thus lies the frustration.
But I'm young (at least, that's how the Academia has welcomed me), and I am aware that being young equates to inexperience. I'll probably read this in a decade or so and smile in condescension of my stupid, ironically-naive, pessimistic view on Academia. The problem is I'll most likely welcome it.