Consequences of the Sequester – an entire generation of American scientists could be lost…

Traditionally elections SHOULD have consequences, but in this case they did not. Obama’s strong victory in 2012 did nothing to stop  the draconian sequester cuts.   As far as the sequester goes, 2012 did nothing to stop the carnage.  But actions (or inaction in this case) always has consequences and we are seeing them now.

ASBMB (The American Society For Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)  conducted a survey:  Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity.

The report clearly depicts the bloodbath that has happened in what is now my former field of work.  The brain drain that had been warned about through years of budget cutting is now taking its toll. The victims are no longer staying silent in their empty labs, they are not only speaking out, they are closing down their labs or moving to other countries.

Among the tidbits they survey offered up are the following: (note – I am rounding up to the nearest full percentage point)

  • 64% are having difficulty getting grant funding.
  • 51% have had underfunded grants.
  • 45 % have a colleague that lost a  job
  • 36% have a colleague that is expected to lose their job in the near future.
  • 26% will have to lay off people soon.
  • 53% have turned away promising new researchers.
  • 28% have had their institutions issue a hiring freeze.
  • 19% may have to close down their lab/business within the next 12 months.
  • 61% have cut back on supplies and equipment.
  • 6% have decided to leave scientific research altogether.
  • 18% are considering continuing their research careers in another country. 


The respondents varied in terms of where they were in their careers, however the large majority (77%) of the respondents were primary investigators or faculty.  In other words, they were at the so-called top of the food chain.


Things have been brutal for some time among the rank and file of science.  In the trenches of the lab where the graduate students and post-docs toil, getting to a “real job” with a true salary and some security has been  nothing short of savage.  But to see this response from those of have supposedly “made it” and should be riding the crest of a wave is very frightening.


The two figures that most concerns me when discussing American “exceptionalism” and innovation are the two in bold type.  19% may have to close down their labs within a year and 18% are thinking of taking their research careers abroad.

19% is close to one in five labs potentially closing up shop.  That’s a HUGE number.  It’s also a despicable waste of talent and R&D that could help pump up our economy and pull us out of this depression.  (Yes, it IS a depression folks).

Further, let’s not forget that each lab supports many players.  This is not just one investigator that will lose his/her livelihood.  Contrary to popular myth, research does not occur in a vacuum. There are post-docs, there are other investigators being supported by that lab’s infrastructure.  There are technicians, managers and administrative staff too that will all be walking the unemployment  lines.

The other alarming figure is the potential drain to other countries.  18% are thinking of picking up their bags and taking their talent, their research and the potential benefits abroad.  Our loss may be some other country’s gain.  However, how can America maintain its innovative edge when it is hemorrhaging  scientists right and left?  These projects prime the economy for the next round of innovation.  That keeps people – lots of people – gainfully employed.  You are literally switching off the jobs engine at a time of record prolonged unemployment.  What a great idea!

Finally, what does this do to the next generation of students who are in college and are picking their fields of study?  Most are taking a sharp look at this complete devastation and wouldn’t touch science or engineering with a 10-foot-pole.  And you know what?  They would be right. All the handwringing about “STEM, STEM, STEM!”  does us no good if the jobs aren’t there.

© 2013 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.

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