Fueling the Scientific Engine
When speaking of scientific development, the American perception of greatness is constructed almost entirely upon images from an illustrious past.
The Wright Brothers taking flight on a brisk November morning. Edison reveling in the triumph of his first successful light bulb. Armstrong planting his foot firmly on the surface of the moon.
These shared cultural memories are sacred to our people. They give us reason to pledge allegiance to the American government and way of life, and force us to appreciate the depth of our own history. For many years, they proved our nation’s singular status as the most significant engine of invention and innovation.
Somewhere along the line, that engine began to stall.
Blinded by a poignant sense of superiority, we have failed to realize that the United States of America no longer exists as the scientific superpower of the global community. According to a recent article featured in the New York Times, this discouraging trend is not necessarily the result of a brain drain. Rather, American students have simply lost the will to pursue scientific careers. Many of those scholars who jump ship are among the most qualified and talented.
Over the course of the last decade, more and more college undergraduates planning to major in scientific fields have become disenchanted with exceedingly intensive and competitive curricula. Less than half of all pre-med students end up applying to medical school.
But science courses have always been considered challenging. If our parents and grandparents were willing and able to conquer their course loads, then why are we so eager to call it quits?
It’s time that we direct our attention away from students and towards the scientific landscape itself.
As uncomfortable as the notion may be, our nation is entrenched in an economic crisis the likes of which we have never before seen. American industries have reacted accordingly, trimming any unnecessary fat in terms of research and development. Science professionals no longer have the funding or public support to grope in the dark for the next ‘big thing’.
Two decades ago, a physics degree could be cashed in for a trip to the moon or the ability to contribute to deep-sea exploration. Biologists dreamed of pioneering the cure for cancer. The allure of changing the world was more than enough to brave eight years of higher education.
Sooner or later, the United States is going to climb to its feet. Students will once again fall in love with their own prospective futures in the fields of science. Until that day comes, humility is our greatest asset. We must respect our past achievements, while never loosing hope in an equally rewarding future.
With a little faith, our scientific engine will roar back to life more powerful than ever before.