© Fernando Caracena, 2015

Most Scientists need Sponsorship

Society recognises that science is important, but also that scientific work is speculative. To the scientist, his work is of consuming interest, his way of life, and quite a demanding one at that. An important requirement for doing science is leisure—not the sitting-at-the-beach kind of leisure, but the kind of leisure where you take your own questions seriously, and spend as much time as is necessary in resolving obstacles necessary to solve these questions. Negative results are not a waste of time, but a hint of a new directions to take. A scientist's leisure is an active leisure that involves a lot of self-directed work.

The nature of scientific work requires of the scientist a lot of leisure and freedom to study the problem he has decided to focus on. Since in the work-a-day world time is equated to money, a scientist has the double problem of gaining enough money to fund the leisure necessary to pursue his science, yet not spend a lot of time getting those funds. In effect, he needs sponsorship; however, a person should not expect someone else pay his way just to do whatever he likes. In the past, science was often a gentlemen's sport—the province of the independently wealthy. Research was self-sponsored and that solved the problem. Today, the big problem for scientists, who have not inherited wealth, is how to effectively sponsor their own research interests. Consulting may offer some solution to this problem.

Sponsorship of Renowned vs. ordinary Scientists

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, sponsors people who have become world famous in science, such as Einstein, to pursue whatever research they want. The rest of us ordinary scientists find a way of paying their own way by working for (or with) other people on scientific projects. Not being in such a project presents a scientists with a problem: how does a scientist who wants to do independent work get sponsorship? The solution to this problem is to find some kind of job that will pay those expenses; but the traditional job is too time consuming to leave enough leisure to do serious scientific work.

Scientist do not want to commit a lot of their time and energy to working a standard job. Teaching has been a traditional choice of a job for university scientists, because in teaching they can use a lot of their research, and are also stimulated to review the bases of their science. Also, enthusiastic students often offer either free or low cost assistance.  The kind of job a scientist wants is one that is interesting, uses his own research experience, does not use up a lot of his own time and energy, and leaves a large surplus of time and money for research work. Ideally then, a scientist would like to do something that he can do easily, and is so valuable that their client pays generously for the service. The profit motive for scientists is not money per se, but more importantly, leisure and freedom. Consulting is perhaps a good solution here.

Dead-end Treadmills

There are hazards to developing a satisfying career in science. I call them dead-end treadmills. These are activities that look like doing science, but which do not lead to the real goals of the scientist. These hazards are made by well-meaning administrators who may look at scientists as high-level workers that have to be managed in a special way. They look upon the requirements that scientists consider vital, simply as perks. The administrators construct all kinds of constraints in the job descriptions for scientists, gradually fashioning their efforts into a lot of make work that may look impressive on paper, but which accomplishes only trivial scientific results. A case in point is the plight of government laboratories.

As a result of the Manhattan Project, scientists gained much respect and prestige from the public. The working relationship achieved between scientists and the military sponsors of the Manhattan Project gave government administrators what they thought was the correct way to handle research work. Actually, the project succeeded because of the efforts of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had the knack of being able to keep his team of scientists happy enough to stay on the job against the outlandish demands of General Groves. Another big factor in keeping them on the job was their big common enemy, Hitler. Many of them were Jews, who had escaped NAZI Germany, and the Manhattan Project was their way of fighting against the evil monster, Hitler.

Government administrators walked away from the Manhattan Project with the mistaken thought that they knew how to handle scientific talent and marshal it to their own purposes. The proof of this mistake was revealed at the end of the war. At that time, most of the scientific talent involved in the Manhattan Project scattered all over the world. Individual scientists could not be motivated to stay on at Los Alamos through the conventional offers of money or other perks.

The Rise of Government Laboratories

The successful harnessing of science and technology during WWII led to the formation of various institutions funded by government, which included government laboratories and quasi-independent Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).

When I came to NOAA, it seemed as if I had gone to heaven. I was introduced to the secretaries, who would do most of my typing. I had access to a lot of computer power. I could even get a scientific programmer to assist me. I was loosely attached to two groups: a branch working on mesoscale meteorology and another on infrared (IR) remote sensing. These two projects paid for my salary. On my own, I brought along another project, the analysis of microbursts from their meteorological foot prints. The latter project, unfunded by NOAA is what brought me the most national and international attention and acclaim. Later, I recieved the NOAA administrators award for my work on microbursts, wind shear and aviation safety.

 Consulting is the normal way Scientists do business.

Thinking about my career in science, I realize that in the past I have been involved in a lot of consulting work. I also realized that nowadays a life of science requires a lot of consulting work as part of his sponsorship. When I worked for NOAA, I felt obliged to meet with the public in need of my expertise, but without collecting any money from them, because they had paid my salary through taxes. Now, I am no longer in anybody's hire, and I am free to do whatever I please. Consulting is the mode through which I can share my experience and knowledge. I see that there is a need for it out there in modern times, but people do not realize it.

I have a handful of skills such as typing, computer programming in a variety of languages in a variety of operating systems. I have some expertise in mathematics, and of course, I know a lot of physics. I have also done a lot of teaching in my life, and solved a lot of scientific problems.  I have also worked in many areas, such as: weather, scientific programmer in machine language, designer of analysing equipment, computer modeler, developer of algorithm. There was a time that I developed software for fun, some of which I published in a popular magazine.


I had bought a  Texas Instruments TI-99/4A computer back in the 1980s, which was a great toy, because at the time it gave the home computer aficionado a lot of bang for the buck: text-to-speach, sprite graphics, all controlled by an advance version of BASIC programming language called Extended BASIC, and a 16-bit processor at a time when 8-bit was more common. I did scientific calculations on that machine. It was amazingly fast. But, I also experimented around with graphics and sound, producing animated videos. I decided to share some of my software in the 99er Magazine, which featured articles on the TI-99/4A. I wrote an article called, "Spriter". It told how I used sprites to make animated videos. In the original article, I presented the listing of a routine which allowed one to edit a sprite graphics frame in an enlarged version that depicted the individual pixels. That was only one component of the animation routines that I wrote. The editors talked me into writing mostly about the sprite editor. I think that as far as the computer hobbyist is concerned, the personal computer industry has actually made their product so remote from the user that is not fun any more. I can still do all the things that I could do on the old TI 99/44A, but is not by simple commands. You wind up spending too much of your creative energies going through all the object-oriented requirements.

A Generalist that has a lot of Specialized Skills

I would describe myself as a generalist that has a lot of specialized skills in scientific and technical areas; but I would not like to work in one of those areas exclusively. As an open-ended consultant in physics having a good spectrum of skills, I could most efficiently work with a company that has a broad nebulous problem that needs clear definition and solution, but already has plenty of technically competent people. That is what I have been able to do in the past. And it works well for everybody involved.


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