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Monday, May 20, 2024

Science is serendipitous: Profit or pleasure?

“When I grow up, I want to discover a cure for cancer.” As a child, I’ve always dreamed about what I would want to accomplish as an adult. Many of you science majors also grew up with the same dream to “cure” or help someone or something. We’ve all thought about it, and mostly our goals are still the same — although now in a more specialized field. As UC students, we have ambitions to apply what we learn here into a real field and pay off our ridiculous student loans with income from a good job. The real struggle is finding an industry to start our post-college lives with. You have some choices: working for the for-profit private sector, or for non-profit public institutions. I believe any scientist should have the freedom to pursue his or her interests without the pressure to make money, like many for-profit corporations want.

My interest in science arose from my own personal experience with disease. Once getting the diagnosis, I never thought to myself “this is the end” but I saw it as a beginning to a whole new adventure. I saw so much detail and learning about that one disease that I encountered, and I wanted to continue studying it and developing solutions for it throughout my career. I wanted to work in a place that allowed me to take my passion in this area and convert it into useful solutions. As the time to graduate creeps ever closer, it is time for me to choose my future place of work and I see a potential problem with private industry.

What we should question before we accept a job offer is what does this place stand for in the world of science? You’ve got your private (for-profit) industry (Roche, Pfizer, Bio-Rad, etc.), and you also have places like our very own UC Davis (public or non-profit institutions). The vision that these different industries have is the same: to produce new and innovative material relating to public health and technology. My concern is not what is produced, but ultimately why.

It’s not a complex motive — private industry works for profit. It will pursue an opportunity that provides a greater return on the investment put in by the company. A problem arises when your interest does not match with the company’s profit interest. Working in this industry can divert your attention to developing materials or research that produce revenue for the company, but may not be something that necessarily helps the situation it tries to solve. You can look at anti-biotics as a fitting example. Industry makes tons of profits from these, yet is very slow to develop the technology to fight infections effectively. If you head over to my previous “Bacteria talk” entry, you’ll see exactly why.

When deciding where to work in your future as a scientist, I would suggest you look at the non-profit companies and institutions as a possible choice. You are not working towards revenue increase at these places; your goal is making a case for your interest — and how it can be a benefit to society. You have breathing room to develop your idea and not be rushed to produce a result that maximizes on money. Best of all, you work with people who share your passion for research and can help make your idea a solution that will contribute to the world.

Students choosing non-profits can send a strong signal that we conduct research for the betterment of society, and not solely for profits. Freshmen or super senior, you can find your specific passion in research (science or not) right here on campus. Visit the Undergraduate Research Center (urc.ucdavis.edu) to learn how to get your own research started.

Burn the tip of your tongue with some hot chocolate while speaking passionately about this with UMAYR SUFI at the CoHo. Or just email (uwsufi@ucdavis.edu) and tweet (@umayrsufi)


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