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Is There Value in Training Scientific Generalists For Positions at the Edge of Academia?
  • Gopal Sarma
Gopal Sarma
School of Medicine, Emory University

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Contemporary scientific research faces major cultural and institutional hurdles. Some of the primary challenges include an exploding knowledge base and organizational complexity of many scientific projects, the overproduction of PhDs relative to the availability of faculty positions, and protracted educational trajectories for many aspiring researchers. Perhaps the most serious set of consequences caused by the fierce competition of modern science are low rates of reproducibility in research studies across many disciplines, a startling reality which undermines the scientific process and institutional authority itself. In an increasingly interconnected intellectual world, where fundamental and applied research are deeply interwoven, the implications of this state of affairs extend well beyond the research laboratory. In this article, I explore one possible strategy among the many necessary interventions for addressing these critical global issues, namely, new graduate programs to train scientific generalists. Rather than focus on developing niche technical skills, these programs would train outstanding communicators and decision makers who have been exposed to multiple subjects at the graduate level. The motivation for creating such programs is to introduce a large number of exceptionally trained individuals across all industries and organizations who have been encouraged to think critically about the practical realities and contemporary cultural trends of scientific research. I suggest possible avenues for structuring such programs and examine the roles that generalists might play in the modern research, policy, and industrial landscape.