Young Scientists Driven By Passion, Not Money

February 14, 1997

Seattle, Washington, February 14, 1997 -- Despite earning half the national average for their age group, fighting to capture shrinking government research dollars, and waging an uphill battle to gain public recognition for their contributions, today's young molecular biologists are surprisingly satisfied with their career choice and optimistic about the prospect of advancing medical science, according to a national Roper survey released today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Annual Meeting & Science Innovation Exposition.

In addition to career satisfaction, a significant number of the 300 molecular biologists between the ages of 18-32 surveyed predict that future scientific breakthroughs will yield cures for AIDS and cancer and guide effective gene therapy.

The survey, conducted on behalf of Pharmacia Biotech, co-sponsor of the Pharmacia Biotech and Science Prize for Young Scientists program, was designed to provide insights into what makes these young molecular biologists "tick." It also explores how these researchers view the future of medical science and their careers, mirroring many of the issues that are being discussed this week in Seattle.

High satisfaction in an unfriendly environment

Nearly all (91%) of the young molecular biologists surveyed said they were "satisfied" with their career choice. In fact, over half (53%) indicated they were "very satisfied" with their profession. Interestingly, the survey found that satisfaction remains high in spite of pessimism concerning the field in general. For example, over half the respondents (56%) believe that the "overall state of affairs" -- including funding, governmental politics, research trends -- makes working as a molecular biologist "more difficult" than ten to twenty years ago.

Additionally, 73% of young molecular biologists surveyed believe the public does not appreciate the value of their research. In fact, 15% believe the "public does not understand the value of molecular biology at all." And the media received only lukewarm praise in their coverage of advances in molecular biology research: nearly 40% said the media are "somewhat or completely inaccurate" in their reporting.

"There is bad and good news here: the bad news is that the students do not feel valued by the public and do not feel their work is understood, and they are not hopeful about their future funding prospects," said Shirley Malcom, Ph.D., Head, Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). "The good news for society is that they are still willing to invest many years of education, hard work and forgone wages to make discoveries today that will change the future of medicine."

Measuring success

The survey also revealed that molecular biology is not the road to wealth. While the average annual salary for this age group (18-32) according to Roper Starch Worldwide is $34,400, only 1 in 10 molecular biologists surveyed earn $35,000 or more. On average, the annual salary reported by respondents was nearly 50% less than their peers or $18,600. Similar to the national average, women reported earning slightly less than men ($16,300 compared to $19,700 annually, respectively).

So how do these young molecular biologists measure success? While only a minority (5%) claim wealth as a measure of success in their field, most want to see their work recognized. Specifically, while the minority (19%) of those surveyed currently write or publish articles, the majority (68%) cite "number of articles published" as a personal measure of success. Other success measures reported included "grants received" (33%), "prestige among colleagues" (31%), and "making important scientific contributions" (22%).

Breakthroughs in the field

The majority of respondents (73%) cited polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the DNA amplification technique, as the greatest recent discovery in the molecular biology field. Looking ahead, the young molecular biologists predicted that effective gene therapy (36%), followed by a cure or vaccine for AIDS (25%), and a cure or better understanding of cancer (21%) will be among the most important breakthroughs in their field over the next ten years.

Free time -- what free time?

When asked how they like to "relax and have fun," the most frequent responses were sports and exercise (39% and 33%, respectively). And while virtually all respondents (98%) are connected to the Internet, the majority reported spending a minimal amount of time each day on the information superhighway: 60% spend less than one hour a day cruising the Web.

Polling methodology

Roper Starch conducted a telephone survey of 300 molecular biologists between the ages of 18-32 from June 1 through August 29, 1996. Sample lists were obtained from several sources including major U.S. universities, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Ninety-two percent of the young molecular biologists polled were in graduate school and/or employed by either a university or college; the remainder work for the federal or state government (2%); hospitals (2%); research institutions (2%); biotechnology companies (1%) or somewhere else (2%). The data in this survey is subject to a sampling error of ± seven percentage points, and should be viewed as directional rather than projectible to the entire population of molecular biologists within this age group.

Pharmacia Biotech is a leading developer and global supplier of chemicals, instruments and expertise for biological, medical, and biotechnological research products and is the world's largest supplier of separation media, electrophoresis, and specialty biochemicals to the bioprocessing industry. The company's products are used by scientists at academic and research institutions and at research and production departments of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies throughout the world. Pharmacia Biotech is certified according to ISO 9001, has annual sales of more than $410 million, employs more than 2,500 people worldwide and is headquartered in Uppsala, Sweden. A full copy of the survey is available upon request.

Makovsky & Company

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