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Politics and your graduate career in science


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Out of curiosity, how many of you are worried about your career in the sciences in this political climate, because it's been bothering me a lot. Do you have faith that things will turn out alright? How are you coping and does it really affect you? 

I've personally applied to one Canadian school in addition to US schools, and because I'm more in environment-related sciences, I'm having fears and doubts about whether or not I should just go to the Canadian school instead. Honestly, the state of science in the US is worrying me more than my pending applications right now. 

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Did you grow up in the US or Canada? I'm just curious because political climates are very different and I find that as a Canadian, my interpretations and feelings about what is happening in the US is sometimes slightly different from my American friends. I'm going to write most of the following for a US audience, and I'm sorry if you already know all this!

I also ask because if you are not familiar with Canada, you might not know that when Stephen Harper was our Prime Minister (2006-2015), his government steadily increased the amount of restrictions on federal scientists in Canada. As with Trump, the emphasis was a lot on climate science. Near the end of his tenure, Harper basically censored all government scientists from speaking to anyone about climate research and other topics. He also eliminated the "National Science Advisor" position in 2008.

e.g. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/vanishing-canada-why-were-all-losers-in-ottawas-war-on-data/

and http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/faq-the-issues-around-muzzling-government-scientists-1.3079537

Trudeau was elected as PM in late 2015 and since he has a majority government, unless something really bad happens, he should remain as PM until 2019 or so (our elections aren't on as much of a strict cycle as the US ones but it's basically 4 years at a time). He reversed the gag order almost immediately. He appointed Dr. Kirsty Duncan as our Minister of Science. It's been a long time since our Minister of Science held a PhD and Dr. Duncan is an expert on climate, to boot! I was so happy to see this drastic shift after spending almost all of my academic career (started college in 2005) under Harper's anti-science policies.

But we don't really know what will happen afterwards. Trudeau was insanely popular in 2015/early 2016. But in the last few months, the "honeymoon" phase certainly ended and there's a lot of dissatisfaction. I'm not sure if this means the conservative party will have a good shot at taking power in 2019. There's still lots of time for Trudeau to change things around.

After the US election, many scientists on campus had tons of concerns very similar to you. Climate and sustainable energy research is a huge part of our campus. We got some reassurance from senior faculty that have been through many more presidential transitions that we are capable of getting through it. It's scary to think about the near future, but in the long term, if we stay in the field, there will be many more ups and downs during the course of our career.

I don't mean to "normalize" Trump with this though---I think what's happening is much worse than a regular "down" and I think we should fight the attack on science as much as we can. I don't think this is a problem limited to the US. The reason I say there are ups and downs is that right now is a crappy time but we can set goals for better times and use the fact that better times will eventually come to motivate ourselves to fight for it. 

I know it's not super reassuring. To end on a related and more positive note, have you heard "Harper Man"? It's a protest song written by a (former) Canadian government scientist. See: http://harperman.ca/

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@TakeruK Your words are really encouraging, especially since I'm not in the States right now to hear this from US faculty. Watching this happen from across the border has been scary. 

I didn't grow up in Canada, but I spent the latter part of the last decade in Canada. I do remember Harper and his scientist muzzling, and have heard from a couple industry/government scientists about (basically) "book burnings" (?). I was also around when Canada got rid of him for Trudeau My professors in Canada didn't really talk about the Harper government much, though, so I didn't get to hear about how it affected them, funding, etc., which is also probably why the situation in the US may seem worse than it really is. 

Thanks for the reassurance.

PS I have also seen Harper Man (at the suggestion of a couple of my professors). 

 

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