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Science Matters: A Year in Review–Looking Back and Planning Ahead

During the past year, scientists around the country have encountered various challenges, including an unpredictable world economy, thousands of job losses, and pharmaceutical megamergers. There cannot possibly be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, can there? Think again.

by Rich Pennock
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During the past year, scientists around the country have encountered various challenges, including an unpredictable world economy, thousands of job losses, and pharmaceutical megamergers. There cannot possibly be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, can there? Think again. Many scientists, faced with unemployment and other challenges, have not only survived, but thrived as well.

Hardworking, talented scientists have withstood diverse economic issues to transform negative situations into positive growth opportunities within the industry. As scientists continue to plant seeds for future opportunities, they are able to contribute their past experiences and talents to an industry that refuses to succumb despite the challenging conditions of an uncertain economy.

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Pharmaceutical megamergers create new opportunities despite job losses

In 2009, six premier pharmaceutical companies merged. Each of the three megamergers led to significant job losses, forcing highly experienced scientists to pursue other opportunities or to change their career goals. Many displaced scientists became entrepreneurs and created their own companies, using their past work and educational experiences, as well as industry knowledge, to achieve success.

Other scientists relocated and accepted positions in other industries in order to expand their skill sets and acquire challenging roles. Typically, career changes allow individuals to develop innovative skills that help them succeed in their new positions while becoming more marketable to employers. Scientists with vast experience across different industries may stand out from the crowd once the economy improves and hiring picks up. While the megamergers of the past year did create job losses, they also helped individuals seek new challenges and positions, forcing them to transform negative situations into opportunities for growth.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 creates hope for researchers and developers

This past year, Congress created an economic stimulus appropriations bill that is expected to provide $21.5 billion in federal research and development funding well into the future:1 $18 billion will be allocated for the continuation of scientific research and development in the nation, while $3.5 billion will likely be used for improving and creating research and development facilities and capital equipment.2

Through the recent creation of the economic stimulus bill, scientific organizations and facilities across the country have, in the past few months, gained renewed hope. Despite the constant economic struggles of the nation, scientists and researchers will still have ample opportunities to continue to research and develop cures and solutions for the various diseases, medical complications, and maladies that affect the quality of life of thousands of people every year.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),3 the National Institutes of Health is expected to receive $10.4 billion for future research projects, while the Department of Energy will likely receive $2.5 billion for energy research and development. As research continues well into 2010, the scientific community will be able to develop diverse and innovative solutions in order to restore hope to millions of people who are diagnosed with various types of diseases each year.

Alternative energy creates positions for science professionals

In the last decade, the alternative energy industry has created thousands of new positions for scientists around the country amid the unpredictable conditions of the national economy. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts study,4 from 1998 to 2007, the number of alternative energy jobs in the United States grew two-and-a-half times faster than traditional jobs. The nonprofit organization also found that the industry had created nearly 770,000 American jobs by 2007.

In the meantime, various organizations such as Apollo Alliance (an environmental coalition headquartered in San Francisco) and Challenger, Gray & Christmas (an outplacement consulting firm headquartered in Chicago) have predicted that the alternative energy industry will continue to create thousands of new positions during the next decade,5,6 as national and worldwide organizations implement “environmentally friendly” strategies.

Today, the alternative energy sources of solar power, wind turbines and biofuels have attracted numerous scientists around the country from various types of industries. Scientists have been particularly sought after in order to use their backgrounds and knowledge to positively contribute to the high demand for alternative energies in the future.

While many industries continue to lay off workers, the future of alternative energy is becoming brighter with each passing year—leading scientists to pursue new careers that will provide them with not only secure positions, but opportunities to display their talents as well, in order to plant seeds of hope for the future.

As thousands of jobs have been created in alternative energy in the last decade, the future appears bright within the industry. There are no signs that opportunities will decrease anytime soon. Not only is the industry creating jobs for current workers, but colleges and universities around the nation are also preparing future scientific leaders for careers in the field.

Across the country, well-respected colleges and universities have begun offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in renewable or alternative energy. The Oregon Institute of Technology was the first educational institution in the country to offer a four-year undergraduate program in renewable-energy systems. Since then, the following public and private universities, among others, have followed in the institute’s footsteps by creating alternative or renewable energy degree programs that will prepare highly talented students for successful futures in the industry.7

• Arizona State University
• University of Wisconsin—Madison
• Washington State University
• Illinois State University
• John Brown University

During the past 12 months, scientists around the country have endured an unpredictable national economy, as well as continued job losses and pharmaceutical megamergers. Throughout the year, scientists learned that they could truly adapt to all sorts of adversities in order to continue to pursue their dreams within the scientific community.

Some scientists have become entrepreneurs, while others have found opportunities in the field of alternative energy or have continued their research and development careers with help from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Meanwhile, others have just begun their careers after obtaining a degree in renewable energy. Each of these young scientists is eager to positively impact the scientific community well into the future.

Through it all, individuals have continuously contributed their talents to the scientific community in order to plant seeds for future opportunities.