The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, October 27, 2008

Become a scientist - and be poor.

Why, I wonder, are scientists so poorly paid in the United States? I was somewhat stunned to learn of the way scientists are treated in the US, today.

Here is a typical career profile of a successful scientist in America:

age 18-22: shelling out high tuition fees as an undergraduate
age 22-30: at graduate school, living on just $1800 per month
age 30-35: working as a post-doc for $30,000 to $35,000 per year
age 36-43: professor at an OK university for $65,000 per year
age 44: a parent of young children, yet "denied tenure" by the university - that is, fired

Thereafter is anybody's guess, depending on how able the former scientist is to secure another job in a market that doesn't like to take on middle-aged newcomers.

Given the economic conditions above, is it any wonder that most Americans don't want to be scientists? So, who does the science in America, then? Immigrants. America dangles the tiniest of carrots to Indians and Chinese nationals, "30,000 to 35,000 a year" - and they arrive in droves, for such small sums have seemed like riches to them.

However, there is a problem, here, which puts in question the whole future of American science - and consequently, the success of America itself. China and India are beginning to do very well for themselves. They have more to offer their own the US doesn't seem so attractive anymore - especially since they must become aware, in time, that the wages offered are little more than a con. I don't think those Indian and Chinese immigrants are going to be coming to America for very much longer.

America has treated science as something to be offered to slave labour immigrants, at pitiful wages. The thinking seems to have been that, since these immigrants are willing to do the work for so little, why should they offer more? Well, there are very good reasons to offer more. If salaries in science are so far below what a professional could secure with similar training (ie. $500,000 a year), then the best people will not be drawn to science, but will be lured away. Science is far too important to the future of Man, to allow it to be unable to secure the best and brightest.

Science should be competing for the best minds there are. It should not be satisfied with "we can get somebody to do that for that is how much we will pay." It should pay as much as law or medicine, or any other professional job, so that the best people will strive to be scientists - and not put those people in the position of choosing between science and making even a basic living.

For contrast to the figures above, I have read that a law graduate from a good University in the US, can expect to start on 125K - that is double the earnings of a typical science professor, a couple of decades older.

We can conclude from this that America does not value its scientists, or science - but that it likes to argue a lot.

Perhaps, when the immigrants stop coming to the US, because their home countries offer a better deal, America will start paying its scientists what they are worth - if, that is, they haven't all left for Europe and Asia.

Given the present state of science in America and the way American scientists are (not) remunerated, I don't think Ainan, for one, will work there (unless conditions improve a lot). It would be foolish of him, to do so, given the conditions that prevail there. No doubt, there are many young scientists, who think similarly about prospects in the US.

The present American financial crisis - combined with their lack of respect for scientists - makes me wonder at whether America is going to go into a permanent decline. A country where post-doc researchers make 30K and the head of Lehman brothers was paid several hundred million dollars in the past few years, has got something seriously wrong. Lehman is not more important than a scientific researcher. Science is more fundamental to the long-term future of the nation, than the financial games of the Lehman's of this world. Yet, the market says otherwise. The market values the man able to destroy 150 years of banking history by himself, more than the young scientist able to bring something new into the world. Therein lies the problem with America, today: the wrong things are valued. That which is of true value is sidelined.

I don't think it is going to work out well, in the long-term.

Good luck, USA.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:34 PM 


Blogger Colin said...

I think that what you bring up is very significant. When you compare the education systems of Singapore and of the US, the US system is so much more likely to produce top academics and scholars. In Singapore, we just learn everything by rote, whereas the US system gives much more room for exploration. In spite of that, few Americans nowadays want to be academics. (I'm assuming you're right, that few Americans want to be academics because of the pay)

The United States Army has Special Forces soldiers with multiple university degrees, and who speak 2 or more languages! How many such soldiers (enlisted men, not officers) can you find in the armies of other countries?

Why I brought that up was because that was one example with which I am familiar, and also to illustrate that to a very large extent, America is really a land of opportunity. Americans have a society which allows and encourages them to achieve so much if they are just willing to put in the requisite amount of effort.

So it comes down to this; that it is not because Americans are dumb and therefore they cannot be academics, but they just do not want to. If, because of the pay, Americans choose to forgo their role in advancing humandkind, it is indeed sad, and I agree with your sentiments.

Just my 2 cents' worth.

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

such materialistic.

material things mean nothing to the dreamer.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am not materialistic. I think you will find that, if a scientist doesn't earn enough, that eating proves difficult - and having a place to live that isn't a rat infested dump. The property prices in some American University towns are so high that no professor could ever afford to buy a house. Where are they going to live...a single rented room perhaps? It is sad.

Yes, a dreamer can dream irrespective of money - but a dreamer should not have to dream in a rented bed, in a grotty house, while his colleagues who chose not to dream live in mansions, because they have no ideas and chose to be real estate agents/financiers, etc.

It isn't right - and it isn't productive.

I think you are unaware of the cost of living in the US. Really, the wages are offensive, for scientists.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite agree with you. Scientists in the US are not only paid in legumes, but they have the social standing of a wart here as well. All of this despite the fact that these same "scientists" ( it is now a bad word, you see) are looked to in order to find the "cure for cancer", like trained ponies. It is utterly ridiculous.
Nice Blog!

12:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. the social standing of scientists...I had no idea that they were thought of in that way: shocking. How can a developed nation think of its thinkers in that way? Surely the DEVELOPMENT of that nation depends on scientists (and their cousins technologists)?

I find America's situation re. scientists completely inexplicable. It promises a poorer future for the US I am afraid. It would be an improvement if scientists were paid as much as POLICEMEN (I hear in some California counties the average police package including benefits is worth 190K!)

What a strange country the US is.

7:30 AM  

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