For the rest of July, we will be taking a look at the Jurassic Park films, mainly Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. We will be discussing the films in detail, so spoilers are possible but will be kept to a minimum.
When I was a microbiology graduate student, it was generally understood that there were three broad career options: continue on in academia, work for the government, or join the corporate world. Any discussion of one’s future plans and goals typically started with a question about that threefold choice. Looking at the original Jurassic Park and the most recent Jurassic World, I noticed how the various forces driving the plot also fell into one of those three categories.
The first film dramatizes the relationship between the academy and the private sector. Clearly the theme park is a corporate concern, engaged in science only insofar as it sells tickets and souvenirs. Meanwhile, Drs. Grant, Sattler and Malcolm are recruited to provide an independent assessment. I don’t believe their exact jobs are specified, but they obviously are not direct employees of Jurassic Park or its parent company Ingen. They exhibit the independence and intellectual freedom generally associated with academics. The implication is that the corporate scientists (may?) have been blinded by greed and only academic have the impartiality and respect for nature to see what is really happening at the park.
That outsider voice is largely absent from Jurassic World. The corporate scientists are back — most notably recurring character Dr. Wu — and there is a strong military presence (technically I think it’s a private security force, but staffed with ex-military folks interested in military applications). Everyone looks at the dinosaurs as a resource to exploit. Perhaps Owen Grady offers the academic perspective, just without the credentials or official academic standing. He seems more interested in “pure” research than anyone else, although his actual goals training the raptors are never very clear. He’s also brought in to provide a fresh perspective — not precisely an outsider view since he lives and works on the island — although once again too late to prevent catastrophe.
I’d imagine these different roles represent a typical understanding of how the academy, corporations and the government (or at least the military) work. The academics do research for the sake of advancing Science (possibly at the expense of doing anything practical), companies do research to make money, and the military does research to make better weapons. Of course, reality is much more complicated. Even in the first film, we are reminded that academic research dollars have to come from somewhere, creating certain expectations if not outright obligations, and academics do more than reverentially observe nature. Meanwhile, what we might consider pure science research is regularly done by scientists collecting corporate paychecks. Military research has provided plenty of civilian benefits. And that’s not even mentioning all the folks who take their scientific training and go into law or policy or journalism or any number of other domains! So while these films can and do inspire plenty of folks to pursue scientific careers, we need to be prepared to help those so inspired to unpack what the real career options actually look like.
How do you understand the career options in your field? How do you engage with public perceptions of your particular career track? How do you interact with others in your field who work in a different “sector?”