For the rest of July, we will be taking a look at the Jurassic Park films, mainlyÂ Jurassic Park andÂ 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.Â Looking at the originalÂ Jurassic Park and the most recentÂ Jurassic World, I noticedÂ 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 thatÂ the corporate scientists (may?) have been blinded by greed and only academicÂ have the impartiality and respect for nature to see what is really happening at the park.
That outsider voice is largely absent fromÂ 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 inÂ military applications). Everyone looks at the dinosaurs as a resource to exploit. PerhapsÂ 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 aÂ freshÂ perspective — not precisely an outsider view since he lives and works on the islandÂ –Â although once again too late to prevent catastrophe.
I’d imagine these different roles represent a typicalÂ 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 reverentiallyÂ 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 whileÂ these filmsÂ 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?”
About the author:
Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichÃ©d notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two teenagers, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.