The Age of Aged Scientists
Authored by Eric Lumsden
Tyler Cowen published a blog post this morning highlighting a study that shows the average age of scientists has increased from 45 to 49 over a 17 year span. This coincides nicely with a piece I wrote earlier this month outlining why younger scientists need to take a bigger stand on advocacy, specifically the section discussing the plateauing of funded grants and the increased age of primary investigators.
More senior faculty members are hanging on to their jobs longer while, simultaneously, grant funding is stagnating. The study points out this ‘crowding out’ of younger scientists and offers an interesting question: does scientific productivity change with age and, if so, what will that mean for scientific progress in the near future?
From that I offer more questions for your consideration. Should universities reinstate mandatory retirement ages for their faculty? When this wave of older investigators finally do retire or pass away will those filling the jobs come from the next generation of scientists (currently 40–50) or from the younger generation (currently in school/postdocs)? Which would be more beneficial? While both offer clear upsides (experience versus productivity) the opposite can also be used as negatives (productivity versus experience). It’s an interesting study that leaves a lot of questions marks around the future of scientific research.