First off, I was was raised in the space age – the coming up of NASA with the blank check programs for Wow Media Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, space station, Hubble, etc flights. Granted that age spawned over 2 generations, possibly a third, and worldwide no less of excited, highly motivated scientists and engineers, but the momentum slowed when congress and Presidents faced growing national debt, increasing concerns over security, energy crises, congressional stalemates, the current global warming crisis, etc, etc. Throw in some idiocy, inflated egos and lack of perspective too.
Yes, it was fun, exciting, stimulating and the best part about it – it spawned grand love affairs between millions of scientists and their chosen discipline. I personally cannot relay how much in love one can be with one’s chosen. It’s spiritual to tie the schemes of the grand universe down to tiny particles, and quantum interactions. To question always. Why dark matter, it is really real? Why is the solar corona millions of degrees hotter than the lower transition region? Why why, why?
I can recall as a youngster, finding a chemistry book and reading a early chapter on atoms and their constituents. I was in tears (of joy) and not without questions of course! To know there was some explanation, some structure for my arm, my cat, the creek I played in and everything else was no less a revelation for me. Eventually I would learn how atoms along with the Pauli exclusion principle, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, quark rules, etc would explain the grand quantum underpinning of our world. Yes I was in love. Like every other star struck lover.
Despite what the President claims, today the reality is a bit more complicated. Yes we need more people trained in a scientific type way, however, a scientist is more likely to end his or her post grad training 5-7 year love affair with a job in network software, website optimization, teaching secondary or community college, science writing, etc.. Is this such a bad thing? Maybe not if one can find joy in keeping a roof over the heads of one’s family and supplying basic needs such as food and medical care.
My very favorite science blogger Sean Carroll has a spiel, Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists with many fine comments on just this subject so check out the link. It’s quite revealing. Another good link on this subject Penn Physics and Astronomy Department page.