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On Leaving Academia(远离学术界)

2013年07月10日 Other 评论 1 条 阅读 75,636 次

On Leaving Academia(远离学术界)

来源:译言网;译者:北大西洋的龙猫

 

现在差不多每个人都知道我已经辞去新墨西哥大学(以下简称新墨大)的职位了。从七月开始,我将转投谷歌,前往位于麻省剑桥市的分部工作。

无数人,从我的朋友到我的(前)学院主任都问过我,“为什么?为什么要放弃这么完美(有人甚至用了‘清闲’这个词)的终身教授职位,去掺和到那些繁琐的商业生活中去?”

说实在的,这其中的原因相当错综复杂,有的也确实只是出于私人的考虑。但其中也有另外一些,跟新墨大、跟整个新墨西哥州、整个学术界甚至是整个美国的风气有关——关于这几条,我还是不吐不快。辞职这个举动并非一时冲动的后果,而我也想借本文警示各位:以下这些令我对学术界倍感失望的因素,其实同样也在影响着全美其它的教授们。我所担忧的是,如果我们继续无视教职岗位的吸引力消退的话,美国,这个全世界最富创新力的源泉,终将面对令人堪忧的未来。

1、改变世界的机会

本来,我投身科学的最终目标,是希望能为世界做出一点积极的贡献。这一目标并未动摇;但是,由于以下原因中的几条,实现它已经变得越来越难。谷歌作为一个商业组织,确实是一个利用尖端计算机科技切实地推动世界进步的榜样。尽管在谷歌这样的商业巨擘里想要有所建树也并非易事,但在当前的学术风气下,做出点东西的可能性依旧比留在学术界高得多。

2、工作负担与家庭、生活的平衡

这一点早就已经是老生常谈了,我也没必要再赘述什么。我只想说,当教授本身就足以让人心力交瘁了——如果你想要把活干好的话——而拿到终身制后依然要面对的种种情形则更是雪上加霜。这个问题在学术界非常普遍,而新墨大的情况也不会好到哪去。即使是到我辞职离开的时候,学校也依然还没有通过任何一项统一的请假制度,为教职员工因父母职责或是其它家事请假提供相应的便利;更别提如何建立长期稳定的机制和补助方案,帮助教职工们平衡他们的工作和生活了。

3、权威集中,独立消退

我任教新墨大的这些年里,头顶上换过四任校长、三任教务长,还有两任学院主任。管理层频繁更迭中的主旋律,始终是权力、资源的进一步集中化,给院系和教职工带来了日渐增长的压力。这一缓慢却显而易见的过程,带来的是对学术独立性或明或暗的伤害,是对教职工关怀的流失,也是工作不确定性的蔓延。另一方面,我(还有很多同事)也感觉,这些攻击破坏了大学本身所承担的教学与科研使命。

4、资金环境

两场同时进行的对外战争打了将近十年之后,美国又遭遇了两代人以内最严重的经济萧条——如今无论是联邦还是州内的财政预算都已经大幅萎缩。更糟糕的是,共和党领导下的恶劣政治氛围以及他们刻意造成的国会混乱彻底断绝了任何长期、合理的预算规划的可能性。在这样的压力下,我们已经目睹了联邦科学项目资金连续至少七年的止步不前,以及全国各州立法机构对教育经费的无情削减。这些力量集合在一起,一点一点地啃食着大学的生存空间,迫使校方不得不向教职工们转嫁压力。于是,在经费越来越稀缺的时候,教授们却在被学校越发卖力地驱使着,向联邦政府争取更多的科研经费。最终导致的结果,是一套于大学非常有害的政策——它们不仅造成了教学与科研的对立,还使得两者都屈从于根本不切实际的资金追求。例如,新墨大工学院最新颁布的一个制度,就以教学负担为惩罚,诱使教授们更多地去追寻科研资金(事实上,该制度只以教授们引来的科研资金作为其学术能力的唯一度量。而匪夷所思的是,这跟学术能力压根毫无关系,更别提创新能力了)。

5、过专业化、心胸狭隘与目光短浅

资金上的压力同样也带来了精神上的压力。当人类感到不安时,我们会变得更保守与退缩——我们只求凡事稳妥,而不敢放手一搏。但问题是,创新从本质上就离不开探索性的风险。创新的目标是发现新事物——超越现状,发现或者创造前所未有的事物。既要求索未知,又要万无一失,本来就是自相矛盾的。

在美国,传统意义上,大学一直在为类似的科学探索提供一个安全的避风港,而联邦、各州和企业对此的资金支持也一直不曾断供(顺便提一句,采购现成的尖端研究成果,要远比通过工业界或是政府亲自研发来得实惠,而且还能让这些机构规避失败的风险)。这一结合曾经带来了惊人的回报,利润常常是投资的好几倍都不止。

但这当前的风气下,所有这些机构,包括科学家自己,都在有意回避着探索性的研究,求诸于更为安稳的路线。多数资源,都流向了已经被他人确证、保证有所回报的想法、技术(以及学者);而主流之外的想法,却越来越难以得到同行评审的认可,获取学校的支持,或是赢得相关机构的经费。其后果就是,在大量的科研领域,学者的视野越来越狭隘,对创新性的探索越来越排斥(我的同事,喷气推进实验室的基里·瓦格斯塔夫,针对我们所从事的机器学习领域,就该问题的一个具体方面写过一篇精彩的分析)。

6、激励缺失

除了以上几条,“要么发表、要么消亡”和“不拉经费、死路一条”这样的压力,打击了研究者对自己专长之外的领域的探索。现如今,无论是想在你自己的领域发表创新性的专著,还是试图努力发掘新的交叉领域、拓宽经费来源,都已经越发地不可能(更别提类似“帮助学生完成学业”这样的“杂事”了)。在这样的情形下,想做探索性和交叉性的研究变得越来越困难。而很多对社会意义重大的交叉性项目,其实并没有要求每一个相关的学科方向都非得做出创新性的研究成果不可。类似的门槛因此而阻碍了很多人在这些方向上投入自己的精力。就拿我自己的经历来说吧:当你不能从“帮助拯救婴儿的生命”这样的工作里得到应有的肯定与认可时,你就知道我们的学术激励机制肯定出了什么大问题了。

7、教育的量产化

对于斯坦福的超过十万学生的计算机课程、麻省理工的系列开放课程以及其它致力于大规模远程教育的项目,新闻媒体上可谓是一片齐声赞扬。从某些方面来说,这些努力确实令人激动——这或许是上千年来第一次为人类的教育方式提供了一种结构性改变的可能。它们将教育“民主化”了——为全世界不同地区、不同经济与社会背景的人们提供了接触世界顶尖教育的途径。要是我们能够将优质的教育提供给越来越多的人们,将可以诞生多少拉马努金式的天才?

但关于这一浪潮,我不得不提出三个警示。

首先,我所担心的是,教育的规模化,将会带来跟制造业两百年间的量产化一样的后果——政府当局为了节约开支,会迫使远程课程的规模一再扩张,从而进一步削减授课所需的教职工岗位。谁知道会不会有一天,整个美国的计算机科学专业只剩下唯一一个教授?

其次,我怀疑“赢者通吃”的循环会像它在工业界和社会中一样造成学术界的畸形扭曲。当不再有距离或学费的限制以后,还有哪个学生会拒绝斯坦福和麻省理工的远程教育,而选择类似新墨大这样的学校?离学术界出现的美国电话电报公司(AT&T)、微软或者谷歌这样的寡头还有多久?离1%的大学和教授占有99%的学生和资源的日子还有多久?

最后,这一趋势将威胁甚至是抹除学术界里,对学生和教师最为宝贵的体验。从最本质的层面来说,教育发生在个体与个体之间——这是一种教师与学生之间私人的沟通,无论时间或长或短。它可以是随堂回答一个学生提出的问题,也可以是在面谈时间用二十分钟解决一个难题,甚至是花上几年时间与自己的指导的博士生紧密协作——这其中的人性沟通,对双方都意义非凡。它所带来的影响之深刻,远远超出了对信息本身的传递——它教会我们如何融入周边的社会,并为我们设立了一个值得效仿的榜样——在一个学术领域内我们该如何行事,如何缜密思索,如何变得更专业,以及如何实现心智的成熟,等等。我非常担忧的是,我们对这一过程的“民主化”,将会切断这一人性沟通,把这一上千年的古老事业中,最充满欢乐的一面消磨殆尽。

8、工资待遇

一直以来,学术界工作者的收入都低于他们工业界的同行们——其中的差距通常还大得惊人(尤其是备受业界青睐的行业,如简称STEM行业的科学、技术、工学与数学,还有各种医疗、法律以及其它学科)。从前,大学还能为教授提供宽松的学术自由与日程安排,以及培养下一代人的愉悦感,以此来补偿他们收入上的劣势。但我上文所提及的种种改变,却把这种补偿给掐掉了一大半。这使得我们在拿着不相称的薪水的同时,却拿不到其它应有的回报。就像一位同事在我宣布辞职时所说的,“‘酷’也是我们的收入之一。要是‘酷’的成分都没了,那我们还不如去其它地方多赚点钱呢。”

9、反智主义,教育无用论,还有对科学与学术界的恶意攻击

在这个国家,如今有一种可怕的趋势——往小了说,是对学术界的攻击;往大了说,则是在对思想自由与知性主义的攻击。思想自由被渲染成破坏性的、危险的、精英至上的,还跟阴谋论扯上了关系(我都不知道“阴谋”两字从何谈起,它可不是你们这些家伙想当然的那种意思)。大学被指责效率低下,教授们则形如行尸走肉(在他们拿到终身制以后)或是在以某种方式“迫害年轻一代”(苏格拉底的反对者们,在他们毒死人类最伟大的思想家之一前,也说过类似的话)。政客们攻击科学界,为的是不过是讨好原教旨主义者以及各自的资本赞助者。

其实这些想法背后的元素,多多少少都曾浮现于美国的思潮中。但最近这些年里,这却已经成为了这个国家的时代精神中,一个溃烂、化脓、生疽的伤口。那些肆意攻击教育事业的人或许忘了,美国正是通过19世纪所引导、创立的公共教育体系,才改变了数千年来社会与经济上的不平等?他们或许也忘了,正是教育造就了我们领先世界的各个行业,从而奠定了这个国家伟大的根基——艺术、音乐、文学、政治哲学、建筑学、工程学、理学、数学、药学……?他们或许还忘了,这个世界上最大的经济体依赖于(受过教育的)创新;而人类史上最强大的军队,也离不开教育体系所结出的科技与工程学的硕果?他们或许更忘了,美国的脊梁——我们口口声声说要维护的宪法——就出自启蒙时期受过良好教育的政治理想主义者;而他们坚信的,是只有通过被启蒙过的、受过教育的选民的一举一动,才能实现自由与一个更为公正的社会?

坦率的说,现状不仅令人作呕,更是危机重重。要是任凭这些憎恨者、恐惧者还有政治投机者当道掌权,他们将会剖空人类史上最伟大的机构之一;而在此过程中,他们也将割断这个国家的气管,放干未来创新的血液。我确定,其它国家将会很乐意填补这一空缺,争相啄食这一具名为“美国”的尸体残骸。

***

作者后记:在我的决定背后,当然还有对其它因素的考虑。而任何生活的变迁也很难在一篇短文中阐述清楚。不过,本文中所列的这些都是最主要的因素了。

我也并不是永远抛弃了学术界。我只是暂时希望尝试一下工业界这条路,而未来我也随时有可能回归学术界。教授这份工作,毫无疑问依然有我所欣赏和喜爱的地方。在此期间,我也会寻找其他的方式,去贡献社会,去教育下一代,也去改变这个世界。

Source:

On Leaving Academia

Jul 23rd, 12

As almost everybody knows at this point, I have resigned my position at the University of New Mexico.  Effective this July, I am working for Google, in their Cambridge (MA) offices.

Countless people, from my friends to my (former) dean have asked “Why?  Why give up an excellent [some say 'cushy'] tenured faculty position for the grind of corporate life?”

Honestly, the reasons are myriad and complex, and some of them are purely personal.  But I wanted to lay out some of them that speak to larger trends at UNM, in New Mexico, in academia, and in the US in general.  I haven’t made this move lightly, and I think it’s an important cautionary note to make: the factors that have made academia less appealing to me recently will also impact other professors.  I’m concerned that the US — one of the innovation powerhouses of the world — will hurt its own future considerably if we continue to make educational professions unappealing.

Opportunity To Make A Difference

Ultimately, I got into science in order to make a positive difference on the world. That goal remains, but, for some of the reasons I outline below, it is becoming harder over time. Google is a strong example of an organization that actually is using advanced computer science to make a real, positive difference in the world. While it’s also difficult to make an impact at an immense company like Google, in the current climate it seems like better chances than in academia.

Workload And Family/Life Balance

Immense amounts have been written about this, and I won’t try to reprise them here. Suffice it to say that the professorial life can be grueling, if you try to do the job well, and being post-tenure can actually make it worse. This is a widespread problem in academia, and UNM is no different. But, as of my departure, UNM had still not approved a unified parental or family leave policy for faculty, let alone established consistent policies and support for work/life balance.

Centralization Of Authority And Decrease Of Autonomy

In my time at UNM, I served under four university presidents, three provosts, and two deans. The consistent pattern of management changes was centralization of control, centralization of resources, and increase of pressure on departments and faculty. This gradually, but quite noticeably, produced implicit and explicit attacks on faculty autonomy, decrease of support for faculty, and increase of uncertainty. In turn, I (and many others) feel that these attacks subvert both teaching and research missions of the university.

Funding Climate

A near-decade of two simultaneous foreign wars, topped off by the most brutal recession in two generations, has left federal and state budgets reeling. Compounding this, the current Republican-led poisonous political climate andRepublican-orchestrated congressional melt-down has destroyed any chance of coherent, reasoned budget planning. In the face of these pressures, we have seen at least seven years of flat or declining funding for federal scienceprograms and state legislatures slashing educational funding across the country. Together, these forces are crunching universities, which ultimately turns into additional pressure on faculty. Faculty are being pushed ever harder to achieve higher levels of federal research funding precisely at the time when that funding is ever harder to come by. This turns into policies that hurt the university by putting the teaching mission at odds with the research mission and subjugating both to the quest for the elusive dollar. A recent UNM School of Engineering policy, for example, uses teaching load as a punishment to goad professors into chasing funding. (Indeed, the policy measures research productivity only as a function of dollars brought in. Strangely, research productivity doesn’t enter the picture, let alone creativity.)

Hyper-Specialization, Insularity, And Narrowness Of Vision

The economic pressures have also turned into intellectual pressures. When humans feel panicked, we tend to become more conservative and risk-averse — we go with the sure thing, rather than the gamble. The problem is that creativity is all about exploratory risk. The goal is to find new things — to go beyond state-of-the-art and to discover or create things that the world has never seen. It’s a contradiction to simultaneously forge into the unknown and to insist on a sure bet.

Traditionally, in the US, universities have provided a safe home for that kind of exploration, and federal, state, and corporate funding have supported it. (Incidentally, buying advanced research far cheaper than it would be to do it in either industry or government, and insulating those entities from the risk.) The combination has yielded amazing dividends, paying off at many, many times the level of investment.

In the current climate, however, all of these entities, as well as scientists themselves, are leaning away from exploratory research and insisting on those sure bets. Most resources go to ideas and techniques (and researchers) that have proven profitable in the past, while it’s harder and harder to get ideas outside the mainstream either accepted by peer review, supported by the university, or funded by granting agencies. The result is increasingly narrow vision in a variety of scientific fields and an intolerance of creative exploration. (My colleague Kiri Wagstaff, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, has written an excellent analysis of one facet of this problem within our own field of Machine Learning.)

Poor Incentives

Further, the “publish or perish” and “procure funding or perish” pressures discourage exploration outside one’s own specialty. It’s hard to do exploratory or interdisciplinary research when it is unlikely to yield either novel publications in your own field or new funding streams. (Let alone, say, help students complete their degrees.) But many things that are socially important to do don’t necessarily require novel research in all the participating fields, so there’s a strong disincentive to work on them. As just one example from my own experience: when you can’t get credit for helping tosave babies lives, then you know that there’s something seriously wrong in the incentive system.

Mass Production Of Education

There’s been a lot of excitement in the media about Stanford’s 100,000+ student computer science courses, MIT’s open-sourced classes, and other efforts at mass, distance-education. In some ways, these efforts really are thrilling — they offer the first truly deep structural change in how we do education in perhaps a thousand years. They offer democratization of education — opening up access to world-class education to people from all over the globe and of diverse economic and social backgrounds. How many Ramanujans might we enable, if only we could get high-quality education to more people?

But I have to sound three notes of caution about this trend.

First, I worry that mass-production here will have the same effect that it has had on manufacturing for over two centuries: administrators and regents, eager to save money, will push for ever larger remote classes and fewer faculty to teach them. Are we approaching a day in which there is only one professor of computer science for the whole US?

Second, I suspect that the “winners win” cycle will distort academia the same way that it has industry and society. When freed of constraints of distance and tuition, why wouldn’t every student choose a Stanford or MIT education over, say, UNM? How long before we see the AT&T, Microsoft, or Google of academia? How long before 1% of the universities and professors garner 99% of the students and resources?

Third, and finally, this trend threatens to kill some of what is most valuable about the academic experience, to both students and teachers. At the most fundamental level, education happens between individuals — a personal connection, however long or short, between mentor and student. Whether it’s personally answering a question raised in class, spending twenty minutes working through a tricky idea in office hours, or spending years of close collaboration in a PhD mentorship relationship, the human connection matters to both sides. It resonates at levels far deeper than the mere conveyance of information — it teaches us how to be social together and sets role models of what it is to perform in a field, to think rigorously, to be professional, and to be intellectually mature. I am terribly afraid that our efforts to democratize the process will kill this human connection and sterilize one of the most joyful facets of this thousand-year-old institution.

Salaries

It has always been the case that academics are paid less than their comparable industry colleagues — often, substantially so. (This is especially so in highly sought fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM fields] as well as various health fields, law, and a number of other disciplines.) Traditionally, universities compensate for this with broad intellectual and schedule freedom and the joy of mentoring new generations of students. But all of the trends I have outlined above have cut into those compensations, leaving us underpaid, but with little to show for it in exchange. As one of my colleagues remarked when I announced my departure, “We’re being paid partly in cool. If you take away the cool parts of the job, you might as well go make more money elsewhere.”

Anti-Intellectualism, Anti-Education, And Attacks On Science And Academia

There is a terrifying trend in this country right now of attacking academia, specifically, and free thought and intellectualism, generally. Free thought is painted as subversive, dangerous, elitist, and (strangely) conspiratorial. (That word… I do not think it means what you think it means.) Universities are accused of inefficiency and professors of becoming deadwood after tenure or of somehow “subverting the youth”. (Socrates’s accusers made a similar claim before they poisoned one of the great thinkers of the human race.) Politicians attack science to score points with religious fundamentalists and corporate sponsors.

Some elements of these feelings have always floated through the United States psyche, but in recent years it has risen to the level of a festering, suppurating, gangrenous wound in the zeitgeist of the country. Perhaps those who sling accusations at education have forgotten that the US reshaped millennia of social and economic inequity by leading the way in creating public education in the nineteenth century? Or that education has underlaid the majority of the things that have made this country great — fields in which we have led the world? Art, music, literature, political philosophy, architecture, engineering, science, mathematics, medicine, and many others? That the largest economy in the world rests on (educated) innovation, and that the most powerful military in human history is enabled by technological and engineering fruits of the educational system? That the very bones of the United States — the constitution we claim to hold so dear — was crafted by highly educated political idealists of the Enlightenment, who firmly believed that freedom and a more just society are possible only through the actions of an enlightened andeducated population of voters?

Frankly, it’s sickening, not to mention dangerous. If the haters, fearers, and political opportunists have their way, they will gut one of the greatest institutions in human history and, in the process, will cut the throat of this country, draining its lifeblood of future creativity. Other countries will be happy to fill the gap, I’m sure, and pick over the carcass of the country that was once the United States of America.


There are other factors behind my decision, of course. Any life change is too complex to express in a short essay. These are the major ones, though.

Nor am I necessarily done with academia forever. I’m going to give the industry track a try for a while, but I could well find myself back in academia in the future. There are certainly many things I still find beautiful and joyful about the job. In the interim, I will look for other ways to contribute to society, other ways to help educate the future, and other ways to change the world.

–读后

国内何尝不是如此,国内大学的生态恶劣无以复加。

在一个地方呆长了,产生了惰性,不愿意做出改变

一方面是保守,一方面是懦弱。

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  1. 点菜宝

    😳 后面的英文没有看懂几个字啊

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