Once you pay someone enough to allow them to live comfortably, bunging more money at them is not a terribly effective motivator.
In Britain, or England at least, we seem to have great trouble really accepting this. The banks crashed despite the hugely escalated salaries paid to the chairmen, but we don’t learn. I wonder if Sunday’s abysmal performance by the overpaid England team and their £6m man will make more of us wake up to it.
I love this post which I came across via @paul_clarke. It’s long and worth reading, but to summarise one key point: It describes someone who turns down a much bigger salary somewhere else, because the job he has already pays enough for him not to worry about money, and allows him to pursue his vocation as an artist. The moral is “hire artists”. More cynically one could say “hire smart, creative people who have a passion for something which doesn’t make them a living, and give them less money but more flexibility”. Either way, it works and everyone wins.
I wouldn’t necessarily say “hire scientists” to do second jobs. I’m not sure you can really be a scientist as second job or a hobby. Though if all employers had the enlightened attitude of the Bern patent office maybe at least some theorists could get by.
Nonetheless, and despite what my guest blogger might think, most scientists are not primarily motivated by money. We all need to live, but after that’s taken care of, other things kick in. Like the desire to find out how stuff works – whether that’s fundamental physics, life, or the cool new thing we are trying to make. It often feels a privilege to be funded to do this. So as a society we get more scientists per pound than we do many other professionals. Science is not unique in this, there clearly are other professionals not motivated primarily by money; teachers and medics seem obvious examples. Many politicians too, despite the expenses scandal. Money does play a role, as does the desire for recognition and influence. But money is not the main driver.
This attitude can be abused. This outrageous example (via @sciencepunk) goes some way to explaining why some scientists have no life, as well as perhaps why women are under-represented. While any exciting job will take over your life occasionally, this is not a sustainable norm. It’s also not something a boss can drive you to, except possibly by example. The motivation to work late and work weekends comes from a burning desire to get results and solve problems, not (primarily at least) from a desire to impress the boss. Especially if the boss is an arse and has no bonus pot to make up for it.
Scientific research, and academic life, can become a treadmill. In some fields it’s tedious lab work. In mine it’s computer code and shifts. For everyone I suspect there are spreadsheets, paperwork, and far too many meetings.
I’m in Copenhagen this week for ATLAS meetings. I left my children on a sunny Sunday evening when there were all kinds of fun things we could have been doing. I grumped my way through check-in because of this (and because of the football). But I’m not looking for sympathy, because this week we are discussing lots of new LHC physics results for the ICHEP conference. Motivating. And Copenhagen is Wonderful™.
Though if anyone wants to bung us more money that would be fine too.
[band video and photo credit, Mike Paterson of Colliding Particles.]