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DISCOVERING THE BRAIN
widespread as the afflictions themselves, could be the opening needed to convince the public of the importance of brain research for understanding and treating addictions.
A simple way to measure the health of a scientific discipline might be to ask a gathering of its practitioners, “Would you encourage your best young students to enter the field nowadays?” Allan Bromley, while traveling around the country and meeting with groups in many scientific fields, has found that the answer tends to be no, and the reason often given is that the particular field under discussion is not as much fun as it used to be.
For neuroscience, the answer was a little different. Some said no, just as many said yes, and perhaps the greatest number emphatically answered both yes and no. Surprisingly, a clear consensus emerged from all this: while the science itself is more exciting than ever and the practical applications of one's work may be most gratifying, finding subsistence in the field has become more and more difficult and time consuming, and the prospects are discouraging. A senior scientist may well hesitate before encouraging young investigators to enter the field—particularly if the funding prospects to sustain a career show no signs of improving and a scientist's time is increasingly taken up with the search for funds rather than with research. The long-time chairman of one neurology department put the matter succinctly: “The doing is sensational now. It's the not doing that's agony.”
Huda Akil, of the Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan, suggests that research groups or “teams” may offer young researchers some protection against too-early exposure to the fierce struggle for funds. With a senior scientist navigating the grant application process, young researchers are free to concentrate on their work. Although in no way a long-term solution to constraints in funding, the team approach offers at least partial shelter and makes use of the assurance and standing of researchers who have already spent some time in the field.
It is a simple but ironic sign of the times that neuroscience should be facing some of the greatest research challenges the field has ever seen just when it is becoming clear that there may no longer be the resources to tackle them as they deserve.