At a minimum, I expect YCR researchers to be turning down job offers from YC companies all the time.
From the perspective of a biotech researcher in the US, the funding model here is broken. As a result of funding levels falling for more than a decade, and universities being less willing to invest in individuals without consistent major funding, getting grants has become a very political process.
I applaud YC's efforts. We need alternatives, but I am not sure that YC is interested in the same kinds of research that the legacy funding system used to support. Science is not sexy. The results can be incredibly sexy, but you never go in looking for those sexy results.
EDIT: In addition, it's worth considering the difference in the peak talent age of a researcher as compared to a programmer. You can code in your bedroom as a preteen, but it's very difficult to get unfettered access to a molecular research laboratory before the age of 22. The best researchers are older, and that changes the equation in important ways.
Speaking as someone who left academia close to two decades ago, sama hit the nail on the head.
The kinds of people that sama is targeting are ones who in the current system are going to wind up in postdocs or teaching adjuncts. With the way that universities are structured, all incentives are to have as many of these as possible doing teaching, pay them as little as possible, string them along on as long as possible, and reward as few as possible with the golden apple of tenure. These incentives have been taken to an outrageous extent. If you are a young researcher and are concerned that YCR is too risky, then you're not being honest about your own prospects.
Increased funding for research does not solve this problem. The university system structurally creates more PhDs than it can create jobs for unless the university system is growing rapidly. This was last true in the 1950s and 1960s, but has not worked out for most grad students since. Shrinking is admittedly worse than steady, but both are bad.
Therefore the YCR opportunity gives researchers a chance to do research that might or might not be better than a regular postdoc, and significantly improved job prospects if it doesn't. The best way to address that issue is to be honest about it.
But I am highly confused about how the OP's concern relates to types of research that are largely supported in academia alone. If you're in a field of research that YCR is not interested in supporting, then going with YCR is not an option for you. And therefore it won't matter whether or not it is a good option.
It's not that hard to get access (perhaps not unfettered) to research labs in high school. In grade 10, I talked to a professor at UCLA and started coding physics simulations for him. Many people I know worked at research labs far before the age of 22. Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad won 3rd place at the Westinghouse Talent search for neural research at age 17. Feynman started tinkering early, and Einstein taught himself geometry at age 12.
If you're curious, you can push your way in. However, this isn't easy, and we need to make it easier for students to get involved earlier. At any rate, YCR will certainly find talent at all ages.
I thought my PhD research was fantastic. It was good, but geez could I have wasted YCR's money at that point. :)
You need to look at the individual you are evaluating. What were their experiences?
It sucks to lose at a career gamble but, at least in Silicon Valley, most people who fail but keep trying, end up doing pretty well.
The current combination of risk-aversion and the focus on publications, tenure and positive results that permeates academia is antithetical to the uncertainty inherent in scientific research.
It seems to me that building new research institutions like YCR with a culture that resembles the one in tech which accepts and encourages risk-taking should be a priority if we are to continue to make progress in science.
It's easy to say that "more people" should take career risks. It's harder to be the person who's spent their entire life striving toward a Ph.D. in the field of study they love, and face the (very real) possibility that they'll get one shot and that's it.
Even if they can land at a Silicon Valley company (not as likely for biomedical researchers, BTW), that's not their dream. Their dream was to do groundbreaking scientific research. That's why they got their Ph.D. instead of a job in Silicon Valley.
I don't think Sam addressed the commenter's concerns at all.
Here are my thoughts on the topic: http://yansh.github.io/articles/phd-distruption/
It'll be very exciting to see what happens.
There are many industries out there for which failure is hard - one of them is being an athlete in pro sports. If you aren't at the top, you won't make it to the pros. Not to say that a system that allows for failure is bad or good, but that I think it requires more thought than a simple response.
It seems like anyone seriously interested in being a career researcher would know how unforgiving and competitive mainstream academia is.
I think I'm mainly echoing the opinion that it's a little quick to say Academia is "fucked up", since with all it's flaws, there are still great virtues, and a more thoughtful response would probably be more appreciated. I also see the tendency for people to quickly judge academia when they haven't been in academia.
Academia has misplaced incentives here and there and can certainly be unfair at times, but I've never actually run into any large system which didn't have those properties.
Still, let's not exaggerate how screwed the incentives are. Ultimately the best way to succeed in academic science is to do good work. (Also, do a lot of it, and be good at writing about how good your work is and why it should be given lots of money.)
How can an entire discipline that is supposedly based on rational evidence-finding be such a cliquey clusterfuck? You're basically saying that if you don't follow the community rules, which more or less boil down to "hazing," you'll be excommunicated. Sounds like a cult, to me... as is any culture where "fear" is the primary motivator not to try something different.
Don't the laws of nature exist everywhere? Why can't anyone "do science," then?
I am glad I work in a meritocracy-based industry where anyone with any background can "ship" and succeed, and that has a low tolerance for bullshit.
A YCR "fellow" (or whatever it'd be called) would probably not be a competitive candidate for an academic position. It's not because they weren't in academia, it's because they will likely not have the work product used to measure performance in a academic setting. A hiring committee is not going to risk department funds on someone with a non-existent track record when there's a line out the door of other candidates.
I think OP is correct in perceiving that selecting YCR would probably close the door to a future in academia. I will also predict that YCR will have difficulty hiring top academic talent.
The way it'd work out is the same way YC itself started: attract talented, smart people who have no patience for academia's politics. Let them make their own decisions. Build a brand on the discoveries they make, which attracts more people. Change public opinion about how research should be done. Eventually, the "top academic talent" realizes they've made a horrible mistake, and scrambles to join the new system that's replaced the old.
Scientific research is by its nature risky and uncertain. The current risk-averse culture of academia with its focus on grant applications, publishing, tenure, and positive results seems to discourage the risk-taking necessary in science.
On the other hand, the culture prevalent in tech accepts and encourages risk-taking, supports fast and easy recovery from failure and generally evaluates people on merit, not success or failure of their most recent project.
Think how hard the hiring problem is. How do you hire the best people? How do you assess someone's quality based on a few bits of paper and a short interview. Allocating funding in academia consists of solving problems like that, all the time.
Those are 2 reasons off the top of my head.
If you mean "vetted by a tiny handful of fallibly-human organizations such as Nature and Cell who may or may not decide to accept your paper regardless of its actual merit and based mostly on how 'hip' the research is," well then we're back to the hazing/cliquey-clusterfuck thing again.
"Grants" seem equivalent to "angel investments" in the startup world... which seem a lot saner, btw.
The system is far from perfect, but I don't think you'll find anyone in academia saying otherwise. I think of it being like Churchill's quote about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others that were tried.
Bell Labs has produced a lot of great research and many researchers have had fruitful careers there and after.
Why can't YCR be the same?
YCR could be the same, one day. Nevertheless, it's a very long and perilous road from YCR the proposal, to Bell Labs 2.0.
Having worked in research academia, as a hospital medical tech, as a technical support bloke, and now several years across several different companies doing devops, I call hogwash. The software/startup world is replete with bullshit, more than anywhere else. Not to mention the huge amounts of time spent "chasing the shiny", where new tools are used because of fashion rather than merit. And network effects are just as strong in the startup world as in academia or medicine.
Occasionally a bedroom-based programmer can strike it lucky, but that's not the bulk of the startup world.
> Don't the laws of nature exist everywhere? Why can't anyone "do science," then?
Everyone can 'do science'. Youtube is filled with people doing science with everyday items. It's just that most human-scale stuff is low-hanging fruit and has now been 'done'. The edges of science where we're progressing with new knowledge need more expensive tools to observe them.
This might be the most delusional thing I've read in this entire thread, and that's saying something. You can't take a look at founders of successful startups and sincerely tell me that anyone with any background can succeed. The whole idea of a startup excludes huge portions of the population (and I'm not talking about technical skills). Low tolerance for bullshit? The startup world is like 90% bullshit.
Your characterization of academia is way too exaggerated. Leaving academia has always been a semi-permanent move. There is no other job quite like academia, so unless you've done something truly amazing with your outside adventures then your resume is going to be inferior to people who have direct experience in the field. It's only logical.
“If you want total security, go to prison. There you are fed, clothed and given medical care. The only thing lacking...is freedom.”
This is a different scenario. YCR is just getting started, so there is definitely a risk involved for a young researcher. In academia, it would be good for a young postdoc to have a portfolio of projects. Maybe one that's likely to result in success, even if it's not groundbreaking and something else which is more high risk, high reward. As an advisor, I would be irresponsible if I didn't try to suggest such a strategy to anyone working for me--that way, even if the risky project fails, they have something they can show that they accomplished when they look for their next position. If YCR offers the researchers the chance to balance working on risky and not so risky projects, then it sounds like a good opportunity for a young researcher--they get funding (it's not clear what the time scale is--a postdoc in physics is 2-3 years) and a chance to focus on their research and to work with outside researchers. Typically (in physics), postdocs don't teach, so that's not an issue. However, the OPs worry that they won't be able to balance their portfolio is a reasonable fear.
Finally, on the issue of publication, this varies from field to field. I have reviewed papers from PRL, Nature, etc. At least when I do it, it's not the same as just writing a comment. One paper that I refereed was a methods paper. This paper will eventually find it's way into a "black box" computer program, so I thought it was important to be correct. So, besides looking in general at the method, I went through every step of the derivations, checked the integrals, looked for sign errors, etc. This is time consuming and a much different process from just writing a comment or two. A good journal does a lot to try to improve the signal/noise ratio of material. Mistakes are still made and sometimes the process breaks down. It could be improved--but
One of the great things about YCR is that it provides another route for people and it's important to experiment with different approaches. Until it's been tried, we simply won't know if this model works or not and I applaud them for putting up the money and resources to try the experiment. Also, the grant process has become rather broken--but that's a problem of there being a lot of excellent proposals out there (I've reviewed grants before), but not enough money out there to fund many of them. Again, I've heard cases where the process has broken down based on politics, but more of what I've seen and heard is that reviewers see a LOT of things that they would like to fund, but there's just not enough money to go around. So, researchers end up spending a lot of time submitting multiple proposals to multiple agencies because the chance of success is too low....
I hope YCR works out!!! But, I do hope that they allow their researchers to do some hedging by working on some incremental projects as well as high risk projects.
It's not easy, but if you succeed (and publish) then you can often get an academic job afterwards.