Scientific research and feudalism

Recently I felt betrayed by someone I believed protected me and to whom I had always been loyal. I have always consider the scientific research as a sort of feudalism. Instead of providing our swords in exchange for land and protection, we provide our scientific research in exchange of support, moral or financial. The entire system relies on the respect of the given word. A supervisor trains and supports a student or post-doc. In exchange, the latter provides brain power and research activity to the supervisor. This relation continues after the departure of the vassal. The supervisor will provide letters of reference and include the young researcher in hi/her scientific network. In exchange, the young research becomes part of the mentor’s “school”. The same relationship holds for a PI and the head of a department or institute, and so on towards the top.

This organisation is parallel to the official structure of research, and its existence would probably be denied in official circles (because of its possible deviances), but I feel that it must be present for the system to work satisfactorily. Its absence would be akin to the absence of friendships between PhD students or post-doc in the same lab. After decade, some of my co-worker friendships still hold, and the same is true of my feudal relationships with past mentors. When someone breaks his/her word, not only I feel sad and betrayed, but I believe the entire system is weakened and becomes inefficient. To perform scientific research requires a thirst for knowledge. But except highly theoretical work pursued lonely in a secluded office, it also requires emulation by the peers, the desire to look good to your boss, and the need to provide for your staff.

But maybe it is just me. What do-you think? Are-we all lords and vassals?


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