Albert Einstein famously said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” That puts a lot of pressure, but especially on those in science, to have a “Eureka!” moment by the time they are 30. But according to economist Benjamin F. Jones of the Kellogg School of Management the”age of invention” is on the rise. This gives scientists more time to discover something new, but because now they have to be in school so much longer in order to obtain all the new information from the last 75 years they have less time to do original research.
Jones looked at the history of Nobel Laureates and found that that age at which people make their great discoveries has been rising steadily over the last 100 years. At the beginning of the century the majority of Nobel Laureates had done their work before they were 40, at the end of the 20th century, only 20% had. For scientists, this rise can be attributed to the fact that over the last 75 years a lot has been discovered. The average age of completing a PhD is now 31. For a young scientists just starting out, they have to learn so much more than their predecessors before they can start doing their own research. The other problem is, scientists aren’t working later into life.
Though the age of innovation rising seems like a good thing, it may have some negative ramifications. Because young scientists have to spend so much more time getting their PhDs , they aren’t working later into life and doing original research (the average age of completing a PhD in science is now 31.) But according to the study, most scientists aren’t working into old age on research so the window of time for discovery remains small. If the rate of innovation really slows down, we are all in trouble. Raymond Davis Jr. was considered an anomaly for winning the Nobel Prize in Physics at the age of 88 back in 2002.
A solution to this according to Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel could be making PhD programs more efficient or just having more scientists in general. So just those two little thing and we’re all good.
Though the “age of invention” is on the rise I think this puts even more pressure on women in science. Academic science is notorious for its difficult environment for women, especially if they want to have families. If they drop out for a few years to have a family, it is so much harder to get back on track. This means it could take them longer to get their PhD and gives them less time to do original research. Dr. Joan Herbers, President of the Association for Women in Science, a Professor of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology and the former Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at Ohio State University, said academic science is extremely unforgiving to women who decide to leave to have a family and then try to get back on the demanding path to tenure.
“The tenure clock to get to the top of your career coinciding with a woman’s best child-bearing years is true, particularly for academia, but you also see this in the legal and accounting industries with the race to partner happening during those same years.”
Well, here’s hoping we can all at least have an Oprah-trademarked “Ah Ha” moment by the time we are 30.