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Young scientists and their work

Merrick, Celia (1975) Young scientists and their work. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94526) (KAR id:94526)

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The idea that academically trained scientists have difficulty in adjusting to the demands of industrial employment is a commonplace both in sociological literature and public debate. Sociologists, following the influential work of Robert Merton, have developed the theory that scientists are socialised at university into a set of values — the 'ethos of science'. These stress the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and are held to conflict with the utilitarian and competitive values of industry. As research has accumulated, the evidence for this value conflict had become increasingly sparse. Recent studies of B.Sc. graduates, in particular, have led to a radical questioning of this picture of the effects of scientific education. Nevertheless, overall, the evidence is not clear cut. The possibility remains that value conflict would be observed if studies were confined to Ph.D. scientists, because of their more prolonged exposure to the 'ethos of science'. Hence the present study.

It was in two stages. At stage one, 357 final year Ph.D. students in 34 different university departments of physics and chemistry returned a questionnaire on their attitudes to science and industry and their own employment preferences. A subsample of 25 of these were also interviewed. At stage two, 40 of the scientists who took industrial jobs were interviewed at length. The details of their jobs and their locations in the country varied widely, but they had all been at work for about one year.

The results ran totally counter to the 'value conflict' theory. Detailed examination of the second stage interviews showed that the scientists were not attached to the 'ethos of pure science' and did not experience value conflicts. Instead they completely accepted industrial norms. They were eager to make a useful contribution to industry and took for granted its pragmatic, commercial and utilitarian values. Not only did they have the right values for industry, they also seemed to have the right skills. Their descriptions of their work and its relation to their Ph.D. research suggested that their training had endowed them with appropriate problem solving skills, which they were capable of deploying independently and flexibly.

The evidence from the first stage questionnaires indicated that these industrial scientists had not been attached to the 'ethos of science' even while at university and hence had not had to change their values on entering industry. This raised the question of whether they were an especially industrially orientated group. Had they perhaps resisted or rejected the 'ethos of pure science' ? The answer was negative. Comparison with the eventual academics showed that the two groups were very similar in all respects except their personal career preferences. Eventual academics were no more attached to the 'ethos of science' than the industrialists.

The two main conclusions of the study are thus: (l) that the gap in the evidence against Merton's value conflict thesis can now he closed; and (2) that scientific training is best seen as the transmission of cognitive factors rather than values. These are of two kinds: (a) the skills and knowledge of the scientist's trade; and (b) a 'cognitive map' of his social environment with a sense

of the behaviour that is appropriate in different places. Insofar as values enter at all, the picture is the reverse of Merton's. The dominant values of industrial scientists are everyday utilitarian ones and these remain intact throughout academic training. Value conflict is possibly more of a danger for those who stay in academic life than for those who go into industry.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Morgan, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94526
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2022 14:53 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2023 09:11 UTC
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