Since the election, Princeton graduate students working on issues related to climate change are worried about their prospects, fearing that the new administration won’t support environmental initiatives.
“I wouldn’t say people are scared right now, but people are uncertain,” said Yuzhen Yan, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in geosciences. “If the current situation persists, I think there will be more talents being attracted somewhere else.”
Yan, who hopes to become a professor, is concerned that government funding cuts may limit new positions and is considering opportunities abroad. He believes many of his peers feel similarly. “It’s very frustrating that science has become so politicized,” said Anna Hailey, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in chemical and biological engineering. “Especially on issues that have global impact.”
Not all students are looking overseas just yet. Sarah Schlunegger, a third-year Ph.D. student in geosciences, feels good about academic career prospects. She expects funding will “more than rebound” after a Trump presidency and plans to stay the course, saying research and teaching are now “that much more necessary.” Advancing environmental science in the coming years, she said, will involve understanding “the cross section between human psychology and climate change.”
Grad students said that highlighting particular benefits of their research may be helpful. “Focusing on gains in efficiency and sustainability, and emphasis on domestic job creation and energy independence — instead of reducing environmental impact — may be a better way to motivate research under this administration,” said Hailey, who is researching biofuels.
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Greg Davies, a fifth-year doctoral student in mechanical and aerospace engineering, has similar plans to promote his work on efficient batteries. “From a scientist’s or an engineer’s point of view, just making technology cheap enough that it’s economically going to march forward is probably the most critical thing,” he said. “Because at that point, it doesn’t really matter what people think from a philosophical perspective.”
In the meantime, students expressed confidence in Princeton’s support. “All the scientific community agrees that human influence is undeniable in climate change,” said Victor Charpentier, a third-year Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering. “Universities are not going to divert their attention from this.”