This challenge is not new. Physicist-turned-structural biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who is president of the Royal Society, worked for several years in a job with funding that was contingent on a steady stream of publications. This forced him to ask safe but incremental questions. To pursue what became his Nobel-prizewinning work (on the structure of the ribosome), he moved to another institution where he could ask the questions that interested him, irrespective of the chances for publication. As he describes in his Nobel biography, the decision required an international move and a large pay cut.
For every story like this, there are too many where investigators have made a rational choice not to pursue areas outside their core expertise. We spend so much effort trying to find our way that we risk losing the drive to apply skills to the broader world, and stick instead to the less-fulfilling security of ‘productivity’.
More bold is Eva Alisic, a psychologist and senior research fellow at Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria, Australia. Earlier this year, Alisic began studying how refugee children from places such as Syria cope with trauma. Her institute has supported her so far, but this research is not the safest choice for a conventional career trajectory. She told us that she would rather give up an academic career than end this line of study. If we feel that we must leave academia to better contribute to society, the scholarly endeavour is compromised. (Source)