Scientist who did groundwork for Chemistry Nobel now works for $10/h at a Toyota dealership

David sez, "Three guys won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but there was a fourth scientist who did critical work but now makes $10/hr in a Toyota dealership! Despite the star system, science is a team sport, except that sometimes a team player contributes long after he's been sent to the minors."

But instead of focusing on his hard luck, Prasher said he is happy for his former colleagues. While it was perfectly within his rights not to share the cloned gene with others, Prasher said he felt an obligation to give his research a chance to turn into something significant, even if he was no longer a part of it.

"When you're using public funds, I personally believe you have an obligation to share," Prasher said. "I put my heart and soul into it, but if I kept that stuff, it wasn't gonna go anyplace."

David Mark Welch, assistant scientist of evolutionary biology at MBL, said this sort of situation is a natural byproduct of working in an industry where competition for grant money can be intense. Some grants have 100 applications but will only fund 10 requests, Welch said. That means competition – even from fellow colleagues at the same institution – can be fierce and scientists often feel the need to keep all unpublished research a secret.

Welch praised Prasher's actions and said many researchers are finding it easier to obtain larger grants if they collaborate instead of alienate. "You have to put aside any sort of personal desires to be better than everyone else because if your grant isn't funded, you're in trouble," he said.

Shuttle driver reflects on Nobel snub (Thanks, David!)


  1. “When you’re using public funds, I personally believe you have an obligation to share,” Prasher said. “I put my heart and soul into it, but if I kept that stuff, it wasn’t gonna go anyplace.”

    Holy cow, nobility isn’t dead! He’d deserve the prize to outline his care and integrity towards his field alone. Wow.

  2. >Holy cow, nobility isn’t dead! He’d deserve the prize to outline his care and integrity towards his field alone. Wow.

    If I was one of the three recipients I’d try to talk the rest into cutting the check four ways instead of three and giving part to him.

  3. #3 – I agree he deserves better than a Nobel Prize. Perhaps he scould be the inaugural winner of the Sharing Prize…

  4. He ended up at the Toyota Dealership after he dabbled in Things Man was Not Meant to Know.

    As he left the Academy he was heard to mutter “Mad? I’ll show them mad! Bwah-hah-Hah-HAH!”

  5. @4

    I’d use my share to create a new position on my research team and hire him. He needs the money, but wants to get back into science. Give him both.

  6. There is quite a story there and it hasn’t been told at all: why is he working at 10$/hr. With the kind of competence that he is supposed to have he could certainly do better.
    I am pretty sure that the answer to this question would cast a whole new light on the affair.


  7. @#9 Competence doesn’t equate with ability or desire to put up with petty political BS or academic rivalries.

  8. “why is he working at 10$/hr”

    Because ‘Evolutionary Science’ doesn’t find and kill terr’ists, thats why. You gotta WANT darpa funding.

  9. @9
    “There is quite a story there and it hasn’t been told at all: why is he working at 10$/hr. With the kind of competence that he is supposed to have he could certainly do better.”

    That may well be true. However, to succeed at running a group in science you need to be both a good scientist and a good politician. You need to be able to persuade the funding bodies (whether govt, charities, industry sponsors etc) to hand over huge wedges of cash based on your hypothesis. If you don’t manage to do this your lab collapses, and your options are to a) stay unemployed while trying to find more funding for your lab or b) take a step down and work under another funded scientist. The second option is difficult, because you’re carrying the stigma of a failed project and there’s an expectation that you might not transition well from being a group leader to being subordinate again. I’ve seen this attitude at work in the hiring decisions at my own lab.

    Then, the longer you stay out of research, the longer it has been since your last publication. A scientist’s career is based on their reputation, largely determined by recent publication record. So after a year out of the field for no good reason, I can see it becoming nigh impossible to get back in. Then, with a PhD and years of science experience, where does he go? He’s overqualified for almost any graduate entry course for another profession but lacks experience necessary to go into higher positions.

    Between not seriously believing that he’s out of the game and the depression that other sources say he suffered from, I can believe that two years later he’s stuck in a dead-end job.

    If I sound miserable, don’t mind me. I’m looking for my next job at the moment and prospects in my field are looking pretty bleak…

  10. “There is quite a story there and it hasn’t been told at all: why is he working at 10$/hr. With the kind of competence that he is supposed to have he could certainly do better.”

    I wonder he keeps this job so he can tell his friends that he’s working on “the shuttle”. Actually, he’s probably keeping this job while applying for others. If a better job came through he could quit this job in an instant without it reflecting poorly on him in the future (not so with other more technical jobs).

  11. At least his idea wasn’t just poached. There’s nobility in giving your work so that the science can proceed without you, but nothing but a wretched, futile anger in having someone run off with your idea and bring it to publication before you can.

    I’m struggling to find the happy middle-ground between being an a-hole and a crappy scientist in order to be successful, and a former-scientist shuttle driver. The speed-accuracy trade off in science has gotten way out of balance. It’s no longer necessary to do science well, only to do it fast. The number of contradicted and retracted papers is building, so maybe we’ll see another shift. Oh well, back to work…

  12. Despite the star system, EVERYTHING is a team sport, except that sometimes a team player contributes long after he’s been sent to the minors and beyond.

  13. I’d give him extra EXTRA points for taking that job and keeping food on the table.

    A lot of guys in his position might be tempted to not “lower themselves” and instead stay at home muttering, “Here I am, brain the size of a friggin’ planet…” leaving the wife and kids to deal while he wallowed in his own misery.

    There’s no shame in any day of honest work, and if you’re looking for a “Sign from God”….it’s down the street, dude, and it says “McDonalds is Hiring”.

    (Says the science chick with the mad grant management/non-profit tax analysis skilz ‘cuz she worked as a data monkey to get her own ass through grad school.)

  14. This kind of selflessness is very inspiring. I hope that the status quo can be made to accomodate or reward people like this.

  15. I just hope that the Tories/Republicans out there can understand that not everybody on low or minimum wages is useless to society.

  16. Basic scientific research has not been a priority for the US for the last few years, unless the funding has some military origin. Witness the wacky way we have to fund Fermilab these days. Check out the loss of the Superconducting Supercollider years ago, and note that CERN over in Europe has a nice new shiny LHC.

    If I were Dr. Prasher, I would be on the laptop at home working hard to grind out some funding applications with that nifty publicity he’s been getting to lend him a little bit of edge.

    Magnificent, Dr. Prasher. Carry on!

  17. “Fellow colleague”? (Paragraph 4).

    One of these words is redundant – your choice – as they both mean the same thing!

  18. @20
    “This kind of selflessness is very inspiring. I hope that the status quo can be made to accomodate or reward people like this.”

    Why just the status quo? What if he’s a Metallica fan instead?

    (Yes, yes, I’ll show myself out).

  19. He may be noble, but his colleagues are assholes. If he did formative work and did not get official credit, it means that the scientists who worked with his ideas effectively stole them. Even if he did ‘give them up.’

    We call that plagiarism, in my field. And it’ll ruin your career.

  20. His colleagues addressed and credited him as best as possible given the limitations of the award. Sure, it would be nice if they split the money, but perhaps that’s in the future.

  21. Contrast this gentleman’s situation with the Yahoo story about Dalonte Hill, an assistant basketball coach at Kansas State, who makes $420K/yr. This is quite a country we live in!

  22. Japan wins. Russia wins. China and India win. We have grant programs for the most ridiculous things imaginable, and yet a mind like this sits on the bench. We do need change.

  23. Finally somebody who’s not interested in wasting tax payers money. I wish more people understood that money is not everything, sometimes you have to defer, but that doesn’t mean you’re not appreciated.

    Thanks Non-Nobel Prize winner, but my Person of the Year winner.


  24. It is not unusual in America for people with high technical training to be working blue collar jobs. I should know, I was in that situation until I left the US. There was even one guy working at McDonalds in my area who was finishing his PhD in engineering.

    American mathematicians, engineers and scientists have been on the decline for many years. The same is happening now to American information technology workers. The reason is that even though the jobs themselves can be lucrative, they are limited in number.

    It’s like wanting to become a celebrity. The few who make it become millionaires, but if you pursue that dream, chances are you will end up flat broke. It is the same in science, but to a much smaller degree.

  25. Hmmm, toyota is getting a pretty significant free advertising promotion out of this guy – they should cut him a check and hire him on for some of their “Green” machines.

    Just my $0.02

  26. Somebody get this guy a job in science. Then you can have a nice followup story and his mind doesn’t go to waste at the car dealership!

  27. Certainly, having a talent like Dr. Prasher’s “on the bench” is unjustifiable; we all imagine him doing more useful work in a place other than a car dealership. He is one of my People of the Year, too.

  28. I feel for the guy. I too am a chemist having done research that I won’t continue and though it will never render such a prestigous award, I was still the guy who built the setup (well parts, parts were machined and I’m just not good with milling machines!!). That being said, I am not making much more than he is…and if there is a bunch of overtime I am actually making less than he is at salary!! Oh well….just goes to show that you can have it all together in college and then get completely ploughed by the real world.

  29. I’ve looked at the array of comments and can only conclude with the proverb “good guys finish last.” Most of the academics I’ve met are just as full of themselves as the arrogant pro-athletes; most whom I believe are overpaid jerks. The bottom line is that in America, it shows how we place value.

  30. So much for the all-powerful, all-knowing, god-like PhDs of the world. Good old academia puts the screws to someone AGAIN. Good for you David Prasher!

  31. Ok well maybe he can’t go back into academia level science but if the guy truely ever was a scientist and has his PhD, Masters or even a bachelors he could still be making more than $10/hour doing some private industry work in R&D or maybe manufacturing.

  32. I think that this goes to show that, in these difficult times, even Nobel-worthy individuals need to factor their own economic status. No work? Get a job!!
    Rocket Scientists are packing books at Amazon, Brain Surgeons are clipping nails at PetCo.

  33. I am disgusted ….SEKINO said “nobility is not dead” because the scientist said he basically wanted to share his findings for the betterment of everyone. The reason I am disgusted is because this is a man who did useful things, now he is making a measley $10/hr, and you have whores like Paris Hilton and the like who do nothing but get drunk , whore around etc. making millions……Doesnt that signal to anyone something is WRONG with our society? The people that contribute the least get the most reward, not only do they NOT contribute, they actually feed into the NEGATIVITY of society. This man needs a cash infusion. Same for underpaid teachers etc.

  34. This is just one more indication of how “out-of-whack” our system really is these days. It’s no secret that our economy is crumbling before our eyes. In addition, we have much room for improvement in basically every other area of civilization. When you look at healthcare, science, technology, education, and countless other areas, we are in truly sad shape.
    Dr. Prasher is just one of MANY intelligent people whose talents are wasted at mindless jobs while a legion of less-able people occupy the more important positions in our society. That’s what happens when you have a flawed system like ours that’s based more on who you know and how politically savvy you are than on how intelligent and talented you are. Such imbalances and inefficiencies may very well be our downfall!!

  35. The comments here strongly validate my own impressions of science careers in general. Speed is rewarded; precision is not. That is, until somebody has to recant.

    The money is terrible. Lone wolves are punished. Prasher DID collaborate, and I have many of his papers. Not all names listed on them deserved the publicity.

    I also hold a doctorate in the same field, and I have been runover by some of Prasher’s collegues. Dr Prasher did the cloning work, and I have long wondered if any of his original lambda phage produced fluorescent lysates?

    Good luck, Doug! Go into law!

  36. “Why just the status quo? What if he’s a Metallica fan instead?”

    i must agree with BUGS on this. A, Metallica is an awesome band, and B, all it is is an opinion based on steriotypes to call him noble, or say that his colleagues are assholes. What is a colleague? A coworker. What makes him suddenly noble, working as a shutle driver? I worked at a grocery store throughout high school. The store was known for having mentally challenged people as the baggers. I scored a 1450 on the SAT. Does that suddenly make me noble? No. I had the intellegence, much like Dr. Prasher to accomplish more, and make more money, but has anyone thought that perhaps he enjoys his job? Maybe the relief spawned from no longer hunting for grants. The ability to go home at the end of the day and enjoy his evening rather than poor more hours over a report on his lab. That’s the main problem with society today, we act as if certain jobs should be entitled more money solely based on the fact that we think they’re difficult and therefor require a higher caliber of knowlege. Dr. Prasher is an obvious flaw to this kind of thinking. So are many brilliant minds out there who are grouped as being unintelligent based on their career field.

  37. He’s a shuttle driver for a Toyota Dealership.

    This means he does not sell used or new cars. What he does is he drives that van (yes, the one behind him) and takes people to their home or work place after leaving their vehicle at the service department and than picks them up later when their vehicle is done.

    That is pretty damn easy work for $10/hr and it pays the bills.

    So with that said, I would imagine he is still job hunting for something more suitable for him. It is disappointing to have your life’s work being used by someone else, but he is right. As long as his research is moving forward, all the work was worth it.

  38. I was just discussing this sort of thing with a collegue today who used to work in the research industry. He is now working in education. When asked why wasn’t he still working in that field He replied “Because the competition is so fierce, I wanted to have a life.”
    When there is no more grant money to fund the research, the research stops. That is why he now works at a $10 an hour job, or like my friend said-maybe he just wanted a life.

  39. this is just a great story for the world to hear
    this man had a passsion and lost it to political
    hubbub we need to thank with his on nobel or aleast part of the money or maybe an college education for his kids

  40. The U.S. gives temporary visa’s to people from places like India, Japan and China for the fields of Science, Math, etc. They say we have a shortage of people in those fields, what they don’t say is they will work for a lot less money since many are tax exempt or pay substantially lower taxes. All this while a Scientist who did the groundwork for the Nobel Prize works at a Toyota dealership. You have to love our (lack of) leadership in D.C. and the Corporations they call their GODS!!!

  41. Slimgater has a point- Dr Prasher’s fame should prove valuable in some circles. Perhaps one might be college tuition. Perhaps another might be a new research position within institutions populated by former colleagues? I know of a few places former GFP scientists have gone…

  42. I wonder why he hasn’t considered teaching. Pays much more than $10/hr. Seems like he’s well suited to make a contribution to developing minds.

  43. Orbiter, don’t call Paris Hilton a whore, she has her place too at $10/hour she might be worth it. Good relaxation for an exhausted scientist to recharge his batteries.
    Kissyyou, only if you charge $10/hour.

    Kind of makes Cuban Socialism look like the answer, Yes? Viva Che’!

  44. Yeah, my Ecology teacher was talking about him a couple days ago. At least he’s getting some decent publicity so he might get a better job…

  45. Making a comparison to Paris Hilton is erroneous. Although a shallow person, Paris has succeeded in “branding” herself, asomethng that many aspire to but cannot achieve for whatever reason. There is no government money going into Paris Hilton. There is public money going into research, but far less than what used to be. You can all thank Bush’s war on science for this. But when we lose our edge in science and technology, then we lose our position as a global leader in economics and security. R & D and progress go hand in hand and that is why we should be funding more of this as opposed to useless wars and other forms of squandering our resources. America is a sad place and is a fraction of what she used to be.

  46. The real shame is that this guy is working as a driver instead of in his field. What a waste. And what might the world miss because of it?

  47. Actually, I disagree with many posterers above. The NSF, since ’88, have been touting a perennial shortage of scientists and engineers but then when they graduate, they face a dwindling pool of jobs. The issue has never been addressed since the 90s. All academic institutions have turned a blind eye to the now, near 1 million “gypsy” scholars (including humanities PhDs) who can only get part-time one or two course teaching stints, instead of a real job. Imagine that, a highly educated group of wanderers and in America, a country how many times more wealthy than eastern Europe?

    This person could have gotten into a pharmacy a/o with the right MCAT coaching, medical school, w/o too many problems. Afterwards, he’d pretty much have a job for life given the demographics of the aging population. That’s a $90K to $250K per year job, perhaps less if he decides to moonlight instead of doing it full-time. There’s no way this guy should have to work at a Toyota dealer unless he’s really got a thing for showcasing new Priuses or some other auto fetish.

  48. The market force of competition did not serve us well here. The “invsible hand” is nonsense as these are all human constructs and we should be directing them. This is a good example why those who assume that a person is defined by their livelihood are wrong. All work is useful. Everyone should be given respect. Even waitresses who aren’t Phd’s etc.The shame of it is that he cannot apply his expertise or have enough time after his toil to pursue his interests.I don’t know if Cuba has solved these problems but I do know that Communist China has not. But then they are just totalarian/fascist capitalists.

  49. I work in science and the current funding situation is terrible!!!

    Really good scientists lose their jobs because of the BS funding situation. There is ALWAYS more money for bullets, and tanks though. It is personally reassuring to me that my goverment thinks its a much better idea to send 8 cruise missiles at 2 million a pop to bomb a mud hut in pakistan than support my research.

    This guy personifies this – my new hero!

  50. This guy truly is a scientist. It is sad to see intelligent men like him not being able to apply themselves to extent of their abilities.

  51. Nobility is important and so is a good reputation. His situation reveals a deeper person than what can be seen. He is a man of character and integrity. Something we can all look up to and aspire for.
    We need more men (and women) with character and integrity!!

    Well? We all know his name: Prasher.
    Who are the three who won the Nobel Prize?
    His name is better know by the public not because of his research… but because of his character; not because of what he did but WHAT he is!!

  52. #25 – You are absolutely correct. Shame on his “colleagues” and on the Nobel Council for failing to investigate fully into the validity, efficacy and accuracy of their submission.

  53. Jimmy says it best- ‘It’s my job to be cleaning up the streets.’ We all have our place in the universe. It’s not always on the top. I know of a military wizard that should be at the Pentagon– IQ is off the charts!! — but is happy working at a home improvement center. I also know of some very intelligent professional bums- between their high intellect and social phobias they just have a hard time dealing in the real world. Like their freedom. They all do day labor.

    I’m thinking of becoming a Walmart “greeter” beats the heck out of 75 hour weeks and on-call weekends. The MD, RPh, PharmD, MBA, and PhD behind your name is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  54. Mr. Prasher has done a great thing & we all should learn from his selfless example. Fame & fortune may elude him in this life but he’ll be rewarded in the next.

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