Physics by the Numbers
by Stephen Granade
Peifan had come and gone before Nevaeh reached the lab office the next morning. Nevaeh had hoped to say goodbye, but she supposed that if an algorithm had guillotined her graduate school career like a French royalist’s head, she’d have snuck away, too. Peifan had raked his class notes into a trash can that had overflowed and spilled his discarded plastic binders across the floor. He’d also left his poster of bar magnets on the wall, iron filings tracing arcs of magnetism that connected them.
She tossed her phone in her desk drawer and dug around for a Phillips screwdriver. Peifan’s computer had the best graphics card. She meant to claim it for her simulations before her labmate Mason arrived and joined in rifling through Peifan’s discards.
“Both of you are safe.” Dr. Scott gestured at Nevaeh and Mason with his food truck taco, nearly spilling fish onto the sidewalk. “My revised funding still supports two graduate students.”
The US federal science agencies had updated their algorithm that decided how productive universities were. For the second year in a row, they’d cut funding to Nevaeh’s school based on its results.
“It’ll slow down finishing our paper,” Mason said around a mouth full of quesadilla. Cheese dribbled down his chin.
“Peifan was the best at tuning the laser,” Nevaeh added. She dug her own taco out of an overfull box. Dr. Scott had bought dinner, so she hadn’t scrimped on her order.
Dr. Scott nodded. “We’ll make do. But we need results. Don’t forget, we think the funding agencies rank us based on submissions, not just publications.”
As if Nevaeh could ever let herself forget.