I know that we’ve talked quite a lot about some of the reasons you might want to get out of science – from evil overlord supervisors to the actual alternative careers you could apply your lab skills to – but there are many reasons to stay in science, nuzzled up against the bench.
There’s plenty of talk about how much travel is involved with a science career, especially an academic one. But for some, that’s a fantastic thing! Maybe you did your undergrad in the UK, headed off to California for a PhD, did a few years in Germany for a post-doc, and then landed an associate professorship in Hawaii! Boom. That’s a whole load of different cities, cultures, and most importantly, food, to take in. Globetrotters will be all over this.
It’s sad but true that most jobs in the world are about working through todo lists set by more senior people. In research, that isn’t really the case. You have much more freedom to pursue your own research interests (within reason, obviously) and few restrictions beyond the lab PI, if any. It also means you’re free to go off on tangents to figure out what that weird result means. Your work succeeds or fails on your own efforts and it’s up to you to fix things and set new paths of investigation when needed. There isn’t much else that allows for that.
Science is hard. Plain and simple. Figuring out things like biological systems is incredibly complex and can be intensely frustrating. But it also comes with a huge sense of satisfaction when you overcome that challenge and push your project forward. Sure, other jobs can be difficult at times, but I don’t think they often (if ever) come close to the intellectual (and often emotional!) challenge associated with scientific research.
Science is cool. Okay so this might be superficial, but when you can respond to the tired old question of “So, what do you do?” with “I’m a scientist” then it just feels good. It feels satisfying. You can put a little smug grin on and nod “Yep, I’m a scientist.”
“WOW! Are you curing cancer then?”
“Er…well…” Okay, so that’s another issue, but overall, I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to call yourself a scientist (as opposed to what I do now, which is append everything with “…but I used to be a scientist.”).
Ultimately it means you’re still doing proper science. You’re at the bench, running experiments, dealing with data, answering questions, studying, and figuring stuff out. And quite often that means discovery and exploring things that, at that moment, are known only to you. Being close to the science means a lot for many of us as even when you do work in a scientific industry, you can feel removed from the actual science. Staying near the bench will also keep you close to the subject matter you love. Which is why you got into this whole thing to start with!
So, any plans on what you’re doing next? Moving on to explore other avenues? Or sticking with your lab coat and pipette?
Image from Amorphia