Why science? Thoughts on choosing the world of research science

Over the past weeks, work has been very busy and has started to push me a little to my limit. That said, I really enjoy what I do in my project, the creative freedom I have and the resources at my disposal – it’s a research scientist’s dream. Apart from the actual science, the Yale community is an incredibly diverse and enriching environment, in which you have an interesting, challenging conversations that make you think almost every day. Now I’m 6 weeks into my project and have so far, in regard to bench work, only done molecular work to prepare constructs for use in my model organism, mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC). I will thaw my first vial next week and start culturing them. As I have never worked with mESCs and no one in my lab is working with them, I’m a little nervous about the troubleshooting when something goes wrong – but its an excited type of nervous, a new challenge I look forward to.

On a different note, I wanted to write in this post about a less science related topic, and rather take a step back to focus a bit more on ‘the job’ aspects of a research scientist. Particularly, I’m addressing one question that I discussed a couple days back with my house mates: Why did I go into science? What makes this job so ‘different’ for me that I decided to pursue a career in it? Thinking about this, there are many different aspects and experiences that led me to this point, but there are a couple questions I ask myself now and then, to make sure I’m happy with what I’m doing.

  1. Do I like the nature of the job?

A lot of times, I get the impression that people study for the result. ie. One might study medicine to become a doctor – makes sense. However for research sciences, I think you really have to love the process, as there is no “end profession” in science and you’re most likely going to spend the better half of your life in “training” – Bachelor, master, PhD, postdoc, postdoc… etc. That’s why, at the end of the day, when asking oneself: Why science? One really should ask oneself: what character do I have? What do I enjoy, what satisfies me, am I inquisitive? Because the end product, perhaps my thesis, might be tangible and matter to other people, while my every-day life, including ups and downs,  struggles and challenges, are what I experience, what shapes me, and what I take away from all this at the end of the day. Therefore, when asking why science, I’d rather ask – what makes me happy/ what do I enjoy? And particularly, do I enjoy my daily life?

2. What do I envision for my future?

Science is a life’s work. It’s not a job, not something you go to from 9-5 and then go home and forget about it till the next morning, when you do it all over again. It’s a constant companion in your head- trying to figure out how you can solve a problem, get your experiments to work, improve your results etcetc. Unfortunately, this also makes it the slippery slope it is when it comes to mental health, in my opinion – one can get so immersed in and obsessed with one’s project – because it is the whole focus and sole center of devotion, it’s a brain baby – that one loses touch with reality in the process.

With that in mind, I think if someone loves challenges and problem solving, research science can be one of the most satisfying professions to indulge that craving of knowledge and understanding in. I also think working in science builds character: it teaches one discipline, hard work, analytical thinking etc., while having a very humbling affect – since 80% (or more) of one’s work fail and (optimistically) 20% of times we succeed, it’s very grounding, perhaps through a little discomfort, in that there is so much we don’t know and we can’t control, that these are constant reminders that we are, no matter how smart and sophisticated, just human beings. Therefore, If one doesn’t value these qualities perhaps as much as a good salary, It’s likely that the person might get less out of the research life, than someone who loves the thinking and appreciates the spirit of science.

3. Is it important?

If you ask me, if I thought research science was important, I would without hesitation say: YES. Although I think all professions are valuable, in my mind there are few, that are indispensable. Which is one of the reasons why I am in research science. This doesn’t mean that other professions are less valuable or respectable, but I know I couldn’t devote as much energy, time and effort to these, if I wasn’t convinced that what I was doing is important. It’s one of these things that keep you going no matter what, no matter how bad the situation. Naturally, what someone regards as an “important” profession is different for everyone and depends on so many different aspects. Therefore, I believe that regardless of the field or profession, one has to be convinced that what they are doing is important, to them.

With that, I hope everyone has a relaxing week aand something exciting is coming up in a few days!! 😊

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