06 February, 2009


Today is one of those days where I am wondering why I am trying to be a scientist at all.

I see my PI struggling to pull down enough funding to keep the lab going. I see other PIs in the same boat, always running themselves ragged and noses worn to bloody stumps by the grindstone. I see jaded graduate students swollen with regret and post-docs seething with frustration. Is this what I want for my future?

Once upon a time I had pinned my dreams for the future on this. Now I look back at the myself of then and facepalm violently.

But still, what's to say that in 15 years with lots of experience and a Ph.D. I won't look back at the myself of now and vomit out my ileum in jaded disgust over my possible present naivete? Even now I kinda sorta feel that I should have gone into computer science because it also offers intellectual thrills but without the 20ft. deep mud bog soccer game of scrambling for grant funding. I thought that I was going into a job that'd be thankfully cubicle-free and secure in spite of my plans to go ahead and get into grad school fairly quickly. Although I don't have a cubile, I do have a bench and a desk, so there's not much difference. And security depends entirely upon funding, which is nowhere near as secure as I once believed. I mean, I can certainly get my intellectual kicks from science and I can definitely be happy afloat in a sea of carbonated data and statistics, but I can't eat ideas (I imagine that great sparkly ideas would taste like cookies and terrible bad ideas would taste like rancid butane). The payoff in an academic career is so far away, and the crap to wade through to get there so deep, that I really have to wonder whether it's even worth it in the first place. Yeah, sure, SCIENCE!, but...years and years and years and years and years and years of science, science, and nothing else. I have been happy to create and conduct science, but will science consistently continue to be a source of happiness for me throughout the rest of my life?

Maybe I'd be less existentially gloomy if I'd remembered that whole lunch thing today...

Partly at least I know why I'm doubting my plans thus far. I've invested my time in other difficult things before with no real substantial happiness payoff. Logically, I know that science is not a cello, but still: the point stands. I know that I could put my head down and ball up my fists and plow through everything in my way (sisu!), but right now I'm wondering what the risks of missing almost everything beautiful and joyous along the way are. I know that life aint' all butterfly turds and puppy chuckles; I know that being successful at anything requires major investment of self, time, and energy. I want to sink my teeth into science and tear it a new hole it never knew it needed so badly, yet sometimes I doubt that I'll ever be anything more than just mediocre.

Maybe it's a screwed up way of looking at things, but I'd rather set out to do something and fail outright than to be mediocre in that goal, because then I wouldn't be learning anything...

I'll probably blather on more about this later. For now I should go seek food and find a program to remind me to eat regularly instead of going without food for 10-12 hours at a time (today only for about 8 hours, but 10-12+ isn't unusual for me).

No comments: