03 January, 2010

Science Isn't a Job

I am not suited to have a job.

Notwithstanding my circadian malfeasance, I can't just have a job. A job is something you go to for 8h a day and detach yourself from coming home, something that pays the bills and fits in a big chunk of your daily routine. Something that weekends are an escape from.

Science isn't just a job. Science isn't just a career. Doing science is a mode of being, a way of thinking and a pervasive outlook that permeates all aspects of life. To be sure, there are people doing science to whom science is nothing more than a job, but to the scientists, doing science is a passionate outpouring of their innate internal curiosity and excitement at the sheer wonder and awesomeness of the reality around them.

As I said, I can't just have a job, I need the storm and flow of science's complex funneling of my creativity, cleverness, and joie de vivre. Even as I define the parameters of my experiments, science, in many ways, defines me. My education in science has sharpened my inquisitive and skeptical predispositions to become useful tools and not just the occupation of idle daydreams. This utility of my innate urge to create new stuff, to explore and discover are why science isn't just a job for me, it's awesome.

There are times that I get frustrated with my benchwork. Recently I had a long series of experiments not work properly for a couple months, and tearing through my methodology to try to find where I'd gone wrong, trying to plot out possible sources of error and chafing at the bit as each of these experiments took several days to validate was draining and discouraging. There are times that the poor quality of my data, such as getting a higher event count from bleach than my sample on the flow cytometer, makes me question my scientific aptitude in the first place. How could I ever expect to succeed in this experimental endeavor when I wasn't smart enough to begin with?

But it is this that is also valuable. Science forces us to question ourselves. We wrap up our self-esteem in our experimental results and we take rebukes from reviewers personally. We chase windmills of perfect data and push the capabilities of our minds ever further seeking to integrate our data into a new story the world has never seen before. This is important. By being both scientists and science, by loving what we do and the delightful but exhausting challenges it confronts us with, we are pushed not only to improve the quality, scope and ambition of our experiments themselves, but also to become better, savvier scientists and humans as well.

As a science, biology is weird. It's messy, it's frequently stubborn, it's complex and chaotic and these are what attracted me to studying it. And then into more complexity I realized how awesome immunology is. But it's not so much the complexity itself that draws me back into the lab, it's that with molecular biology I am literally peeling back levels of reality with my mind through the careful design of experiments with cells and reagents that I cannot see, feel, or taste. It could not be cooler, unless I had more lasers, but I digress:

Science ain't a job so much as it is riding an angry horse through a buffet of cookies and ice cream.

6 comments:

Arikia said...

Cookies and ice cream?!!11!? I knew there was a reason I liked science.

Isis the Scientist said...

Cookies and ice cream? Are you smoking something? ;)

Becca said...

I always suspected science was an irate hippopotamus marauding through a pie eating competition. Perhaps I need more lasers.

Epicanis ( http://www.bigroom.org/wordpress ) said...

Yeah, well, thanks a lot.

Now I'm all hungry.

quietandsmalladventures said...

actually i needed to read this after my vacation. the science super powers are recharged and rearing to go. buuuuut my husband said the funniest thing the other night. he said did i have any idea how good it felt to come home from work and not have anything he has to do (he just graduated in december in graphic design)...i laughed and said, nope and i never will. there will always be a paper/grant to write, an article (or a stack) to read, there will never be nothing.

and i want my cookie buffet!

Dr Becca, PhD said...

Did I get in the wrong buffet line? My horse has been kicking up nothing but rubbery shrimp and crudite´ scraps.