======= Date Modified 10 Oct 2011 18:56:52 =======
Did you always want to be a scientist or to pursue a science-related profession growing up?
Just curious because I never did. And this bugs me whenever I feel that I lack what it takes to be a successful PhD student. I don't know if this feeling is coming from a transient hardship that almost every phd student experiences time to time, or if it's coming from my lack of innate passion for science growing up... perhaps this tells me that I need to pay more attention to my inner voice and act accordingly? So I was wondering if having never wanted to pursue research in science as a child might be a good indication that I am in the wrong place...
You might wonder then why I started my PhD in the first place. Well, I took a cancer biology course as an undergraduate and wrote a term paper on certain topic which both she and I took great interest in... She was impressed by my work and asked me what my plan after graduation was, and I said I liked teaching and would like to become an instructor. She then strongly encouraged that I do a PhD with her, and that's how I got into this; however, ever since then, I felt like it was not my choice but hers... and that I passively followed her decision. (Anthony Robbins said "If you don't have a plan for your life, somebody else does.") One researcher wrote an article in EMBO very recently where he compared doing research in basic science to a vocation, saying that prospective trainees need to become fully aware of this fact before making a decision to do a PhD. And I am not sure if I will be strong enough to finish this...
Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
I never intended to do research science at all. I wanted to learn a trade, but my Dad persuaded me to stay on at school.
At school my talents were PE, geography, and the Sciences to an extent. I did these subjects as A levels (Science= Chemistry + biology in my case), and actually got better grades in Geography and PE. When it came to chose a degree I went for science because I thought a Geography degree lacked sufficient structure, and a BSc in hard science would be much more useful than a PE or Geography degree.
Then I did my Pharmacology degree, found it for the most part very easy, and did a PhD because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. PhD was a lot harder but I go through it. Now a post-doc and although I like my day-to day existence, i don't think there's much future in it for me. I don't think I ever wanted to be a scientist, i'm not really bothered about the whole title or Dr thing, it's just a series of decisions. I get resonably paid for my job, but to quote Phillip Greenspun I have "the hours of a Bolivian Silver miner, and worse job security than being in a boyband".
Apologies for lack of structure here, this is a bit of a random stream of consciousness, but you wanted my thoughts, and I gave them.
======= Date Modified 11 Oct 2011 03:14:53 =======
I would say I stumbled into research after having enjoyed a few projects during my bachelors and masters study. But now I am suffering from the what's-the-point-anyway syndrome, where it doesn't seem like my work would save mankind from a deadly disease like I imagined.
One thing I have gathered from this forum, the journey is not easy, people get out the other side with a sense of accomplishment. Since you said you wanted to teach, try and think of this as just a stepping stone.
A research coordinator at my uni says that even though the phd is a long hard process, it is for life. Once you invest three years into this, you'll get the title and the degree for the rest of your life. There are people on this forum who are doing it just for the degree or for the lack of any other opportunity but doing just fine. Even those who came in with a passion for research find that their expectations have been very different from reality.
I for one, have lost complete interest in my project, and now I'm doing it just to prove to myself that I can undertake a daunting piece of work and finish it. Also the opportunities it will give me to do what I'm really interested in. So for me it is an exercise to build my credibility (and to live up to my family, where every-freaking-one is a phd!)
Don't worry, you have a lot of company 8-)
I'm nearing the end of my lab work for my PhD (molecular biology), I loved being in the lab during undergrad and honours so my natural thought was, I should do a PhD, I'll learn more and get more out of the science field as a profession in the future. Fast track 3 years down the track after starting... I have lost all motivation, have learnt how unstable the field is, and now wondering why on earth I chose to do it. I love the lab work, politics not so much. Have just come out of a rough 12 months were both my sups were made redundant (for no good reason other than to apparently get rid of two tenured academics to make way for young guns. Don't get me started.). This showed me that it doesn't matter how brilliant you are, you have an expiry date. So screw the PhD, screw science.
I'll probably still be an arsehole and do a few postdocs o/s, then we will see if I stay in it...
======= Date Modified 11 Oct 2011 11:57:40 =======
That said, if I had my time over again I would still do the PhD as that and the first post doc that followed were the best six years of my life. Whilst the money was crap, I got to do things and use equipment I never imagined I'd get to use and that period gave me a feeling of self-worth I've never felt before or since. And yes, I'd go through all the pain of student loans at undergrad level to get there.
As regards people feeling as though they're not up to the task, all I'll say is when you first start on the PhD road that many of the people around you will have at least a few month head start over you. They are bound to know more than you and be more proficient than you at the beginning. Provided you get the support from supervisors and people around you in those first few months you need (i.e. helping you to become self-sufficient), that feeling goes away as your knowledge, competence and confidence grows. If you don't get that support, then it's a lot more difficult.
However, whilst there should be some support at the beginning to help you on your way and at points throughout as you progress, it is important also to remember that a PhD is about who you are, the challenges you face and how you overcome them as you seek to become a proficient researcher.
I was always more interested in the Sciences (and Geography) than other subjects at school. If you like, I was one of those people who enjoyed Chemistry because I enjoyed making things go 'bang'. For example, chucking potassium in water appealed to me.
When I finished school, I wanted to go to Uni. to do a degree. Once that was finished I stayed on for Masters, more to improve my employability. PhD was only mentioned to me at the very end by my Master's supervisor, as I'd turned in a very good Master's dissertation.
At that stage, I was honest about my views in that Masters had left me knackered, I'd also had a period of ill health and I needed a break. It was a case of take some time out and possibly come back to it later. However, the idea was planted in my head and it wouldn't go away. I wanted to do a PhD.
An initial plan to go away for a year or so and earn some money led to an okay job that ended up lasting 5 years. Three earlier applications were turned down, but finally I was offered two separate studentships at two different but very close by Unis. After a lot of soul searching, I opted for one at what was an ex-Polytechnic over another at a Russell Group University. I had no doubts about doing a PhD at any point during it (though at one stage wondered if I'd chosen the right one) and once started, my mind-set was such that I was going to see it through to the very end. I enjoyed the science, the experimental work and because I like to work in peace and quiet, occasional periods of lab isolation did not unduly worry me. Also, having my predecessor around as a drinking buddy was a big help, though he stayed out of the science and let me get on with that myself (which I preferred). I also kept a structure to the whole project and ensured an overall experimental grid of comparable results I was after was kept to. Original data came quite easily and the data produced has resulted in the thesis and ten pieces of published work.
I had all the tearing my hair out and stressing that you do during write up for sure and it was very hard, however, I was going to do it. Up to viva I feared major corrections, however, a very unusual viva day indicated loud and clear I had less to worry about that I imagined. My supervisor had done his bit by thoroughly going over each part of the thesis as I wrote it, the objective being 99% certainty that minor corrections was going to be the worst outcome. A week later, the corrections were done, submitted and the hardbound copies handed in.
Now comes the hard part. As much as I wanted to stay in science and research, that was going to be very difficult in the long term (and it wasn't helped by a difficult second post-doc at the Russell Group Uni. I turned down due to some interesting personalities - all said before, not going to replay the record). A good many research posts rely of individual project funding that lasts two to three years at most. Also, unless you've managed to stay in research for quite a long time, the wages are not fantastic. Although you might have all the enthusiasm and drive to forge a science career, the short term contracts and the necessity to sometimes move to follow your career takes it's toll. It is no wonder that many settle for a mundane job back in the real world so that things like mortgages, families and children can be more easily managed.
I quite frankly feel many research staff and PhD students are treat very badly, as a cheap commodity to give other more established people data, results, papers and kudos that the people doing the donkey work actually deserve. It's no wonder many people say "Screw it!!!"
I was into art/music more than anything when I was younger, and I only chose to study biology as I had a good teacher who got me into it, although music was still my major passion - but how many musicians have successful careers!?
I didn't think about my future much at all until my undergrad 4th year, and by then I was more interested in psychology than biology. But I realised doing another BSc would be a bit silly, so I applied for the masters my uni did that was very close to my undergrad course, and mid-way through I figured I liked the academic environment, thus went the PhD route.
I'm not overly passionate about it, but I do think academic lab-based research is about the only career area I would feel happy with (due to the casual nature of it mostly - I hate structured, formal environments). And hey, I still have my hobbies.
I like to think it's not a requirement to be obsessed and fascinated by science.
======= Date Modified 12 Oct 2011 07:11:59 =======
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and perspectives with me! i didn't expect this.
Hi mumbler - Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. What you are saying makes a lot of sense. It's interesting how all your family members are PhDs. That might be a big motivating factor in your case. Good luck with the rest of your training!
Hi Verucasalt - You were more interested in other subjects than sciences at school (like I was), but seem to be unhappy with your current life... Thanks for sharing it though! Btw, sorry to hear about what you've witnessed. That must have been an added stress in your case. In terms of expiry date, I think the same applies to the corporate world, or any system/structure that's built upon hierarchy... Just a thought.
Hi Mackem_Beefy - Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed post. It sounds more like a life story.
You said your first postdoc was the best six years of your life. One of the postdocs I know said something similar; he thought about quitting his PhD all the time (a bad boss), but he made it to the end and is now "a happy man" as he put it. He keeps his excitement which is kind of contagious. :) But then he was always more interested in science at school like you...
But perhaps what is more important than "passion" is the "want" to get good at it, or the "drive" to finish it...
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