Monday, November 1, 2010

A Love Letter

I’m one of those annoying people who loves science in academe*. Even the absurd bits. Even those frustrating days…weeks…months where nothing works, your friends give up calling you because they know you’ll be a no-show, and even the electronics in the lab are working against you. Those days where all you are really good for at the end of the day is sticking your head in a barrel of vodka, but really you end up sitting at home reading, writing, or reviewing yet another paper.

Well, okay. I don’t love those moments. Fine. Our relationship isn’t perfect, but I love science flaws and all.
What I do like about science in a university setting is the freedom** to play with a problem in my mind and at the bench until I have an answer. Every answer opens a new barrelful of questions. I love that in academia, there is room to ask questions you’re interested in, room to move from one concept to the next. Is there any other science job where that’s possible? 

Now, before you write me off as having led a charmed science-life, let me assure you that I have not. Many projects have not worked. I have struggled with projects that ended up going from point A to point D in an entirely different dimension after months of being at a dead end.  The day-to-day work – at the bench, administrative work, or writing - gets repetitive. I spent time in a lab environment that was extremely difficult and painful.  And, like everyone else, I have had papers, grants, fellowships and job applications rejected.
A better use for lemons

Why I love science is not clear.  Is it because I have had chemistry experiments performed like magic tricks ever since I can remember?  Even the lemon-powered light bulbs didn’t work every time.  Or the kitchen used as a lab? Although I am not, nor have ever been a chemist. Perhaps it was just watching those people performing those crazy feats of chemistry and wondering what on earth was going on in their heads to make them think this was a good idea. 

Maybe it’s nature. When someone clones the “Science!!11!!” gene, I am sure I  have both maternal and paternal copies. 

Or maybe it’s just in the partial reinforcement schedule we’re all on.  Blood, sweat and tears (along with some hefty swearing at Reviewer 3 in absentia) for one jolt of joy when a paper is accepted.  And with that reinforcement we are invigorated! Motivated! Validated! Happy to spend more hours of the day watching mice than chatting with humans!

* Even though I'm a post-doc
** Relative freedom

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