No more lab work – ever again!!! Thoughts on being a scientist.

Let’s just take a moment to savour the fact that I never *have* to do another science experiment ever again. No more Western blots, no more qPCR, no more tissue culture, and best of all, no more effing microscope experiments! I’ve cleared my lab bench, my shelves and drawers and my write up desk, and I’ve condensed my freezer space into one -20 drawer, two racks in the -80, and two boxes of cells in the liquid nitrogen store. I am so very glad that’s over with, so very glad. I never have to do another experiment again!!! 😀 😀 😀

Okay, so maybe it’s a little sad, I mean I have spent the last three and half years doing bench science, and I have no clue what I’ll be doing next, which is a little scary. On the other hand, no more frustration at doing everything perfectly and still have it fuck up for no discernible reason. Never again will I have to spend an afternoon setting up a microscope only for it to crash when I hit “run”. No more coming in after a gruelling weekend in a dark room, setting up the scopes only to come in on the Monday morning to find an air bubble in the oil layer screwed up my experiment that looked like it was going to be fantastic. No more cell infections in the microscopy dishes, when I did everything right and used fresh pipette tips.

I hope I’m not so naive that I think life will spare me from frustration but, I think with most other things there’s a much more proportional relationship between the amount of effort you put in and the result you get out. Cake baking, for example, or sewing medieval kit, or training for a sparring competition, or practising climbing technique. Those things, you put consistent effort in, you get consistent results out. None of those things are like bench science where it doesn’t work 80% of the time.

Some people have been of the opinion that I should do a short 6 month post-doc somewhere after I’ve done my PhD, but I don’t think I will. Even thinking about what it would be like to have to do more westerns or another scope experiment, and my stomach sinks. I *could*, I suppose, but I think I’d rather work in an office doing minimum wage data entry than do another bench experiment.

I used to think I was going to be a scientist when I grew up. I loved learning about how things worked, loved solving logic puzzles and going to the museum to look at things. Then people said that the thing that made you a scientist was working in a lab in a white coat, keeping immaculate lab books and doing “experiments” that would change the world. People implied you had to have a PhD and work in a university or in industry, but that being a PhD student was not the same thing. However, you know what? I think I’ve done enough lab work to last me a lifetime. I think I’ve been through enough of a gruelling ritual initiation that, once the final two hurdles of thesis and viva are done, I get to call myself a scientist, even if I never work in a lab again. I have worked so damn hard to get to this point that I’m going to call myself a scientist, even if no one else agrees.

I’ve done the things teenage me on the brink of adulthood wanted to do. I’ve got my undergrad degree and I am on track to get my Philosophical Doctorate. I have discovered new things no-one else has seen, and once we publish it, people will know it was me and my work. I’ve solved problems and learned when to cut my losses and how to stand up to my supervisor to do the things I want to do, rather than the million and one things he wanted me to do. I’ve build up a successful collaboration and worked with scientists from another country to turn my data in to a shiny mathematical model. I’ve learned to present my work clearly, concisely and confidently, and to deal with awkward questioners. I’ve presented posters of my work at international conferences, and had so much interest I didn’t have time to leave my poster. Once the thesis is done, I will have written and edited a 200-300 page document on my science, and then I will defend it in a 4 hour conversational interrogation. Finally, I will have written an academic paper and published it in a great journal. These things, along with learning to cope (albeit not always successfully) with the daily grind of experiments and reading, are what make me a scientist. I won’t have experience of angling for a post-doc job, or of writing a grant application for the thousands of pounds needed to pursue my research goals, or of wrangling departmental politics, but I don’t think those are the fundamental things, and I’m sure I’ll get the change to experience similar things outside of the academic environment.

I’ve done the things I set out to do, so it’s nearly time to find a new direction. And if that doesn’t happen overnight, so what? I’ve got time, it’s okay to play and make stuff up as you go along and change your career when you feel like it. I don’t have to make up my mind now and stick to it forever – that’s not how life works. My aunt, who I love dearly and who is an inspiration to feminist women everywhere, said that she never had a long term plan, she just toook the opportunities as they arose and did whatever seemed interesting at the time. And if that approach can get her to the top of the civil service, where might it take me?

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4 thoughts on “No more lab work – ever again!!! Thoughts on being a scientist.

  1. I love the idea of just doing whatever seems interesting. (Sounds like another way of saying “taking opportunities as they arise without forcing the world to fit into your pre-made plan,” which actually sounds very responsible and smart!) And I don’t think you need to grieve too much over missing out on grant writing. It’s… not a basketful of fuzzy ducklings.

    • I like that spin!

      I wasn’t under the impression it would be but it’s one of those things that has to be done as a scientist if you’re going to run your own lab. Which, ugh, no thanks! How are your birds getting on?

      • The birds are more or less behaving themselves, although field work often makes me wish I was doing more lab work instead… They’re cute sometimes though, which pipettes rarely are.

        • I bet there are lots of interesting ways for field work to be a complete PITA but the cute birds sound nice. I can’t say I’ve ever found pipettes that enthralling!

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