As a young scientist whose passions extend far beyond the lab bench, I’ve had varying amounts of difficulty believing that I should stick with an academic career. To be the kind of productive I like to be in lab, that I feel proud of, I have to give an awful lot of my intellectual/emotional energy and time to the bench. While satisfaction definitely comes with this level of productivity, it’s not sustainable for me over the long term. I generally end up too brain dead to do other things to fill me up like reading for fun, crafting, and playing Ultimate.
I watched Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist early in grad school. It was immediately clear to me that the life of a scientist that I was in the process of discovering and that is represented in the film was and is not how I want my life to look. The steps that I’ve taken since then to finish grad school and to pursue available career options have always been a conscious choice, not one I’m making because I feel forced out or like I couldn’t make it.
After a particularly great data week in lab, on a high from presenting the heck out of my research, or while having a fantastic discussion with my colleagues, I sometimes think to myself, “Yeah, I can do this!” The other side of the coin, though, which I seem to end up on much more often, is that, while I love to talk and think and read about science, I don’t love the actual doing of it.
In the Ivory Tower culture that calls all career paths but its own “alternative” and gossips constantly about people who can’t make it to or won’t go for the tenure track, it hasn’t been easy to accept this non-inclination in myself. But at the penultimate moment of my PhD, I am super clear. Academic science is not the place for me for much longer.
Could I do it? Probably. Do I want to? Not particularly, so why not go a different direction and make room for someone who does?
There’s fascinating conversation happening around the twitterverse and the blogosphere about life in academia and how much/little room it leaves for other things today and yesterday: