Everyone complains about their job.
There’s always too much to do (or not enough); it’s too hard (or too easy); or the salary is rubbish (although I’m pretty sure nobody has ever complained about being paid too much).
I’ve written several blog posts for BioMed Central now, and in some of them I admit I’ve had a bit of a whinge. There’s the irksome issue of impact factors, and the disproportionate effect they have on career progression for young scientists; and the bizarre fact that scientists leaving academia often feel like somehow they’ve failed.
So I thought it was high time I put pen to paper on what it is that I love about my job. Because, believe it or not, I think that being a scientist is pretty cool.
I’m a molecular geneticist (a surefire way to kill the conversation after the classic ‘So what do you do?’ question at dinner parties). I have always been absolutely fascinated by the fact that our entire body is constructed based on the information contained in a four-letter code. This blew my mind aged 15 when I was first told what DNA was, and it still blows my mind now.
I get paid to try and work out how the information contained in this code is translated into a living, breathing human being. It might not float everyone’s boat, but personally I think that’s a fairly awesome way to earn a living.
The thing that still strikes me about my job is that I get to design experiments to answer questions that nobody knows the answer to. Admittedly, that comes with the angst of convincing myself (and, of course, others) that I’ve got it right, and dealing with the fact that maybe some of the time I don’t.
It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, and it’s stressful. But when it works – it’s incredible.
But all of the time, by definition, I’m pushing the boundaries of our knowledge of how the world works. Which, agreed, might sound somewhat self-congratulatory, but it’s true – and when I have a bad day, I try and remember this, and how much of a privileged position I’m in.
And of course there are bad days, and sometimes it’s downright miserable: I spend hours or days or weeks or months banging my head against a wall trying to get something to work, or to understand a piece of software, or to optimize a new piece of equipment.
It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, and it’s stressful.
But when it works – it’s incredible.
The sense of satisfaction is immense. Being a scientist does require an enormous investment of time, effort and energy, and personally I find the scale of the investment is reflected in the scale of the reward.
So yes: whilst the hours are crazy, the work/life balance is essentially non-existent, and a lot of the time I come home seething, I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do for a living. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, I get paid to think. And that’s quite a luxury.
This is the sixth post in Bryony’s series: ‘Trials, tribulations, triumphs, and test tubes: life as an early career researcher’.