If you don’t eat, sleep, and breathe science, get out of the lab! ….is an antiquated view

written by Nucleus –

If you don’t wake up thinking about science – eating, sleeping, breathing science – then you are not meant to be a scientist.  This field is too hard to make it in, so if you’re not dedicated 150%, it’s not a field for you.

This is what I’ve heard from many respected scientists for years.

And I’m sick of it.

It just simply isn’t true.  In fact, I find it to be an incredibly narrow-minded opinion that discourages those with diverse talents and experiences to pursue science.

For years I questioned if I should pursue science for so many reasons. Will I survive grad school? Will I be able to get a job? If I do, will it be in a place my partner can get a job too? Can I have a family? Will I be able to study what I want? Will I get funding? Will I get tenure? And the list goes on. Each of these fears and worries are worthy of their own discussions, but here I specifically want to address this irrational fear concerning dedication to science itself.

I have always entertained so many interests and hobbies. I worked many different types of jobs before deciding on pursuing a graduate degree in science. Honestly, I still don’t know what I want to be when I “grow up”, and I’m in my mid-thirties, about to start a position as an assistant professor at a great school. I always felt this whole science thing was a back-up gig until I found my real calling.

Don’t get me wrong. I am ridiculously excited to start my position.  I LOVE what I do! I mean, when someone asks me what my job is, I get to say, “I make discoveries!”

And I know in these tough times, I’m lucky to get a great position (in a place where I want to live, no less). But is supporting a lab and teaching what I want to do with the rest of my life?


Maybe not.

What I do know for certain is that, right now, I want try it on for size.

Does this mean I am less of a scientist? To the naysayers, I say to you, “BAH!”  I would argue that it is all my other experiences and interests that increase the creative process I take when approaching questions and designing experiments.

But then there’s this issue too: I earned my Ph.D. and did two post-docs at top research (R1) universities, and many of the professors I got to know were/are unhappy. Depression, bitterness, anxiety, divorce… While I found their science out of this world, the toll the lifestyle took on them personally was extremely discouraging. And what makes matters worse, most of them say that looking back, they would have chosen some other profession. I even had one superstar professor say to me, “Do NOT get into academia now. It’s just not what it used to be.”)

Holy hell.

In moments of frustration like these, I tell my husband that I’m quitting it all, and I am going to run off and start a cheese shop.

As I start to plan out my cheese shop, though, I think of all the experiments I could explore in the making of cheese, and how I would write up my results for publication to share with the world. And then maybe I’d have cheese-making courses, specific to the science of making cheese. Maybe some form of outreach for the community ..

Sound familiar?

As I build my cheese-shop idea in my head, I notice it starts to turn into what I do already in my lab and university (well, I don’t make cheese, but you get me).  So maybe being a scientist and university professor is my true calling after all. But because there’s this weird cultural stigma associated with it (true scientists eat, sleep, breathe science 24/7…and are old, white men in lab coats, pasty from lack of exposure to daylight), I’m totally tuned off.

Lucky for me, I have found some pretty awesome people in academia, men AND women, who do not fit the morbid description above.  Additionally, I found that exploring social networks brought me into contact with other amazing people who love what they do. For example, check out this great article called Dwelling on the Positives by @TenureSheWrote.

We need to hear more of the success stories from diverse people with diverse perspectives.  We need to understand that having interests outside of the lab is not just ok, but should be encouraged to increase our happiness and well-being (as well as our science!)  Take, for example, Professor Hazel Barton, an avid spelunker. Early on, one of her mentors encouraged her to sample microbes in caves she was exploring as a hobby. Now she is one of the foremost experts in cave microbiology. Check out her story here on TWiM.

Science is beginning to have a new face (This is What a Scientist Looks Like), and our young, aspiring scientists need to see more of this. I welcome your comments and recommendations to other sites/pages that dwell on the positives!

Keep in mind:

Diversity of people and experience = diversity of thought = diversity of ways to explore and understand the world = MORE DISCOVERIES!

This entry was posted in Biology, Diversity, Graduate School, Increasing Diversity in Science, Mentorship and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to If you don’t eat, sleep, and breathe science, get out of the lab! ….is an antiquated view

  1. It’s very encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who feels like this! I happen to believe that having a balanced approach to my work makes me a better, rather than a worse scientist, but have found that my attitude is a problem for some that have given up everything else for the sake of their science…

  2. fossilosophy says:

    Awesome post, thank you. My undergrad mentors have really, really emphasized the importance of actually having a life outside the lab – and even noted that the good insight often happens when you’re out for a run, or working on the car, or riding the horse, or whatever it is you do in your free time.

    The blogosphere is really useful for accumulating information, but I have to admit happy posts like this are a bit rare and it’s refreshing to see.

    I’ve started a blog with a labmate, and we’re both pretty positive people who really, really love doing science and having lives too. Just heading into graduate school, but happy to add our positive voices to the mix!

  3. drmsscientist says:

    Wow, it’s like you articulated the thoughts in my head this past Monday, when a colleague spouted the “you can’t be a true scientist if you don’t work all the time” crap. Even though I KNOW that it’s not true, it still threw me for a loop and I found myself dwelling on this attitude for a few days. It’s actually been rare for me to encounter that sentiment, and so I didn’t even realize that it still lurks in the corners (or stands right in the open in some cases). While I have found that my new job has many challenges, at the end of the day I love my new friends and colleagues, and love that I get paid to play in the lab and in the field and with the data.

    And I’m glad you appreciated the ‘Dwelling on the Positives’ post! I just found this blog and am loving it!

  4. melo g3 ongini says:

    Thanks for writing this post. I feel the same way. I can’t deplete other parts of my brain and my life by neglecting them, just so I can devote 25/7 of my time to science. If we have more balanced and well-rounded scientists, we will probably have more advancements personally and professionally.

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