This Is Nothing

Insane Graduate School Edition


Well, you can always tell when I have a big project to work on because it’s proportional to the cleanliness of my apartment. Yes, I procrastinate by cleaning. And I’m at home all the week to battle my paper into a coherent, complete rough draft so . . .the dishes are clean, the table cleared off, and all my clothes either hung in the closet or sorted into hampers. The good thing is that I know myself well enough by now to expect this as “part of the process” even though I wish I was awesome enough to skip the cleaning step.

This last Saturday was the big “career day” for people with PhD’s in the life sciences, and as I’ve mentioned on Facebook I should have realized it wouldn’t narrow my focus for jobs, only increase the number of non-academic jobs I’d be interested in. During my procrastinatory cleaning session it occurred to me that I’d gained some valuable insight on things I’m NOT interested in.

I’ve always known I was a little different from many graduate students in my program. Or at least the really vocal ones. They make statements like “I can’t imagine being anything but a professor” or “I love thinking up new experiments” or “With this job I’d just be doing experiments someone else tells me to . . . ugh how awful!”

Thing is, I love “benchwork” itself. Pipetting things is calming. I like the hands-on stuff. It can be boring sometimes, yeah, but it’s actually the part I think I’d miss. What stresses me out is planning experiments when my brain can think of 500 reasons why it won’t work. Or 100 reasons why my confusing results might mean the end of my project. At this point, I understand that the part of becoming a true scientist is understanding how little you actually know compared to what there is to know. That having a brain that can come up with 500 reasons why something won’t work makes you a good troubleshooter. And throughout the career talks from folks who had “left the bench” there was the “con” that you don’t make the scientific discoveries yourself, as though you’d be giving up some huge benefit, and yet I don’t really feel I get a lot out of the few discoveries I’ve made, because it just means more experiments. I don’t think scientific discovery is where I belong. There. I said it.

So where do I fit in to science? That’s the latest mystery to me. I know I’ll always keep science with me, but in what way? There are still places where I’d be at the bench, such as diagnostic labs or forensic labs. Or I could step away from the bench completely and be a science writer or technical communicator. And then there was the talk from the K12 teacher at the private school in North Carolina . . . who basically refuted the reasons I’ve always completely written off being a K12 teacher: no pay and no respect. I know I’ve got to just start information-interviewing people in all these jobs. Try on as many hats as I can, face-to-face.

Whatever I decide, I do need to get this paper done, and I know that, like cleaning my apartment, I tend to distract myself with anything other than the true task at hand, distract even with something more complex like my future career. Which is kindof silly when I think about it. Oh well.


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