This is an article I wrote for Nature Careers explaining why we scientists do what we do, (which is nearly masochistic, at least sometimes) from my personal perspective and based on my experience so far. Enjoy!
“Here is my confession: I am hooked on Science.
I tried quitting, living a normal life, you know, but I just could not. I…missed the rush.
What do prenatal DNA testing, Tcell chemotaxis, C.elegans genetics and visual system plasticity have in common? Do not try too hard, there is no hidden pattern, is just the list of topics in which I worked over the last five years.
That might seem like a weird career path but you see, my addiction made me do it. I love Science and the joy of learning -discovery is an extra- therefore once I feel my interest decaying I move on to another of the milliards of interesting topics in Science.
Then of course when I say moving on I actually mean moving -geographically- too.
Now, take your guess, how many changes of residence have this scientific meandering amount to?
Let us do the math: 4 topics, 4 cities, 3 countries and 1 continent. Not bad!
Obviously, this was not exactly easy. However, all addictions come at a cost. In this case, it means that you are constantly leaving things behind: your past, your family, friends…each time you have to start a new life, for that reason you never really feel at home anywhere, you get what I call the ¨snail complex¨ because everything you need goes always with you and fits in a backpack, and you are always ready to go. Besides, when adding changing fields to the equation, the feeling you get is something of a constant Déjà-vu of the first day at school -however, no one is giving you sweets to make it easier, this time-, you don’t know where to go, you can’t find your way around the lab (where’s the agar?: a. over the sink; b. under the sink; c. no idea) and during lab meetings you would need an instant translator for all the jargon of the new field (excuse me: what was SRP again?). Hopefully this will only last from a couple weeks to a couple months and then things will get comfortable.
I told you I tried to quit. After reading the previous paragraph it is easy to understand that the question might arise: is it possible to live differently? And being an experimentalist as I am, I tried. I stopped doing science and I started learning a job to work in a company with proper schedules, and regular working contracts, stability… all those things I hadn’t had in Science. It was a disaster. First off, regular schedule!!! Working 9-5 every single day, regardless of workload, need or even reason. Another thing, regular tasks: it was as if someone would have pressed the copy over a Monday and pasted over the rest of the week and I will not go into commenting on the learning slope of the job for trained monkeys could have done it for some juice. Get the idea?
So, here we are again, doing Science.
Then, why is it so addictive? I can only tell from my experience but one of the best things of changing fields and changing places is precisely that: to change. To me there is nothing more enriching than learning from new experiences and/or from a brand new field. Sure, it is tough but it is certainly rewarding. I cannot stop smiling when thinking of the number of wonderful people that I got to meet and work with in my years of scientific wander not to mention the inspiring discussions and conversations that this life brought along. And so I will keep going, for ¨This shoes are made for walking¨.
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