What are we in this for??

Hmmm…. So here we go again. Another post filled with complaints and dissatisfaction . What more do you expect from someone who works >10 hours a day for a measly pay and a dish full of failures?  In keeping with  my somber attitude towards life and everything, something devastating happened in my personal life making it all the more difficult to carry on with my PhD (Don’t panic, I haven’t quit yet. I won’t do so…Not Yet!). Learning someone close to you has an incurable illness only makes you wonder what the fudge you are doing with your life, especially when one has been wasting three precious years of one’s life on one of the most futile task!

I wanted to become a scientist as a kid and somehow I thought the only possible route to it was a PhD. When I got my masters I had second thoughts, but considering I had no other options (who the hell is going to give a job to a person who has a master’s degree?? Note: this happens only in the case of biologists), I just went on board with the PhD program.  Considering the state of education system in my country (India), most people do not actually get hands on experience in the laboratory until they start doing a PhD. This was pretty much my case. In school, in college, in the university, all we ever did was learn facts- memorize and regurgitate them. There was always only one correct answer for the all the questions- the ones given in the text books. I was taught science as a discipline, as something that ought to be revered and followed mindlessly, something akin to religion.  Experiments were meant to be carried out in the precise way in which they were described. There was no room for creativity whatsoever.

This just made it initially difficult for me with my research. I knew where I could find the facts but I was just too scared to use them as a base and attempt a different approach to tackling a problem.  It took me two years to come to terms with the reality of science. Nothing ever works the way you want! You’re an idiot if you are not willing to take chances and actually experiment with the experiments. So it’s not like I have not learnt anything during my 3 years of research. I have learnt a lot, especially that the practical aspect of science is quite difficult. What bothers me right now is, how are the  technical skills ever going to help me. They are not life skills now, are they? The question of what to do after a PhD just drives me mad. I simply just see a haze when I think of my future. But this is just absolutely RIDICULOUS!!! Studying for one of the highest degrees of education should make you confident, should give you a sense of accomplishment and some self-worth for crying out loud!! Is it just me or is the concept of a PhD degree a failure??? Or am I simply not cut out for research at all?!!!

What is equally worse is, sometimes, I just feel that I have simply wasted tax payers’ money. Not everyone’s PhD thesis is going to produce a Nature/ Science paper.  (Btw, do not get me started off on the subject of publications, oh you will hear an earful!! Hmm….now to think of it, I shall write about that very soon!) And even if it did, it’s not going to cure cancer or abolish starvation. You get what I mean? Are we actually wasting money and the talents of young people on dead end research. Wouldn’t it be just better if we could all be working on problems that currently need attention? Isn’t that what we scientists are supposed to do?? I work with staphylococci, they are such a menace in the hospitals. Researching on this subject should essentially open up new ways to tackle the diseases that they cause. I can truthfully say, however, that my research topic though it feeds me and hopefully gives me a Dr. title (fingers crossed big time on that)… shall be of no use to  mankind or other animals in any way.

I am now at a point in my life where I have to decide what the eff am I going to do with my life. What do I do after a PhD? Do I just simply follow the crowd and do a post-doc, become an academician ?? Or better off, settle in for the cash and take up a job in the industry??  Are these really my only options?? I want to do passionate research, but  I do not the have money to fund my own research. I am way too scared to test my entrepreneurial skills.  I am totally lost. Well, I had better finish my PhD first before I go around searching for answers, right?

So that’s my story… why I got in to PhD and how I feel about it now. I really want to hear from others. What are you guys (PhD students) really in it for? What do you hope to get out of it?? If you see or don’t see passion in your future, kindly share it with me and others. I am really curious.

Wow, I have written a completely serious post. To ease off the seriousness, here’s something funny. One day I was sharing my frustrations with one of my lab mates. We were just talking about alternative careers and coming up with nonsensical solutions to our problems. Finally we thought that we would be better off  if we were to invest our money in the national lottery. Turns out, she was not kidding. She is currently  the owner of a pretty looking lotto ticket with a winning odd of a million to 1.  Would you believe it that she actually trusts the lotteries than PhD to secure her future? She is not wrong you know, I have actually asked for the lotto web link  so that I can by a ticket myself! 😉



About wannabeafunscientist

A scientific researcher, a TV addict, a chocolate fanatic, chatting-in-swimming pool (lane) enthusiast, a sufferer of the chronic travel itch. Ich bin Frau Dr. Hildeguard Schmidt.
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2 Responses to What are we in this for??

  1. crackhead says:

    Ok…to start with, I am not really sure how to respond to this.
    First of all, unlike you I never dreamt of becoming a scientist when I was young. It was only after ‘failure’ in 12th that I decided to pursue science. Interestingly enough, science intrigued me in a big way. SO there I was after my Masters thinking about going into academics!
    Now that I have had very similar experience of PhD (in terms of time and not bacterial cloning..:P) it makes me feel very odd that what interested was something which took a lot of time efforts and of course frustrations of failures of experiments as well as personal life! It is indeed very disappointing to realize that what you are actually doing is not ground braking research and it might not contribute to the field or humanity in any way. But, there is still some courage left to continue further and go ahead with my experiments out of sheer interest as to know why they do not work!
    AND standing in a very similar territory as you, I can say that it also befuddles me as to what am I going to achieve after putting so much of effort time wise as well as mental. But, to tell the truth, I have also been looking for answers as to are there any alternatives that academics where I could contribute with my experience and whatever ‘little’ expertise I gain. It turns out, there are a few fields where WE can look for a hopeful career other than academics or industry.
    Yet, I am not sure what I want to do after my PhD. Academics is ‘Holy Grail’ of ‘publishers’!
    Industry is probably too robotic for me. So, I am still struggling with dilemma.
    On the bright side, at least I know why do I want to be in the lab doing experiments. It is the excitement and the speckle of satisfaction that comes to mind when you have an experiment ‘successfully’ completed (although whether it gives you desirable results is a debatable question!) or in finding out those small moments where your mind runs along the ‘hypothesis lane’ to imagine various scenarios of ‘why and how something happens’!
    So, this is where I stand after 3 years of ‘lab’ research experience-
    1. I get excited by experiments and disappointed when they fail!
    2 I do not know what I will get out of my PhD.
    3. I do not know where I will land after the damage.
    But, 4. I know that questions and hypothesizing their answers entrails me!
    SO, for the time being, I am just trying to enjoy and hope for the best and take things as they come along. Isn’t that how life should be, intriguing at every corner? What say you?

  2. hi crackhead…thanks for taking time off to reply….. i am very happy to know that you are doing your PhD with a positive outlook despite all the roller-coaster rides … doing science for the fun of doing it! i quite find it an interesting approach…. but unfortunately for me, as you may realize i am in currently in the valley of shit phase…..i feel no sense of satisfaction in my line of work… one of the biggest reason i feel this way is because my mom was recently diagnosed with cancer….the news just deepened my sense of worthlessness…. i am not over-reacting to a bad news… it just got me thinking what was the true purpose of doing a PhD if it’s not going to help anyone in anyway… and i just wanted to hear how others felt….you know people with hopefully a better life than me but doing a PhD…hehehe…. seems like people would rather like a picture i post on facebook than post a reply to some questions… i really appreciate your reply though 🙂 🙂 and i wish you all the best for all the adventures you have in your lab work!

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