Spring 2009: We have come o far, yet still have so far to go

It was only today that Sci realized that May Scientiae goes up…um…tomorrow? Or at least it’s due tonight. Sci has never before submitted to Scientiae, though she reads every issue like clockwork, but she found the prompt this month raised some thoughts in her little experimental brain.

I’d like to propose “A Snapshot” as a theme. Create a blog time capsule for yourself that will say Spring 2009 when you look back on it in a couple of years.

A snapshot of Sci, April 2009:
FrazzledCat.jpg
So this will be a more personal picture of Sci. At least, as personal as you can get when you’re trying to relate to one frazzled-as-hell-siamese.


I am getting rather advanced in my graduate program. As a first or second year grad student, you’ve still got the little glow when you walk into the lab. The glow that says “look at me! I’m doing SCIENCE! I’m going to save the WORLD!” You have that glow even when you’ve been working all night on classwork, when you’re stressed beyond all belief. It’s the little things. Your first experiment that works, the first time you say something that comes out sounding wise and your advisor looks at you with something like pride. These are the good days.
By third year, things have changed. Your proposal is done, you’re ready to plunge in, you’re ready to start that project that WILL save the world (or at least a portion of the population, many years down the line). But…nothing works anymore. You’re considered “trained”, and you’ve got to solve problems on your own. LOTS of problems. Late nights in the lab increase. Your health and diet deteriorate. And you start to get cynical. You look at the new grad students coming in, they seem so bright and full of promise. You get a little bit of schadenfreude knowing what’s going to happen to them.
By fourth year, things start to pick up a little. Maybe you’ve really mastered your techniques by now, and data is starting to come down the line. Your advisor actually wants you to help on important things! Papers start rolling out. You walk around with more confidence, thinking maybe, someday soon, they’ll hand me a PhD for this!
And then we’re up to now. Sci’s…a little older than a 4th year. Ok, maybe a LOT older than a 4th year. No one’s handed her a PhD for her work yet. But the time is approaching when they’ll hand her one, and set her loose in the wide world to do what she might.
And then, miserable though grad school is, Sci was clinging to it for all it’s worth.
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(Don’t you dare set me loose out there…)
Grad school has been tough. REALLY tough. But it’s a tough Sci knows. It’s a tough place, but she knows what to do, and where to go, and what needs to get done when. The big world? Not so much.
Sci has learned a lot of things in grad school. She’s learned her techniques, the detecting of apples and oranges in various trees, the making of applesauce and orange juice, and whether or not people think apples or oranges are tastier. I know how to write a paper, I know how to write a grant. I know how to read and make sure I’ll remember what I read and what it meant (harder than you’d think). And boy, do I know how to troubleshoot.
But this spring, Sci has been confronted endlessly by the many things she DOESN’T know. How to work in different environments with different types of people. How to get people to notice you among all the other grad students showing off their hot fruit measurements. How to say intelligent things to people far bigger and badder than she. And how to get what you want, when asking just isn’t enough. Sci has learned science, but she has yet to learn politics.
And unfortunately, politics matters in the world of research just as much as the science you’re doing. Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, but it does.
This is discouraging for Sci. She wishes people would let her do her thing, collect her data, analyze, communicate. It’s even more discouraging to realize that although I have spent the last few years mastering so much, there is still far more to go. It’s a lot harder than Sci thought.
For a while this got me down. Why should I try? Why should I bother with all this red tape and knowing the right people and being nice to them in the right way and making sure you phrase things JUST SO? Why shouldn’t I do something else?
Sci doesn’t know why she should keep going. But she will. The training over the past few years has taught me a lot of things, but it has made me a different person. It has made me a scientist. It has honed my curiosity, my ability to inquire. Even more importantly, my time in grad school has taught me WHY I’m a scientist. And it has taught me that I can’t stop now. Politics or not, Sci will learn it, and she will forge ahead.
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Screw you, politics and red tape. Sci’s got a world to save. She’s got problems to solve and questions to answer, and she will not let you stand in her way!
April, 2009. Sci’s frazzled, but ready to move on up. Bring it on.

7 Responses

  1. i am so there. damn you, beyond-4th-year years!
    a classmate just defended not that long ago. i wanted to bang my head against the wall in jealousy and frustration, but then i found myself kinda grateful that it’s ok that i don’t have a job yet. so in general, leigh has no idea what to think anymore.
    damn you, beyond-4th-year years!

  2. 2 people = relationship
    3 or more people = politics
    … and the world turns…

  3. Sci has resources in the political games that she may not realize she has. She may not be practiced in the calculations and machinations, but in their place, she has that enthusiasm for the science that is supposed to be the end goal of the politics. It may not be as wide-eyed and innocent an enthusiasm as it was in year one, but it is there and tangible, and it communicates itself to others who are feeling just a little bit cynical themselves. It makes others want to make the world just a little closer to the way Sci believes it should be. Not to take care of Sci, but because she’s right.
    It isn’t the only tool Sci will need by any means, but it shouldn’t be forgotten or undervalued either.

  4. But this spring, Sci has been confronted endlessly by the many things she DOESN’T know. How to work in different environments with different types of people. How to get people to notice you among all the other grad students showing off their hot fruit measurements. How to say intelligent things to people far bigger and badder than she. And how to get what you want, when asking just isn’t enough. Sci has learned science, but she has yet to learn politics.

    Seeing you in action at Sci’Online09, I’d say you ably handled the first point. In my experience, points number 2 and 3 go together, and one of the best solutions is to not be afraid to ask questions. Stephanie is right in that demonstrating your interest and enthusiasm for a subject will take you a long way. As for the fourth point, that’s a challenge that never completely goes away…
    From what I’ve seen of your enthusiasm and talents, I’m not worried about you!

  5. Tex: “one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress”
    ~John Adams
    Sure enough, 3 or more people DOES = politics.
    Stephanie and gg:

  6. Great John Adams quote!

  7. Why should I try? Why should I bother with all this red tape and knowing the right people and being nice to them in the right way and making sure you phrase things JUST SO? Why shouldn’t I do something else?

    Where do you get the cockamamie idea that by “doing something else” you would be avoiding what you have termed “politics”? There isn’t any profession or creative pursuit that does not involve this stuff. But don’t worry, given your obvious verbal talents, I am sure you’ll get good at it.

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