Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Following your dreams

I just finished reading a lovely book, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. I wouldn't want to ruin it for you, but the general story is about a shepherd who is happy, but gives up his sheep to pursue his dream of finding a treasure at the Pyramids. He travels far and learns much and eventually realizes that the journey is just as important as the treasure.

I think there are many lessons in this book. As a graduate student, I was focused mostly on my treasure, a Ph.D. Sometimes my goal seemed unattainable and other times tantalizingly close. But by the end of my Ph.D., I realized that it wasn't about getting my thesis to work, it was about the process. Learning how to diagnosis a problem, to research it, and to develop and test solutions. Really all of research is like that. Maybe we start out wanting to understand one thing and along the way another interesting question or finding appears. Do we follow the first direction or the second?

A second lesson from this book is that you should pursue your dreams no matter what and listen to your heart. I started out in industry and didn't like it. I knew that I wanted to become a professor. I had to return to school and get a PhD and then do a postdoc. It would have been easy to stay where I was. I don't really make that much more money here than I did in industry with only a BS! and all that time and energy could have been spent elsewhere, but it was what I wanted, so I pursued it. Now I am a professor and I am very happy. (most of the time)

This logic also guided me to have children while in grad school. All my peers thought it was a terrible idea. But it was important to me, so I did it. I think it is really important to listen to your heart and follow it. Probably more important than anything else.


At 12:46 PM , Blogger EthidiumBromide said...

The Alchemist is probably my absolute, all time, favorite book. After I read it the first time, I wanted to make everyone I knew read it as well. It's been several years, however -- and I think I could use some of the inspiration. Thanks for the reminder, I think I'll pick it up again tonight!

At 11:09 PM , Blogger Amanda said...

Your post has finally motivated me to read The Alchemist. And your post itself is quite inspirational. It's at least making me consider that the journey through grad school may be worth something in and of itself.

At 12:44 PM , Blogger ScientistMother said...

I must read the alchemist. This post is just what I needed at my current juncture.

At 11:56 PM , Blogger ScienceGirl said...

Thank you, your post was just what I needed today, and I will surely be reading The Alchemist!

At 11:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. It provides great perspective for me, a current doctoral student embarking on the very scary dissertation. I am going to try to keep in mind that it is the process of doing the project that is important, not just getting it done...

At 10:14 PM , Blogger Mama Friday said...

Thank you for this. I've been struggling with this very issue lately and this is what I needed to hear right now.

At 6:52 PM , Blogger Peter said...

I respect your decision to be a mother a lot. Thanks.


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