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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Joy of Science

Thank you so much for all the comments on my last post. I have to admit I was surprised by all the support, and it encourages me to tell more of my story.

Unlike many students, I did not go straight from my BS to my PhD. Instead I worked for 2 years. I got married shortly after graduation, so my husband was around for most of this. After 1 year in industry, it became clear that it wasn't a good fit. To be honest, I was bored. My husband pointed out that he made plenty of money at this job, and that I didn't have to work at all, and that if I was going to work, it should at least be doing something I enjoyed. We spent many nights talking about what I loved best, and I told him that I wanted to be a professor. This meant going back to school for at least 5 years, plus a 1-2 year postdoc, before I would even be able to start my new job, but it was what I wanted.

One interesting thing about this experience is that it gave me power. I don't have to work ergo I should only do so if it is enjoyable for me. When I started graduate school and throughout my career, this has always been first and foremost in my mind. I only work as much as I want to. The moment it becomes too much, I stop. Of course there are situations where you will occassionally have to work more than you want, like right before a conference or a big grant deadline, but for the most part, careful planning can prevent these problems.

This philosophy has served me well, and I instill it in my students. In the collected book of Feynman's letters (my academic idol for those late to the party), someone asked him about a physicist that worked all the time and whether he needed to do that too to be a great physicist. Feynman replied that that man may be a great physicist, but he wasn't a very good person. I think it is so important to have outside interests that extend beyond the laboratory or office. I encourage my students to make time for these interests and for themselves. I want my lab to be happy. Happy people do better work. I feel that the attitudes that we as scientists perpetuate today with regard to long hours take the joy out of science and discovery. There is a big jump between the excitement of that first chemistry set or cataloging tree leaves in kindergarten and slaving away at two in the morning in a basement lab. My goal is to bring back the joy of science, not just for myself, but for my students, and also through outreach and the example that I set, to future students.

8 Comments:

At 3:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are my hero

 
At 5:25 PM , Blogger Aurora said...

Glad to read this. I had a similar experience. I wasn't the best student in my graduating class. The top student (my good friend) did not go on to get a Ph.D. because she felt it was too much work. Me, never having pushed myself too much, strolled on to the finish line (I did have to buckle down and put in some serious effort of course).

 
At 7:11 AM , Blogger biochem belle said...

I think I might be channeling you.

This has been the topic of multiple conversations with friends and postdocs over the past several months. Some work long hours because they feel like they have to. I was there once upon a time as a grad student, but now if I work longer hours or weekends, it's because I'm excited about my work and I want to be there. And when I feel I'm at the point of pushing to far, I take a step back and spend a weekend away from science.

I remember having a conversation with one of my profs (a young p-chemist, btw) as an undergrad (having recently decided to attend grad schools). It came up that I pursued musical interests (choir and piano). He mentioned that as a student, most of his profs thought if you had any sort of interest outside of your area of research, then you weren't 'focused'. He, on the other hand, thought it was great to have diverse interests.

Science requires creativity. Part of that is doing stuff that doesn't involve science so you can come back and have a fresh look.

 
At 1:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome post! i have some tough decisions ahead of me (mostly if i should get a phd or walk away with the masters), and this post reminded me that i should base my decision of what's right for me, and not expectations of others and stuff.

 
At 11:08 PM , Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

Great post! Very refreshing.

 
At 10:40 PM , Blogger Alison S. said...

Thank you for your site. Can't tell you how happy I am that I found it.

 
At 12:21 AM , Blogger Term said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:49 AM , Anonymous Term Papers said...

It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had fun writing this article. Excellent entry! I'm been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.

 

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