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.