Friday, 6 January 2012

The Scary world of Science

Obscure bad-science stories (of the 'Wine, gives you cancer but makes you thin' variety) seem relatively thin on the ground at the minute. There are some lurking, but they are mostly playing second fiddle in the health sections to the very important NHS reforms and to 'Andrew Wakefield sues the BMJ'.

Maybe I haven't been looking closely enough, or I am starting to shut out the noise. There hasn't been anything that has stirred the fury in me enough to blog about it. Or, and this might be the bigger reason... I am being distracted by something else...


I tried to make the holidays a 'proper holiday'. I cut down my twittering, didn't check my work emails (that is a lie, but I didn't check them as often as I normally do) and I avoided most health/science sections and supplements. I have started back at my PhD now after being away for Christmas and it hit home that I have 8 months left of my PhD. I have to write a thesis. This year. I also need to get published (that is 75% done x 2). Finally, I need to get a job.

The prospect of getting a job in science is quite frankly, TERRIFYING. My old, comfortable (& secure) job seems like a lifetime ago. If I stay in science my options will be to a) get a post-doc (short contracts) or b) get a job in industry similar to what I was doing before.

Maybe a) scares me more than b) because I have been in the world of (b) and it was OK. So, I want to talk about option a) (also I have done b) and I think a) on paper is slightly more appealing to me). Option a) means fighting for a post-doc. Getting publications in a competitive workplace where it seems you need to balance good science with speed and accuracy. Years of work can be ruined by a incorrectly labelled bottle, an incorrect order , collaborators letting you down or someone stealing your idea and/or publishing just before you...

There are endless numbers of stories from people who work all hours under the sun, have their work stolen or have incredibly difficult and trying relationships with others in their lab and their supervisors. Although they love science, they are tearing their hair out with the job. I don't think this is anger with the subject. It is frustration and anger at the politics and the way things are done.

The short contracts is one of the big factors. For someone (female) who is hoping to have a family in the next 10 years this would be really tough, possibly verging on the impossible. There's no question about it, a career in science is demanding, stressful and HARD.

I am at the very start of this wonderful, extremely glamourous, glittery career. I have really enjoyed my PhD (despite the odd moan). It has given me some amazing opportunities and freedom to explore what I am interested in. My supervisor has been incredibly supportive so far and allowed me the freedom to try things that I want (and make mistakes). I enjoy research, I get very excited about results and can immerse myself for hours in the work I am doing. I have learnt a lot. I am pretty sure entering the world of a post-doc will be quite different to the cushy PhD life I have had so far and I see it more being a speedy push for publication.

So, I do not know if it is the fear of coming out of a PhD, the fear of short contracts or the fear put in someone from scare stories. A career in science seems incredibly tough and in return the goal seems to be that you work on something you are passionate about. But, in reality is it really THAT different from other career paths?

2 comments:

  1. Hope all goes well, whichever path you follow. As you ended with, "is it THAT different from other career paths", I'll leave you with a query that I think relevant to anyone at any stage of their career - do you have a mentor?

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  2. thanks, no I don't have a mentor but I would like one. I had mentors in my previous job. I haven't managed to find someone to ask yet during my PhD (although I have been looking). I would class my supervisor as a mentor, but I would like to interact with someone that I do not work for..!

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