One of the least glamorous (and least well-known, I think) aspects of science is how many setbacks, difficulties, and tedious tasks we scientists are faced with. However, it comprises the daily grind for pretty much all scientists, and is one of the things that makes science difficult. I’ve been having a rough couple of research weeks, where my experiments keep failing. But that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post for two reasons: 1) I want to bring up the un-glamorous side to research, because it’s often overlooked (especially in discussions of funding science) and 2) because I want to share/explain why I think there’s a pretty strong correlation between scientists and “nerds”/”geeks”.
Science research doesn’t work the way it seems to on TV or in movies. Most shows not only grossly underestimate the amount of time it actually takes to run assays (like genetic tests); many also make troubleshooting seem like all you have to do is chat about options with your colleagues. I only wish it was that easy! In reality, you chat about ideas with your peers, then implement one idea (with the appropriate controls), and evaluate the results. Often you have to test out many different options (each one taking as long or longer than the original assay) before landing on something that works.
Because of this tedium, it is easy to understand why science fiction and fantasy often appeal to scientists–I can only imagine a world where technology does all of the hard work for me, or where magic would do the heavy lifting. It can be incredibly reviving to escape to a fictional world that doesn’t have to be governed by the same rules the real world is governed by. Personally, escaping into a book is one of the best ways to deal with disappointment in my research. Other than reading and watching TV (i.e., escaping into a fictional world), I haven’t had all that many extra-curricular activities during grad school. This week, I’ve realized I need to start doing something that gives me the sense of accomplishment that I’m completely lacking in the lab. For instance, I decided to make myself a Halloween costume this year, and just sewing a hem this evening made me feel confident, competent, and like I can actually finish a project and do something tangible! I don’t know how much sewing I’ll really do, but it’s great to have it as a possibility, and I’m hoping to continue exploring my non-science-y options in the little free time I have.
Does anyone else have similar experiences, either with grad school or in other professions? How do you cope with disappointment in the workplace?