I follow another blog, and the stories in there resonate. Not the ones like this. There’s been a change in the writing and it’s made me think I should stop “only writing about bikes and how they’re shaping my thoughts right now”.
Like a lot of people I know, I made a decision at 16 based on exam results. I ended up going to university and learned to do quite well in written exams. I did some more studying and ended up in a career I wasn’t sure I ever really wanted. Since then, I’ve never really had a long term job.But I think that’s changing.
People think working in science is bubbling flasks, amazing discoveries, great insight, new technology.
What they don’t, or didn’t, know was that it’s more transferring micro volumes of colourless liquid, grinding repetition, strange smells, cold rooms, creeping dread of cancer, horrible reagents, low pay, what feels like indentured slavery, lack of options, despair, dissatisfaction, and experiments not working. There was the time I went.to the lab and got asked by the post doc if I was responsible for “that”. When “that” was a used condom, some shit stained paper, a discarded lab coat, and a browser showing some specialist sites. I wasn’t. I did clean it all up though. And didn’t speak about it with the other lab staff.
When people asked what I did, I used to be enthusiastic. I used to be able to tell great stories of how I was doing what I was doing.
I didn’t use a biolistic method of transforming microscopic multicellular organisms. I explained I made shotgun shells loaded with microscopic particles of gold, coated with the DNA of interest. I didn’t just harvest these organisms, I grew them in massive amounts, all at the correct growth stage of their life cycle. I isolated them into one plate. And then I fired the shotgun into this mass. In the hope that some survived. That the brute force of this experiment didn’t kill all of them. That those animals who survived would somehow be transformed into stable, integrated, new life forms. Capable of not only showing me the excretory cell using UV microscopy, but of also allowing me to pull down all the active genes in that cell.
That’s pretty cool. Right?
However, in reality I wasn’t very good. My worm line got contaminated. I couldn’t execute the experiments as well as everyone else, my head wasn’t really in it. The people I worked with in that lab were all experts. All of them. It’s strange when people say stuff like “you have a PhD, that’s really good!”. It just makes me think “I know LOADS of people with a PhD, it’s not that special!”
Everyone I worked with knew exactly what their career would be and the direction they needed to go in. Or they gave that impression. I quickly realised I was nowhere near the level I needed to be to stop looking like a dork. There’s really nothing like the feeling of going into work when it doesn’t work, it isn’t going to work, and you can’t make it work. I’d jumped at the opportunity of going to a leading research institute and then when I got there, I didn’t make the progress I wanted to because I didn’t put the hard work in.
The best advice I ever received was from the PI. Who put me out of my misery and asked if I liked my job. When I said no, they told me I didn’t have to keep doing this. There were other things out there. They couldn’t imagine coming into work every day, to a job they didn’t love. Granted, they also came back from a holiday in the Caribbean, raving about “this singer song writer. Bob Marley. Have you heard of him?”.
I like to think they were being sincere when they were giving me their advice.
I don’t work in the lab now, and it’s been nearly 10 years since I was last in one, I don’t miss the feeling of failing to make something work. I’m aware of that all the time.