Life in basic science research isn’t always easy. The road to becoming an independent scientist is long and hard. It usually takes five years (or more) for a PhD, where you are expected to produce good, solid science and write a few good papers. After that, you don’t just get a job. You disappear in to the wilderness as a post-doctoral researcher, and work insanely hard under a lot of pressure (that’s if you want to make it as an independent scientist of course). If all goes well, and you do manage to do “exciting” and “brilliant” science, you finally get an appointment as an assistant professor, and start to establish your independent career (which involves endless work hours under immense pressure).
All this while, you’ve lived barely above poverty. When you’re still renting a small one-bedroom apartment somewhere, and driving the old used car you managed to buy, your friends from college have bought mansions and earn a hundred thousand a year. Ah, but you have flexible work hours, don’t you? Well, that is true. You work a flexible 70 hours a week.
But why do perfectly intelligent people go down this road? Why sacrifice a perfectly simple software programmer’s job, or an MBA and riches for a life in science? There are many different reasons. Almost all of them involve a passion for science and discovery, and a love for learning. For me, there’s one little thing that drives me most.
The days of actual discovery are few and far between. They are occasional sparks in otherwise hard, unforgiving days. But every once in a while, you do make a discovery, and are sure of it. At that moment, you are the only person in the whole wide world who knows about it. You rejoice and reflect. And then you announce it to the world.
But that one moment when that knowledge is only yours, and you know that you can share that knowledge with the world is absolutely priceless.
(There’s also one purely material reason I love being a scientist. I can buy stuffed toys that look like disease causing microbes, and find them absolutely lovable. Now, isn’t that picture below a beauty? (That’s HIV. There’s more here)