Through The Looking Glass

Neeley Remmers

Let me begin this blog entry by first apologizing to those of you who had hoped to maybe learn another snippet of cancer biology or read a summary of a couple interesting scientific papers. Instead, this week’s entry is going to be more a reflection of my graduate career. Forewarning, I think my brain is still recovering from the intense past few weeks so I can only hope that my thoughts seem somewhat connected.

I have to confess, this decision is totally influenced by the fact that I just defended my thesis two days ago and I had the opportunity to interact with students still in their first couple of years of graduate school while attending a conference last weekend. The conversation I had with these students got me thinking about the roller-coaster ride that is graduate school. We all agreed that upon first starting graduate school, the prospect of scientific research was exciting and full of possibilities. Even after we joined a lab and started our own projects, the excitement grew a little because we finally were (somewhat) in charge of our own projects rather than just being another rotating student. Eventually, as we progressed through our second year of graduate school and got deeper into our projects, the shininess of scientific research started to fade and wore off completely once you had completed your coursework and only had your project to worry about. Unless you were incredibly luck and every one of your experiments worked (in which to those of you claiming this to be the case, please send share your good karma with the rest of us!!) you inevitably ran into more brick walls than you can count. If you were like me and my friends, during these times you might come up with alternative career paths. For instance, one day one of my lab colleagues and I thought a better career path might be to open an all-inclusive wedding venue. We even mapped out an entire business plan and just needed to decide on a location when her project started to take off and she decided to stick with science after all. Since my project was still dead in its tracks, I thought perhaps a good career choice would be to train monkeys to serve on the front lines for the military (think about it, who would suspect monkeys to be the enemy?). Fortunately for me, my project finally started to take off right before I made a really bad choice to switch careers to be a monkey trainer and the prospect of scientific research got a little shinier again.

Point is I think for most of us as we build careers in scientific research, our feelings towards science are cyclic. There will be times when things in the lab are going well making scientific research exciting again or we were just inspired and pumped up about research after having just attended an amazing conference. Unfortunately, those periods are followed by bouts of dimness because we seem to run into brick wall after brick wall in our experiments and we begin to question why we ever decided to pursue this career path over becoming a monkey trainer. I can’t comment on life past graduate school just yet, but I do know that once you do get to the end of your graduate career no matter how far off it may seem, there may be a moment when you feel a sense of accomplishment to see all of your data wrapped neatly into a thesis, wondering where did the time go, excitement to be done and moving on, fearful to be done and moving on, and sadness to be leaving your lab members behind. I definitely had my doubts along the way, but I am glad I decided to stick with graduate school and science. Those three letters behind my name have opened a world of opportunities and I’m excited to see what adventure they will take me on next. But mostly, I’m relieved that I will no longer have to find a way to answer the question from my family and friends, “When are you going to finally graduate?”

Thanks for letting me ramble on about the emotional side of science and I promise my next post will be more thought-provoking and scientific.