Being a scientist in academia is not always easy. You go to school for years and years and years, you don’t make much money, you have to apply for grants to fund both your research and your salary, you move house quite frequently (at least at the beginning of your career), you work long hours. You spend months, even years working on a particular project. If you are lucky it works out, and you can publish the results. If you are unlucky, someone publishes them before you. Or your machine breaks down or your cell culture dies or animal rights activists kidnap your mice or it goes wrong in the many, many other ways it can go wrong. (You know, all happy scientists are alike, but every unhappy scientist is unhappy in their own way.)
So, many of us have a Plan B.
I have been going back and forth about whether or not to start this blog. There are a lot of voices out there, and the addition of another one might seem insignificant. I have, however, decided to go ahead with it. Here are five of the reasons:
1. Some of my present salary and much of the money that paid for my education came out of taxpayers’ money. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that means you. (Well, depending on where you live and what your attitude towards actually paying tax is). Anyway, I am grateful for this. And in return, I think I owe you updates about what I’ve been up to at work, where it’s all going and why I’m doing it.
2. I love what I do. I sometimes get very excited about it. (Ask my friends, they all know what my favourite protein is, for instance.) I want to share some of this love and excitement. Maybe out there, some of you can relate to it.
3. I think I should do more thinking. You know, about stuff. During a busy day in the lab, deep quiet reflection often gets sidelined a bit. I notice that I find it easier to think if I write stuff down, so blogging might actually be a good way for me to become a better thinker.
4. I look at learning and memory in the lab (more specifically at the proteins in the brain that are involved in forming new memories and at how they work). But I am also a learner outside the lab, and I have long wondered how the “macroscopic” experience of being a learner relates to the microscopic changes that happen in the brain. At least having a place where I write about both things might help me see the connections. Kind of “if you build it, they will come”.
5. I wanted to become a scientist because I love science. But when I made the decision, I did not know what being a scientist would be like. What do we do in a typical day? How do we plan our lives? What are our aspirations and our worries? Some of this blog will address this, because I think people who consider a career in science should know what they are signing up for. (And maybe some people who do not consider a career in science might be tempted into changing their minds!)