I am tired of the negativity in science.
This year, I’ve become acutely aware of the negativity that seems to begin the moment that grad school does. The “Do we really have to…”, “It’s such a waste of time to…”, “I can’t wait to be done!” and “If I’d known ___, I never would have done this” mantras that so many of my fellow grad students say on repeat quickly became frustrating to me. And the culture this is breeding amongst science trainees is not making it easy for anyone to enjoy their time in science, as a grad student or beyond.
I don’t doubt that at some level, every grad student likes science- after all, there’s no reason to begin such a program otherwise. But, I think in part to the shifting nature of possible careers after one receives a PhD, the general perception of a career doing bench research to grad students is negative–even though we are all part of that world for at least the 5 years it takes to get a PhD, if not longer (postdoc, maybe). Here is my issue: no matter how bleak the future for science/scientists may look, it looks the same to everyone. There is no reason to incessantly talk about how bad things are. We all know. We all are dealing with it. There has got to be a better use of your time than complaining all the time!
I firmly believe that the way you think and the type of output you give to the world dictates how positive- or not- your life will be. Perpetuating negativity by complaining about the state of things is not making anything better. There are two choices, then: fix the situation, or adapt to it. And there certainly are ways to do both, if you redirect your effort. Complaining accomplishes neither.
1. Unless science really is the only thing you enjoy in the entire world, there are ways to incorporate your other interests into science. There are the more “traditional” mixings such as teaching, writing, or consulting, but also less traditional ones: acting/theater (ie, along the lines of Mad Science or other live science demos) or drawing (someone has to illustrate science textbooks!). And while you’re in grad school is a great time to explore these different options. No risk, only reward.
2. Suck it up and just work. Yes that sounds harsh, but here’s why I think it needs to be said: you’re here, and you made a commitment. So whether or not you want to keep doing research after you get a PhD, you have to do it for now!
3. Though you probably won’t love every single aspect of grad school/research/science, find some part you do like and latch on to that. For example, in the lab I like reading papers and designing experiments more than I like being behind the bench- but both aspects are part of being a successful scientist, so I keep a stack of papers to peruse on my desk for when I have down time.
If people just kept their complaints to themselves, everyone would discover a much more relaxing, fulfilling environment to work in. Sure, commiserating feels good in the moment, but in the long run it is draining to everyone, whether you are the one initiating the complaining or you are subject to hearing it.