Can your life include science?

Can your life include science?

“Unless you can’t envision yourself doing anything but science, you shouldn’t go into science.”  While I’m paraphrasing, this philosophy is something that I hear all the time as a science student.  If science isn’t the only thing you are interested in, the only thing you can possibly envision spending your time doing, don’t be a scientist.

Before I entered grad school, I staunchly opposed this point of view.  I earned a dual degree in molecular biology and French literature in undergrad while also being a four-year member of the marching band.  Science + humanities + music:  I was pretty much as well-rounded as you can get, and I enjoyed all the different aspects of these disparate activities.  Though I wanted to pursue a career in research, I couldn’t fathom science being the only thing to occupy my mind all day, every day, for the rest of my life.

As a grad student now, however, I completely understand how science can become all-consuming to a researcher.  Most days, I spend a significant amount of my time at home in the evenings thinking about papers or experiments or what I need to do the next day in lab.  I have experiments planned out for the entire next month.  Sometimes, right before I go to bed, I decide to read “one more” section of a paper, or rework “just one sentence” of an abstract.  So yes- science clearly has the potential to consume even the most stubborn of minds.

And yet I’m doing my best to avoid that happening to me.  That means that while I’m in lab nearly all of every weekday, I try to limit the amount of time that I go into the lab on weekends so that I have time to also pursue other interests.  That includes a few activities that I picked up not long after moving to Pittsburgh (including going to a French conversation group on Saturdays, finding various foodie events around Pittsburgh, and writing for this blog and other publications) and some new adventures (such as an ASL class that I’m quite excited to start this semester!).

Do I feel like any of these activities are taking away from my ability to be a successful scientist?  Absolutely not!  Exactly the opposite, in fact:  I like that science is one portion of my life- a major portion, at that- but I also like that I can take a break when I need to and know that I have interests to pursue in those moments, too.  I can imagine feeling completely overwhelmed with the workload of pursuing a PhD if I wasn’t able to disengage from time to time.  And this has given me a freedom that maybe other grad students/scientists don’t feel:  I don’t feel guilty when I am participating in another activity, because I know that they are just as important to my mental well-being as making progress towards my PhD is.

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