What do you like & dislike most about being a scientist?

Happy Sad Scientist
Adapted from open source “happy scientist” image from the web.

When my kids were younger, sometimes they’d ask why I am a scientist. How did you make that decision? Do you still like being a scientist?

My answer would generally be along the lines of, “because I like figuring out how things work and maybe my research can help people”.

What do you like about being a scientist?

If I’m asked today, often I say essentially the same thing I did to my kids.

For me more specifically the things I like most about being a scientist are figuring out the data, learning more about how cells work, puzzling out how development proceeds, and pinpointing what can go wrong. That last part can help us develop new treatments. I also feel like I’m constantly learning new things and there is a definite thrill to discovery.

In addition, I really enjoy working with my trainees. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have amazing students, postdocs, and technicians as is still true today. That’s a big part of why I like science as a professor. More broadly working as a collaboratory team has always been very fun for me.

I’ve realized over the last 6+ years that I find it very rewarding to communicate about science to the broader world through this blog and the books I’ve written.

The video below gives an overview of a typical day in the life of a biomedical scientist.

What is there to dislike about being a scientist?

I can say for sure that 10 years ago I did not anticipate spending so much time writing grants, which comes at the expense of some of time that could go to the other important and more enjoyable parts of being a scientist. Coming with the whole grant game can be a relatively frequent stream of rejection, which is no fun, but can give one a thick skin.

Another challenging aspect of being a scientist is when experiments do not work, which also relates to the other issue of having to repeat experiments many times to really figure out what is going on with a certain hypothesis. However, there the wonderful payoff is getting rigorous data and figuring out how cells and molecules actually work, which is very cool. That’s the bonus for that persistence.

Overall, what’s it like to be a scientist?

On the whole, I can’t imagine being anything but a scientist, and of course all jobs have ups and downs to them. I feel fortunate to have this career and I know that for many scientists one of the downsides is the lack of faculty jobs. There’s some hope that with increased NIH funding from the federal budget, if that continues, that that unforunate situation might improve.