Thursday, March 8, 2012


For a long time there wasn't any time to think about science. From about halfway through my PhD until I left that lab very recently, I felt like I was on a relentless treadmill. I'm not accusing my old lab of anything here. I was for the most part very happy there and I made a lot of very dear friends - it was more to do with my state of mind as anything else. Doing a PhD is hard, basically.

At the outset we were a new lab and we were collectively under a lot of pressure to perform quickly, my supervisor most of all. It could at times be a very stressful environment and  during a PhD you reach that point where you have to carry on no matter what because otherwise you've just wasted three years of your life. Then, somehow, we became a big lab. It no longer felt like my job was to do experiments. It felt like my job was clearing up after everybody, trying to get people to order things, getting frustrated by the trails of destruction in every room I tried to work in. Being the oldest 'in lab years' as my fellow lab mates liked to say, seemed to mean I had to be responsible for day to day things running in a vaguely smooth fashion. It also meant I was relentlessly bombarded with questions along the lines of "where's this?", "how does this work?", "can you fix this?". It could be a very enjoyable working environment, but it was not a peaceful one.

Then of course there were moments, particularly during the "thesis writing stage" (as seems to be pretty common) when I just didn't want to do science any more. It felt unrewarding, grueling and pointless. During the dark months of introspection, when you look back on all your years of data - unless your blessed with the most resilient of minds - you tend to think it's all crap. Thus, by extrapolation, you are crap. It's a simple equation based on the fact that science can be very personal - your project, your ideas, your data, your failure.

This blog for the most part operated as a sanctuary from all of that. A protected sanctuary at that. Until very recently Dan was the only person IRL that knew about it at all. Within these carefully constructed walls I could pretend that the only thing that mattered was whether my peas were going to survive the slug attacks this year, or whether that Rowan Cocoon really was the right choice for that knitting project.

BUT, Dan and I made the decision to carry on in science. More than that we decided to make the big move and do Post-Docs in America. So there's been a big shift in my head in terms of how I perceive myself - I'm not a student any more, I'm a professional. I even have a Fellowship (money from a funding agency). In terms of my actual abilities the difference is purely psychological - but that's not to undermine the significance of that shift. 

What I'm trying to say in a very long winded fashion, is that I might start to blog a bit about the day job too. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I like blogging and I like the act of committing ideas to the virtual paper - I always wanted to be able to keep a diary, but never felt I was up to it and yet the other day I realised that I've had a blog, in some form or another, for over ten years. Secondly, science is very creative and I enjoy making the most of those opportunities, which is why I like the job. I've treated this blog as a sketchbook of ideas, there's no reason why it shouldn't reflect some of the science ideas too. Finally, the big move is a new start. It is equal parts scary and exciting and I think it would be good for me (and keep me on the level) to write about some of that.

It was quite hard to illustrate this post with photos...
[Footnote - I wrote this post a little while ago now, by the time I'd finished it I wasn't sure how I felt about it any more - more specifically, how I felt about loosing a dedicated 'not-science' space. I may write about science life, I may not. Weirdly, I felt I had to write this to at least give myself the option. If any one has an opinion on this topic, please share it with me!]

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