This blog post was originally posted on Åsberg’s science blog Furby in the lab.
Let me give you a list of all the aspects of my job as a PhD student that I love. It really is a great ride but also incredibly difficult and I find myself easily sucked into the dark thoughts of how this will never work out, I’m the worst scientist in history and my project is not worth doing. I think it is time to will myself out of the dark places and focus on what I enjoy:
– First of all I get to think. A lot. Almost all the time, every day. I think, ponder, question, wonder. It’s a privilege.
– I get to look closely at microscopic organisms. I love looking at things. There’s just nothing better than looking at something amazing with your own eyes. I get to see cells, bacteria and even proteins. Or I get to see the light that the fluorophores I attached to those proteins emit when I excite them.
– This brings me to attaching fluorophores to proteins. I’m excited about that. I get to glue molecules together!
– I get to manipulate cells. Imagine where they came from. These guys were born inside the bone of a mouse from a dividing stem cell. They were taken out and put in petri dishes along with signaling molecules that tell them to grow up, differentiate, and become a very specialized kind of cell. When they are fully differentiated I put them in new dishes and give them various things to eat, such as bacteria or fungal particles. Then I investigate what proteins they use to take up and process the «edibles» I give them.
– I get to write. I love writing and I wish I could do more of it. My university encourages science communication and I get to write both scientific and popular science texts. It is undoubtedly the best part of my job.
– I get to talk about science. I get to go to conferences and talk to the awesome scientists there. I get to go to lab meetings and discuss my own work and that of others with my amazing colleagues. And I get to attend science communication events and talk to kids, teenagers and all kinds of people about science. When I go to get my hair done I talk about science, as my hairdresser is extremely curious about research. In general there is a lot of science talk in my everyday life and I enjoy it!
– I get to travel. Conferences in California and courses in Germany. As I’m writing this I’m sitting in a small room, only me and a microscope, at a lab in Los Angeles. I’ve been here for three months and I’ve three more to go. I know it’s almost 25C outside and I’m considering if I can manage to finish early. Or better, take a day to work from home next week – and do my reading by the pool.
– I manage my own time. This is an important one. I decide when I work. So I can take that day and catch up on reading from home, which is so much quieter than the office. But being my own manager usually results in me working too much, from which we can conclude that I’m a bad manager (of myself) and need to do a better job 😉
– I get to do basic research. This is very important to me. I know it might seem more exciting to be closer to practical use, either in medicine, technology or whatever you’re most interested in. That’s not the case for me. With this type research I feel like I’m increasing our basic understanding of a small part of the organism we are. Years from now, someone else might take this to the hospital or somewhere else exciting. That’s okay. I want to be here, at the edge of what we know about our own cells, trying to get another tiny step ahead, trying to gain some more knowledge.
– I get to feel that my work matters. I know that my research increases our basic understanding of a specific cell type by a tiny bit. Someone is going to build on that and it might someday have practical significance for society. And even if it never matters in a practical way to anyone, knowledge is still valuable in it’s own right.
– I get to understand and appreciate my body and mind and the world around me. During my first year as a biology student I was required to take a course in taxonomy, learning the names and traits of all the most common animals, plants and insects in Norway. It was horrible. Then came the field courses and I fell completely for taxonomy. It thought me to really see the world around me. The next years of my education thought me a lot about how we, our organs and cells function. And a lot about how plants, fungi and microorganisms function. Through my education and my work I get to really see and appreciate life on earth. I only wish I had the same level of knowledge in physics, geology and astronomy.
Imagine being able to see and appreciate everything around you!