Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Endgame

I've been thinking about "the endgame" a lot these days.
(Style note: I swear not to begin anymore posts with "I've been thinking about..." anymore, it might be time for "It was a dark and stormy night...")

What is my endgame? With this postdoc and all that I am doing now, involving low-level politicking, writing etc. Let's say its an academic position in India, doing cutting edge research in infectious diseases. What then am I doing to go there? How specifically do I go about getting there, as opposed to just trying to do good research and sending up prayers to the gods of funding and publishing?

This is a novel way of thinking for me, and one that I think should have started a long time ago. I drifted into science because I was bright and academically-inclined. The drift wasn't aimless, it was influenced by the fact that I love talking to intelligent people about intelligent things, my mother is a scientist, and I thought science and scientists were so cool. I came to the US because it was kind of the done thing at my (competitive) college: my friends all wrote the GRE and sent out applications. Most of us did well, and nearly all of us went to good schools. I floated into biology because I liked both biology and chemistry, and biology incorporated elements of chemistry. I went where I did for grad school because they offered me a place, and it seemed really cool.

I don't mean to say that I just faffed through life and things happened to me. I think it was more that I hadn't found all the the dislikes and loves that I have now. I liked most things, I was interested in studying most things, and I looked on travelling as an adventure. I had no conception of the mind-bending cultural changes I was about to face, and I did not think for one second about how hard it would be to consider living and working in India after nearly ten years as an American scientist. I am pretty fortunate that things have turned out well, and I am very fortunate to have discovered both ambition and immunology. Fulfilling that ambition would be much easier if I had actually started thinking about my life and career choices more actively a long time ago. I didn't, though, and whether that was a function of culture, personality, upbringing, I can't say with certainty. But it is what it is, and I'm going to find out, soon enough.

Now I know better, its all about the endgame. Which includes immunology, India, a family, my large and extended family, writing, travelling and a faculty position.

Too ambitious?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One Week at a Time

So my last post was about how charged up I am about an academic career.
With that in mind, let me describe my week:

Saturday: Transfected cells, let's say A cells, to use for experiments. Fed them, put them away, felt very good about the adventurousness of the experiment being undertaken.

Sunday: Realized while 40 miles away that I had completely forgotten to get another set of cells, call them B cells, ready for the experiment. B cells are needed for the final step of the experiment. Crap. Bummer. Well will just have to get them ready on Monday.

Monday: Got B cells, and third and final type of cells, called C, ready. A cells, of course are nice and confluent and ready to use, only I am not going to use them. F*cking A. Efficiently set up more of A cells to start the whole things again, but nested so I don't waste any time.

Tuesday: Set it all up, A cells, B cells and C cells. They are happy in the incubator, ready for me to read them tomorrow. Whew, that didn't work out too badly did it?
Transfected second batch of A cells.

Wednesday: Started off readings, all negative. Completely, and it doesn't even look like A cells make the protein I transfected into them (which is the whole entire point of transfection!). Double sh*t. No f*ck it, triple sh*t. Then the blinding realization dawns that I threw away my leftover B cells after using them yesterday, and I don't have any more going. There are no words, only anti-endorphins.

Thursday: Started round 2, with some alternative B cells. Also, smartly decided to check whether transfecting served any purpose this time, since I screwed up the previous time and let A cells go much longer than they should have. Turns out that transfecting A cells doesn't work when I do it (though it is routine procedure in my lab). Nothing, nothing at all. There's no point in doing the next step, with alternative or otherwise B cells. Now what? Blog, I suppose. Maybe some beer.

Friday: Strategize? Re-evaluate? Retire?

I am a shining example, I tell you.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I Like Being a Scientist?

Something interesting happened to me recently. I've had a busy few months: I went to India, for a wedding (mine), came back to the US and to work. Pounded out a bunch of experiments before I left and few since I returned. Struggled badly with jetlag (it only gets worse!), cultural disaffection, being tired and ill, loads of pressure from the boss and truly pernicious lethargy.

And now I want to work. I want to do experiments, read immunology, gossip about science. I even looked up job openings in India, because I think I want to start my own lab there. I want to keep being a scientist.

It's difficult, rarely rewarding, massively underpaid and a niche profession if I ever heard of one. My job prospects in my home country are limited, to say the least, aside from the fact that I have never actually worked in India. I have done all my research in the States and am, for all practical purposes, an American scientist. I have a new husband and our busy life together. I need some sexy papers, and some powerful, original ideas. I need to push and slog and labour till I can't stand it anymore and my family can't stand it anymore.

Why would I do this? I guess its because I really like being a scientist.
Who knew.