Fourth Floor Studio

November 24, 2006

Research, academia and the pursuit of happiness

Filed under: personal, science — chris @ 6:51 pm

There seems to be much rumbling in the academic blogosphere about grad/postdoc status as researchers, our happiness, job security, satisfaction, and potential lack of all of these. Propter doc laid down the gautlet as to whether research is a privilege. YFS continues to ruminate about life, the universe, and faculty. Lou is generally pissed off. And I’ve found myself ruing my lack of general reading time, and the scary proportion of time given over to ghastly meetings.

So let’s put things in context. For almost five years, I worked in a great, small lab stuck in a largely incompetent and untalented department. The majority of faculty hadn’t done serious research for years, if not decades. A few groups were strong in their respective fields, but these were largely mutually exclusive. There was a culture amongst grad students that putting in hours was a good thing, even if you didn’t actually produce work during that time. All you had to do was be present. All in all, a frustrating and depressing place to be in if you were, like me, interested in doing good, interesting, robust science. A small cadre of us switched over from wet to dry lab, and were promptly ostracised, despite the fact that we were working on some of the more interesting ideas and technologies around (microarrays and expression genetics, genome assemblies and genomics, biological data sharing, aptamers, etc). You get the picture.

Now, more through luck than skill, I’ve landed myself a post-doc in a very prestigious place in Boston, working with world-class people, with access to resources, money and people I could only dream of. I have pretty much carte blanche as to my own work, I can collaborate with whom I want when I wish to, I can travel almost at will, give talks, present posters, dictate my schedule. As all other academic scientists, I’m paying for it in lost earnings – I could be making much, much more in another field – but when it comes down to happiness and privilege? Yes, dammit, I’m happy and privileged. I’m happy to work rather than sleep, and I feel privileged that my work is so absorbing that I can say that. Does the world care? No, and I don’t care that they don’t care. Mark my words: I’m not here to save the world. I’m here because I demand an interesting and fullfilling life, because I refuse the treadmill of boredom and The Office, and because I’m good at what I do. I’m here for me. And the fact I can say that implies both happiness and privilege.

Thus ends this postdoc’s manifesto.

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1 Comment »

  1. power to you đŸ™‚

    Comment by Pedro Beltrao — November 25, 2006 @ 8:18 pm


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