Lab life & grad school have got a bad rep! Now, I’m by no means belittling the daily struggles a grad student, postdoc or any researcher might face. Trust me, it’s tough! Pursuing a postgraduate degree in the life sciences is seriously draining physically, mentally, and emotionally. Hey, if getting a PhD and a career in the lab was that easy everyone would be doing one, right?
But, so many embark on this journey that there must be some good to it, right? While it’s definitely tough at times, science research can actually be an enjoyable and totally rewarding experience! So, instead of focusing on the negatives, I’m going to bless your day with what I think are the best things about lab life and why the tassel really is worth the hassle!
You’re at the forefront of scientific discovery!
As a scientist in research, you’ll almost always be treading in unknown waters. This is scary and is probably one of the reasons you get so frustrated and feel like you don’t belong. But what could be more exciting than when you get that missing piece of the puzzle and realize you are the first person EVER to make that discovery?! You’re basically the Christopher Columbus of your particular field and you should be darn proud of it *insert fist bump emoji here*. AND you get to run the show! It’s sad but true that most jobs involve working through To Do lists set by the higher ups. But in the lab – YOU get to steer which way your work goes! Yes, your boss might give you the initial idea but the further you go the more your own interests can influence the big question! Whether your work succeeds or fails, it is up to you to fix the problem however you see fit! There is not much else out there that allows for that!
This ain’t no 9–5!
Lab life is more flexible than you think and not full of HR people clocking your hours every single day. I show up to the lab at 10am, well, because I can! Of course, there are days where your pipettes will be keeping you company until the small hours of the AM, or you will have to feed your cells on bank holidays – but the take home message is that your hours are as flexible as they can get! So, if you’re no early bird, like me, and fancy coming in at nearly noon – go for it! Get your work done, but live your life! Because guess who’s going to yell at you – not your cells and probably not your boss!
Doing experiments is actually pretty fun!
In what other profession do you get to look at glowing cells under the microscope or fiddle (safely!) with powders, lasers and x-ray films? The answer: none. It is one of the coolest jobs in the world – even if everyone’s reply to you saying you’re a scientist is “So when are we going to cure cancer?”. Plus unlike the average office gig, I work in many different rooms on different floors and at opposite ends of the building. This keeps me moving and with my higher than average daily step count… I’m basically being paid to work out! Science is challenging though! Plain and simple! Figuring out how all these individual experiments fit together into a biological system is complex and frustrating, but once you get it and overcome the challenge, it is SO exciting and satisfying.
Time to get your creative juices flowing!
Scientists have this reputation for being dull and boring! But scientists have to be super creative too! Not only do you have to think up brand new and world first experiments to further the knowledge of humankind, but you also have to have a flair for writing & selling your research! And then you haven’t even got me started on the opportunities that are open to you in the world of science communication. This isn’t just finding fun ways to do a talk – but can stretch from art and photography, to designing games and making models and everything in between! All in the name of sharing science with the world!
You get to mingle with world-renowned scientists
Think about it for a second! Think about the caliber of research going on in the labs around the globe – and you are a part of this community! Take advantage of every opportunity to brush shoulders with the science elite – whether it’s with scientists you pass regularly in the corridor or the ‘mythical beings’ whose papers you’ve been reading who you actually bump into at a conference! Network until you are blue in the face – even if you are the shy retiring type like me! You never know what connections you will make and what they could bring to your future.
You can travel the world!
There is plenty of talk about how much travel is involved with lab life. And for some, like me, that is such a selling point! You could do your undergrad in the UK, jet off to the US for your PhD, spend a few years doing your postdoc down under and then land a professorship in Canada! And all the while exploring even more countries at conferences! That is a whole load of different cities, countries, cultures and more importantly food to take in! Globetrotters like me will be all over this!
The highs definitely outweigh the lows
Okay, I’m not going to sugar coat it: the positive results are few and far between for most of us! You can sometimes go weeks, or even months, on end before you get a result you are proud of. What I really want to say is the hardest part of research is staying motivated! It is so easy to lose motivation when everything isn’t working! But don’t be too disheartened because you’re not alone! Everyone goes through this more than once in their PhD, but I assure you that all the bad times are forgotten when you get that missing piece of the puzzle. The key is to stay optimistic and always keep an eye on the bigger picture!
You get to meet awesome people
This time I’m not talking about the science elite – despite how epic that is! I’m talking about your grad school friends that are the ones that are going to help you across the finish line. I’m talking about your lab mates who can empathize with you more than anyone else because they know exactly what you’re going through. I’m talking about your lab mates who will be your friends for life because they will be there for you through all the lows, and celebrate with you through the highs. For this reason, I recommend that you man up and just get involved! All your extracurriculars will supplement the whole graduate experience and help you survive!
Science is freakin’ cool!
Whether that person you are talking to enjoyed science at school or not, whenever you tell them that you are a scientist, you always get an excited and interested response – well at least I have! Despite those responses again, like ‘When are you going to cure cancer then?’, it is simply freaking awesome to call yourself a scientist!
And finally, the free food
If you are
desperate & cheap resourceful enough, free food is almost always within reach! Nothing is more satisfying that heading to a seminar that is offering lunch! You will be surprised by how much more you’re interested in when the food (and sometimes even wine!) is free! Also on your grad school shopping list, top of your list, should be baking recipes and supplies. Scientists LOVE cake! I get as many emails about cake as I do about anything else remotely science-y! So brush up on those baking skills! If you can rustle up a knockout chocolate cake as easily as you can knockout a western blot, you are going to be just fine!
So there you have it! A handful of reasons why lab life is actually awesome as hell! It is all too easy to get wrapped up in your own research bubble and become overwhelmed by negative results, but working in a lab is all about celebrating the little wins and pushing yourself and the boundaries of knowledge! If you want a career that is challenging, exciting, freakin’ cool and full of creative opportunities, travel, freedom and flexibility – then perhaps a career nuzzled up to the lab bench is for you! Just take it one day at a time, sit back and enjoy the ride!
Is there something that you find awesome about lab life that I haven’t shared then please share below 🙂 Together let’s share an honest account of what lab life is really like to help the grad students and the scientists of the present and future 🙂
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