I’ll miss the little day-to-day moments in a lab. I’ll miss the satisfying snap of ejecting a pipet tip and its subsequent clink into the tips beaker. I’ll miss marveling at all the glassware, writing with sharpies, and using as many colors of masking tape as possible. I’ll miss jumbling numbers in my brain as I try to calculate dilutions and keep count on a 96 (or 384!) well plate. I’ll miss the strangely soothing quiet hum of machinery and incubators that you hear early in the morning or late at night, when no one else is in lab (prime time). I’ll miss the random deep thoughts that strike me while I’m waiting for the centrifuge to stop.
I’ll miss getting in the zone, popping in headphones, and bobbing along to fratmusic.com or nodding to profound learnings from podcasts. I’ll especially miss the rebellious feeling of having obscene gangster rap pumping in my headphones while softly smiling to oblivious labmates.
I’ll miss the hours alone with the confocal microscope, insulated in a basement room without cell phone service or wifi. I’ll miss the joy of focusing the image plane on particularly colorful or meaningful cells. I’ll miss cells in general, as I’ve developed a fondness for splitting them, feeding them, and using a microscope to check on their health and growth.
I’ll miss teaching people how to make nanoparticles, how to play with cells, how to evaluate if their chemistry were successful. I’ll miss working shoulder-to-shoulder with people at the lab bench and the meaningful conversations that often ensue. I’ll miss explaining the differences among chemical bonds, sometimes pulling a ‘Beautiful Mind’ and writing on glass windows. I’ll miss that semi-eureka feeling when you finally make a breakthrough on how to answer a scientific question that’s been nagging you. I’ll miss outlining experiments on blank copy paper before typing up a protocol. I’ll miss the unknown, the endless possibilities of experiments, and contemplating their broad implications.
I’ll miss writing in a lab notebook, likely including far too many details and smiley/sad faces than necessary. I’ll miss touring aspiring scientists through labs, showing them cells under the microscope (often for the first time), and using smoky liquid nitrogen to freeze and shatter whatever we have around. I’ll miss the flexible academic schedule, as ambling in at 10:30am certainly has its appeal. I’ll miss the casual dress code and the diversity of people in various labs. I’ll miss feeling masterful, the satisfaction of years of muscle memory allowing me to gracefully move through experimental techniques.
I won’t miss the sinking feeling of yet another failed experiment and the subsequent investigations that are usually dead ends. I won’t miss wondering if the caustic smells wafting over are damaging my brain. I won’t miss the data critiques, when people attempt to display their superior intelligence and ask for impossible numbers of conditions and controls. I won’t miss the endless lab meetings and overriding my desire to apply efficiency principles to wildly inefficient people and practices. I won’t miss the egos, the posturing, the overpromising, and the arbitrary deadlines superimposed on me.
I won’t miss the existential guilt that jabs me when I’m not in the lab, knowing that I could be doing more and that so many others are working away at the bench. I won’t miss that gnawing feeling that even my successes in the lab won’t ever really matter. I won’t miss academic publishing; tamping down my enthusiasm and metaphors to fit into the detached, understated tone of scientific writing, the inexplicable quantity of revisions that circulate before the clunky submission process, and crafting obsequious appeals to reviewers. I won’t miss the lengthy lag time between a scientific advance and its “public” dissemination into an admittedly small scientific world. I won’t miss being poor and my dismay upon calculating and benchmarking my hourly wage.
I won’t miss animal work; I have killed more mice than I want to admit. I won’t miss hiding little mistakes because many of my supervisors and collaborators had zero tolerance for missteps. I won’t miss the aggressive, critical tone of communication that often dominates interactions. I won’t miss the expectation that people will be late to meetings, if they even show up. I won’t miss the mildly (or majorly!) sexist jokes and remarks that people don’t think I hear, or awkwardly try to talk around when they realize that I’m in the room. I won’t miss being the only female, often the only American, (very often the only American female) in many research situations.
I’ve had a good run in labs and am extremely grateful for my solid 10 years of research experiences. At this point, I’ve worked in labs spanning fMRI, bone tissue engineering, biomedical engineering, parasitology, informatics, polymer chemistry, immunobiology, and systems biology. I’m proud of all the collaborations I’ve forged and maintained, the work I’ve done, and the lessons (mostly interpersonal!) that I’ve learned. But I’ve proven to myself and others that I can work in labs, and it’s time for me to move on.
It’s time for me to leap into the scary unknown, where I don’t have the track record to know that I can do it and will be forced to grow. As I’m living my maxim of moving towards fear, which time and time again has resulted in epic experiences, I have faith that I will enjoy these new challenges and ultimately succeed 🙂