A lot of grad students have probably seen this blog post on the development of science and had a good laugh about it. Long story short, if you imagine that all of human knowledge is a circle, the specialized research that you do is just a small part of the circle. When you contribute to your field you push knowledge beyond the boundary of a small slice of the circle. It’s true that an MSc or PhD project can have you study a pretty narrow field, but to borrow from the diagram in the blog, what about the rest of the circle? Science ‘tunnel vision’ is an easy problem to have, and not too easy to recognize.
What’s Tunnel Vision?
Take a moment and think, do you read science for fun anymore? Do you talk to your buddies about cool science stories anymore? Do you look at things in the world with the same kind of awe and amazement that you did when you were younger? Hopefully such things still do happen, but when you’re in the tunnel they might not.
For me, tunnel vision happened when my research was going through a rough patch. I buried myself in my work when it wasn’t going smoothly, but after a while, the mental exhaustion just caught up with me. At the very worst of times, feelings of resignation over science in general, started creeping in. Maybe some tinges of regret also seeped in, and I’d started questioning how much I really liked science. It was during these low points that I learned one of the most valuable lessons in all of grad school – sometimes you need to take a step back, breathe, and remember why you are in science in the first place.
Stepping Out of the Science Tunnel
I began to step outside of my research field by reading articles, listening to podcasts, and talking to colleagues. Just like my younger years, it was all about rediscovering the wonderful/crazy/mysterious things that happen in the world around us – to remind myself that there is so much amazing science beyond the tunnel that you can get trapped in. It was a reminder of why I fell in love with science in the first place. Feeling inspired, I felt ready to go on with my own research.
But more happened when I stepped outside the research ‘tunnel’. I discovered a new found love of science communication. I picked up on different presentation and communication elements that I could adapt to my own presentation style. The more articles and podcasts I exposed myself to, the more ideas I had about my own science communication.
So where did stepping out of the research tunnel take me? I started a blog, picked up more writing and communication opportunities, and am now thinking about a potential career in a communications-related field. The low points of grad school are now forgotten, but most important of all, I’ve fallen back in love with science – maybe even deeper than before.
At the end of the day, the goal of grad school is to publish papers, and get your degree. Don’t take my advice to mean that that you should blow off your experiments or work. But just like any difficult task, sometimes you need to take a short breather to refocus and recharge before diving head first back in. Taking that breather to appreciate all the wonderful science that happens away from the lab bench was my way to rediscover a love for what I do.