Five months ago, I pranced into the office of a renowned research institution wide-eyed and full of hope. I was about to begin my MSc project, and nothing could bring me down. I no longer considered myself a scientist in the making, but a fully formed academic. It was with great pride that I labelled my pipettes (and, admittedly, anything else I was allowed to temporarily claim), and I was even enthusiastic when the time came to empty out the biohazard bin.
With time, however, I grew to appreciate why Einstein said that “science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it”. Indeed, the stress of promiscuously-binding antibodies and disappearing RNA pellets began to make me question my chosen career path. Everyone who I spoke to about my disillusionment, however, had the same thing to say: “Welcome to science!”.
I began to wonder how science ever moved forward at all. How is it that there are still fools who choose a career in which your experiments dictate your schedule, you are constantly submitted to criticism by your peers, and weeks worth of work is often pointless? My answer to this question came when my first experiment finally worked. When my DNA finally deigned to be amplified, I felt like a child at Christmas. Everything was alright with the world again, and I had an overwhelming feeling of enthusiasm. I had regained the spark and curiosity that made me choose science in the first place – and I see the same glimmer in the eyes of anyone who has a day of good results.
In just 5 months I had found out what scientific research is really about. Yes, your reagents will most likely get mercilessly stolen with no explanation, and your results won’t make any sense for the most part, especially if you’re a student just starting out. But when the pieces start fitting together and the fog begins to clear, then you know you’ve not only done a good day’s work: you’ve made a contribution (however small) to the way humankind perceives the world…and there’s no other feeling quite like it!