10 Reasons NOT to be a Scientist

clown.jpgOk, this week has been a bad week in the lab so far. A few weeks ago I wrote a post describing 15 reasons to be a scientist. Today I am in the mood to cross over to the dark side and give you 10 reasons NOT to be a scientist! Strangely I could only think of 10. If you have any more, please feel free to add them in the comments section below.

1. Egos. Science attracts some straaaange people – and you have to work with them.

2. You can spend weeks, months even, trying to clone a gene, grow a strain or whatever and end up with zero results in the end. Bench work is surely one of the most frustrating jobs in the world.

3. Career Structure. Mainly if you work in academia I suppose. There are plenty of post-doc posts, but what about the next step?

4. Coming last at Trivial Pursuits. I don’t know about you, but I have spent so long with my head in science books that my general knowledge is terrible.

5. Having to write grant proposals

6. Repetition. As is often said – a trained monkey could do 90% of your job.

7. None of your non-science friends have a clue what your job is really all about (maybe that’s a good thing)

8. Transience. You work somewhere for a few years and make lots of friends, then gradually everyone moves to new jobs all over the world and you never see each other again. Sniff.

9. Unless you are very lucky. No-one in the real world cares about, or will be affected by, what you do.

10. The following quote from Max in the comment section of the the sister post to this one sums it up beautifully:

Getting paid substandard wages while working days and nights while on tenure track, while your buddies drive BMWs and surf in Hawaii, while you wonder why your second wife has left you and why you still don’t have an office with a window???

Oh wait, that was my “inside” voice,

Ahhh, I feel better after that. Remember to add your own in the comments section and maybe you’ll feel better too!

Photo: Steenslag


  1. Johnny Young on May 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    The smell of BME, DTT or even worse, bleach-spiked LB media…

    Unrelated to this topic, but related to the difficulties of a scientist’s life: has anybody tried to bring a baby to a conference? I am trying to go to the Epigenetics Summit in Boston, but I can’t seem to find any information about potential daycare. Am I dreaming out loud?

  2. Josee on May 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Come On. Raise your shoulder!
    We are all artist. Science is a passion!
    A musician will carry his guitar where ever he goes. We scientist think about science all day all night (or maybe we are lucky and can sleep once in a while).
    But once you are dedicated, it becomes part of you. If you don’t have the satisfaction of being there, it’s never too late. Find something else. For the rest of us who think about it all the time, just be it and live with it. One day, you will have the satisfaction of doing great work and will be proud of it.

  3. gaurav on February 19, 2011 at 7:29 am

    well i really dont agree that it doesnt make an impact… may be in lesser journals..but every small work adds up everyday…( it becomes clear when u read a review) and at last a breakthrough comes which apply the science in real life… eg. just knowing the time of diff genes was used to make a body calender that was used in drug administration… the real world may not understand wat we do in a room but that doest mean its not(/ will not) effecting them

  4. Lena on February 16, 2011 at 6:47 am

    11. You have no life outside of lab. Science becomes your life.

    A friend asked me if I have any hobbies, and the only “hobby” I could come up with was collecting mini-Giant Microbes.

    Working with stem cells, they don’t really care if it’s the weekend or a holiday; they still need to be passaged, even if all your friends are going up for a camping trip out of town, or renting a lodge up in the mountains. You end up missing out on many things in life.

  5. than wu on August 8, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Reason number 9 couldn’t be closer to the truth. You have to read between the lines here. When you have a room full of Phds, they aren’t patting each other in the back. There is deep skepticism more than anything else.


    70% of the papers published in all hard science journals around the world from IEEE to obscure journals don’t make an impact. It’s probably more like 95% but I’m being gracious. What this means is that, these papers don’t really contribute to anything, they are just fluff work that is like a high school or college research paper; that is, it is just a summary of a dozen papers with a slightly new twist. (which is the minimum requirement to get a paper published)

    Even if your work is ground breaking, you still have to sell your idea. You have to prove it and someone will always call out one test you did not do or one exception that flaws your research. How would you like to be humiliated like this at your next conference paper or IEEE summit?

    Let’s face it, the spirit of single handed heroic inventions have long been put to bed after the 17th century and practically dead after the 50s. People aren’t interested in investigating science like Newton and Einstein anymore and if they are, they get ridiculed. It’s not easy to be a rock star scientist, those days are long, long gone.

    Big ideas come from multi billion dollar high tech corporations now, with today’s technology, only they can make an idea come into fruition.

    The best most people can hope for is to publish a few papers that no one will read.

    If you have a truly revolutionary idea and publish a paper and if you don’t start your own company, a company will use your idea and make billions. Remember you can’t patent an idea or theory, only a final product.

  6. Nick on February 16, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Tina. You are definitely not the only one! For some ideas on what you can do next in your career, check out this article:


  7. Tina on February 14, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Wow!!! it’s good to know I’m not the only one. I have a Ph.D. in the basic sciences and wish to leave science all together.

  8. Teresa on February 20, 2008 at 1:42 am

    MAX: 11. the biggest problem is that you still have Office and Windows, while all your friends are with Linux. always late?

    p.s. When you’re Pole, you need to find a new job, cause being a scientist/ university fighter, you might be a red neck with sth ab. 200$ salary per month… TRUTH…
    what do you think?

  9. Fabrice Chamblain on January 11, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Here are some additional reasons:

    1. If you are refusing to accept that you maybe wrong; If you looking for evidence only to support your claim and ignoring any alternative that contradicts your claim, or if you can not questions your own bias and then you are no longer seeking the truth; once you stop lokking for the truth then you are no longer doing science.

  10. Anil on November 12, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Sometimes it is the frustration of doing something new when u cannot afford it and not doing what you can afford.

  11. Ben on November 12, 2007 at 12:56 am

    If you do animal research:

    What about aggression from animal rights activists?

  12. Pedro Beltrao on November 10, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    @Katie: I work in Bioinformatics and as with most computer related work you can work from home although I don’t think it is a good idea to do it too often, it disconnects you from the working environment. The repetition issue is also much less of a problem in bioinformatics. On the flip side I think it is much easier to scoop a bioinformatic project.

  13. Katie on November 7, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    How about never being able to work from home? Unless you have the money to furnish your own lab in your basement, there will be no calling in sick and working from home. Lame.

  14. Lil on November 7, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    politics politics politics – i used to naively think that science is all about your works and research just to discover the politics and cliques formed in science can be rather intimidating… i feel like a fraud really…

  15. Nick on November 7, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Yes, a lot of it is definitely what you bring to the job, which depends on your state of mind – that’s why I wrote this at the moment while I am in a bad mood with the research I am doing. It happens occasionally but will pass ๐Ÿ™‚

    I suppose what I am really saying is:

    DISCLAIMER: Some of the above comments (especially 2,6 and 9) do not represent the day-to-day views of Nick Oswald, but are a manifestation of a transient state of mind brought about by several weeks of frustrating results. However, they may resonate with others in a similar position or provide a valuable insight into the rigors of scientific research for those considering entering the profession and are therefore provided for entertainment, educational or reference purposes only.

  16. Dan on November 7, 2007 at 3:30 am

    True – each employer, even in science, is different – you’ve got me there! ๐Ÿ˜€

    At the same time though, a lot of it is what you the employee brings to the job. It’s tough work (mentally), and REALLY easy to get caught in a dead-end series of experiments. It’s just as easy to get caught up in the minute details and lose sight of the motivations for the research that you set out to do in the first place. Those are the pitfalls we have to watch out for.

    To the wages……… what can I say? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Nick on November 6, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    I work in private biotech too and all of those reasons apply in my experience. Our experiences may be different because I work in the UK and you are in the US,the types of biotech we are in is different and maybe the size of the company has an influence.

    2- Lots of work, sometimes zero results. This certainly happens in my job.

    6- A trained monkey could definitely do a lot of my job! Of course that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s definitely a lot of repetition in science no matter what kind of work you do.

    7- Friends have no idea what you do: Ok, they may have SOME idea.

    9- No-one cares or is affected by what you do: A drug company may be happy that I have made their intermediate more cheaply than a competitor, but they are not in the real world. The public won’t see any real benefit. Although I agree that this is worse in academia – I certainly felt this more when I was working on slime molds!!

    10 – Here in the uk at least, the substandard wages are certainly an issue! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Dan on November 6, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Hmm… reasons 2, 6, 7, 9 and 10 seem to apply specifically to positions in academia. Having recently made the leap (at least for the time being) into the private biotech R&D realm, I think I can say with confidence that applied molecular biology research is easier to describe to non-scientists, pays better in some cases, and is less repetitive.

    That said, there are plenty of other reasons why private R&D is no fun…

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