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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. 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.

  2. 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.

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

    If you do animal research:

    What about aggression from animal rights activists?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. 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 🙂

    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.

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

    True – each employer, even in science, is different – you’ve got me there! 😀

    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? 😉

  9. 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! 🙂

  10. 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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