If you had told me when I was in high school that I would be studying well into my thirties, I would have laughed, told you it was preposterous, and gone back to watching whichever sport was on TV at that moment. Fast-forward 15 years, and not much has changed. I am still in school and follow too many sports for my good. I am older, but certainly not wiser.
One of my earliest memories is of a 5-year-old me covered in frog spawn, proudly holding a bottle full of tadpoles. I had let my sister talk me into getting into the pond to capture said tadpoles so we could watch them grow into frogs. I let my sister talk me into doing many questionable things, but in her defense, it did not take a lot of convincing. For as long as I can remember, I have loved science. So, when the time came to choose what I wanted to do with my life, I picked pharmacy school over my passion for baking and a career as a pastry chef. It was a rational and well-thought-out decision (or so I told myself), and I have not regretted it (yet). To cut a very long story short, I got my undergraduate degree in pharmacy, a master’s degree in pharmacology, and worked in the biotech industry for three years before starting graduate school again. Have there been days when I have asked myself why I left a decent paying job in the industry to do the same amount of work for less than half the pay? Absolutely. Those are the days when I am absolutely, positively certain that I want to move as far away from academia as possible. While there are certain aspects of academia I love, I am glad I spent time in the industry to know the kind of environment that is right for me as a scientist. Academia has freedom. Industry has structure. And as much as I love the freedom to explore, I miss the rigid confines of the industry. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy being a student- you try, you fail, you learn, you try again, you fail again, and you are overjoyed when you finally have a result that is not a complete failure. You learn to own your failures as much as you own your successes. What I love most about science is that it has all the answers- you just need to ask the right questions. As scientists, we know exponentially less than what we do not know. And as a graduate student, you have the opportunity to glimpse into this unknown world and drown yourself exploring multiple potential hypotheses. But like any adventure, you encounter unexpected obstacles. Some obstacles are worth clearing. Others, not so much. And it is this journey, a journey that involves clearing countless obstacles thrown your way that molds you into a better scientist. So far, it has been a wonderful, taxing journey, and while it may not seem that way on certain days, I am truly grateful to be on this journey, exploring an area of research that I love, with an extremely supportive mentor.
And if I ever get tired of this journey a.k.a. doing science, there is always plan B- open my little bookstore café somewhere in New Zealand and live like a hobbit, eating two breakfasts everyday while preparing for a different kind of adventure.
Written by Deepa Anjan Kumar