Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's graduate school that sucks; not research

Yes, I honestly believe that. Research does not suck like graduate school does. Here's why:

1. Hordes of minions. This is something I've been looking forward to since before I came back to school. I worked for a biotech company for a while, and I went from being a minion to having my own minions. I can't begin to tell you how awesome it is to do research when you have your own minions. All that drudgery, all those banal things you hate can be tasked to other, often more capable, people. You can focus on the best things about research: thinking about data. Coming up with theories. Designing experiments to test those theories. Communicating your ideas to others. Personally, I also really enjoy writing grants and papers, as that really boils down to doing all of the above. In any case, this one is easy: in grad school you are a minion; in research, you get to command minions.

2. Having some small measure of power over your own destiny. I've always felt that, in graduate school, you have all of the responsibility, but none of the power. You are expected to produce, but all you can bring to bear is your own blood, sweat and tears. Others control everything: lab space. Equipment. Supplies. Manpower other than your own. You have to wait for your boss to edit stuff, which can take years. Wait for him or her to submit papers. Ask permission from your committee. Obviously, some of these requirements make lots of sense; after all, you're only learning. However, as a very take-charge person it was a relentlessly frustrating situation for me to be expected to produce, on a schedule, but have so little ability to ensure that could happen. Now, I am not so naive to think that at some point you are magically no longer beholden to anyone; no matter how high you climb you can't just do whatever you want (ahem, recent NIEHS Director badness). But, no one, and I mean no one has a more deranged power-to-responsibility ration than a graduate student. As a full fledged MD/PhD, at least you get a little leverage and a little say in your own little lab-verse.

3. Did I mention minions?

4. You can have a life outside of the lab. In my ideal career, at least, I will also have clinic, and patients. I won't live and die chained to my bench. I will be able to be out, teaching, seeing patients, speaking, hearing talks, going to conferences. Yes, I got to do some of this in graduate school, but I think that when you are a PI this whole new world of freedom opens up for you--I can't wait.

5. Minions.

Okay, I'm sure there are more, but for now I must return to the luxurious weekend. I have but a few precious hours to do whatever I want (I've been reading fun books like a madwoman--it feels like forever since I've read fiction) and I'm going to dive right in, baby. Also, I am already working hard to secure my horde, and I have a pile of applications to go through.


Old MD Girl said...

Minions are only good if they are good minions. To put it another way: Lots of employees SUCK!! Even the graduate student/student trying to get a reference variety. And unfortunately, it's not always easy to screen out the sucky employees up front.

Basically what you end up doing is delegating your work with the knowledge that a certain percentage of it could/would be done better if you had done it yourself. And then you take a deep breath, hope that your results are real, and submit 20 new grants.

DK said...

Ahhhh, my world, we call them "medical students"....