Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Quarter-life crisis

Yes, you read it right. I'm having a bit of a quarter-life crisis here. Well, maybe not just a bit. Make it a lot. I think it was triggered by a few things that happened pretty recently.

First, some people at work are going through a lot of change. One of them is probably moving soon to wherever her husband (who is a soon-to-be med school graduate) is posted for his residency and another has recently got engaged. On the one hand, I'm happy for them with the new developments in their lives, but on the other I'm rather envious. I'm not an easily-jealous person but I can't help but ask myself where is my own life/career/family/relationships heading? I like being in graduate school not only because I enjoy science and the scientific process, but also because it's a pretty "luxurious" stage in my life. I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful advisor who basically lets me roam freely, as to what, when and how I do my experiments. However, I realize that this cannot last forever. Neither do I want it to last forever because that'll mean that I would not progress as a scientist. The path that a science PhD graduate usually takes involves a postdoc stint or two at another lab before starting his/her own lab as an assistant professor. Those who get disillusioned by the challenges of finding independent funding and the fierce competition usually joins "industry" (which is normally considered the dark side of academic research) or becomes a consultant or patent analyst, etc. I will probably do a postdoc or two but I wonder if I'll be able to succeed, or let alone survive, in a super competitice environment?

The second reason I'm going through this is the failure (or lack of results) of my recent experiments. There are multiple ongoing projects in the typical lab not only because the more data, the better, but also because it is expected that not all the projects will yield results. It could be due to mistakes but more often than not, I wish I were lucky enough to be prepared to observe the right thing at the right time. I'm probably graduating within 2 years and this has caused a bit of anxiety in me. I mean, I'm quite happy at the prospect of finally getting my PhD but the idea of what comes after that intimidates me. First of all, if I decide to continue in academia, I'll probably stay in the US to pursue that path, but which lab should I choose to do a postdoc stint in? Not only is the research project important, it is also crucial to have a good mentor. On the other hand, my parents really want me to go back to Indonesia, get married, have babies and all that jazz. I do want to start a family some time in the future but if I do go back to Indonesia, I know that I'll be so depressed and bored that I'll just want to shoot myself.

Gosh, my whining is so irritating that I'm starting to get annoyed by myself! Most of the time, I'm fine with not knowing what tomorrow brings. I don't know if it's just being surrounded by people who are moving on to greater things that brings out this anxious and anal side of me. I suppose sometimes, it just feels nice to have roots and to at least have an idea what tomorrow might be like for me. When this happens (which is not often), I just try not to think about it. Right now, I can console myself with the fact that graduation is still 2 years away and I can just hope for the best that I'll have a clearer picture between now and then. For now, I'm just going to bake, knit and experiment my way to cheeriness!

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Hi, I'm just kind of a random lurker around your blog, but as a woman in science, I did want to comment on this post....

I too am crippled with this kind of self-doubt from time to time, especially when experiments go sour and friends around me seem to be moving on when I'm not. Usually when that happens, I try to revisit the reason why I love science in the first place and to spend an hour at the library looking up info about other women in science. That's just me. Sounds like you bake (yum!), knit (where do you find the time??) and experiment.

Anyway, I don't think you're being whiny at all. You're working toward big things!