May 7, 2009 1 Comment
Two interesting things happened today at work today.
The first is that I received notice from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that they are considering my recent proposal for funding. They asked me to send in additional information. According to my boss, they don’t ask for this information unless they plan on funding you. So this is great news. It won’t be a raise, in fact it will be a net pay decrease since I will no longer be receiving the extra 10% income I get towards retirement, however, by getting this grant I will be putting myself in a position where I will be more marketable and get a higher salary once I start applying for “real jobs”.
The second, less awesome thing, is that one of my labmates had a qualifying exam for his Ph.D. today. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. The boss essentially threw him under a bus… and while he is pissed… the same thing happened to me at my same exam (5 years ago, different lab, different school). It was interesting seeing it from this side of the track, because I can look at him and see myself at that time. But I handled things a lot differently. I failed that exam, miserably, however failing it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I became a GOOD graduate student after that exam. I started to care about more than just my own project. I ended up publishing 6 papers in the next 2 years, was one of the first people in my class to graduate with my Ph.D., and won an award my last year for best chemistry graduate student in the program. All from that miserable day where I realized that getting by on my basic knowledge wasn’t enough anymore and realizing that I had to work at it to really succeed.
Why does this matter now? Well, I could make some reference back to personal finance and sometimes you have to be at the very bottom before you get the motivation to climb back out, but I’m not going to (anymore than I just have).
The realization I came to is that, 5 years later, I’m that same person in lab again. My ideas are good, my project is awesome, but I have become scientifically lazy. I’ve lost interest in other people’s work and reading the literature beyond what I need to for my project. And this time, I don’t have a firing squad who is going to tell me this before I get to far in, I just have myself. And the only time I’ll find out how poorly I am doing is when I go up for jobs and they realize how shallow my depth of knowledge is.
So perhaps this is a resolution that will change how I act in lab, or perhaps just a foreboding message for the future…. Only time will tell.