Oh, what’s a girl to do?


Indeed. At the moment I am going through a period of questioning what is the point in my life, what am I going to do with it? Is it better to just be happy and enjoy life or to achieve something? I am not sure if it’s coming across well, but basically I don’t know if I want to be an academic scientist for my whole life so what the hell am I going to do if not?

When I was wee, I wanted to be a doctor. I love medical programmes and I loved biology, especially learning about genetic diseases. Lorenzo’s oil was one of my favourite movies when I was young, although i can barely remember what it was about now. However, despite getting the grades and doing work experience and filling out the forms to apply, a couple of weeks before sending everything off, me and two friends from high school who also wanted to be doctors went to see a local doctor to get advice about interview preparation etc. Basically he told me I’d be a crap doctor and that I should study biology instead and work on treating the root of diseases rather than their symptoms in humans.

So, as the deadline for medicine and Oxbridge is the same- Mid October- I changed the word ‘medicine’ to the word ‘biology’ on my application forms and sent my UCAS (University and Colleges Admission’s Service) forms away. I got accepted at Oxford, did my degree, and came out the other side. I ended up specialising in plants and cell and developmental biology- I think they had the best lecturers and teachers, and despite being really interested in disease, I wasn’t interested in epidemiology, which it seemed to me most of the disease course was about.

How the hell did that happen? I tried to get back into a more practical, health-orientated scientific discipline- i started a PhD in Canada on the evolution of aging, where the professor had a spin out company working on the treatment of Alzheimer’s. He also turned out to be an arsehole and I quit, but hey, that’s the way things go.

So i applied in Canada to do genetic counselling and PhDs on genetic diseases, I also worked as a research assistant in a lab on the evolution of sex, which was great but computer based, and I much prefer getting my hands dirty, so to speak. When i emailed my old supervisor from undergrad for a reference, she said why didnt I come back and do a PhD with her? I thought, hell, why not, I know her, she shouldn’t fuck me around, and despite being in Oxford for 3 years hence i hadn’t learnt, and still thought having a PhD from Oxford was Cool, man.

So here I am. I actually love coming to the lab, the people i work with are (mostly) fun to be around and (mostly) nice, and I don’t dread it at all. I think i’m not motivated though, I just canny be arsed to do some of the work, but mostly I canny be arsed to think. If someone gave me a list of things to do at the beginning of each day i think i’d be much happier, or at least the day would pass quicker. What I hate here is sitting around wondering what to do, wondering what i can do that will take time or stop me looking like a slacker. I just don’t care enough. I don’t care whether fern leaves develop in the same or different way as flowering plants. Maybe I did once, or maybe I was just kidding myself. it certainly doesn’t keep me awake at night. Would it if I was researching cancer or phenylketonuria? I just don’t know.

So what to do? I’ve already quit a PhD so I dont want to quit one again. And a PhD might be handy, although talking to lots of people it seems it can just slow you down while other people are out there getting the good jobs. Academia itself also seems like a right fucker- no job security, not much free time, always pressure to write papers and grants and get data and lick people’s arses and not really that well paid. It has to be your life, you have to walk and talk science to make it I think, and really, when I ask myself if i want science to be my life, i think the answer is no. I want my life to put my friends and family first, to smile and laugh and have fun, but don’t I sound so naiive. Och well.

And then i think, well i’ve got 2 years to go, that’s a long time but a short time- not enough time for data but too long a time, if, for example, I was going to die in 2 years. but can you really live each day as if it’s your last? you can’t, can you. yet each day passes and I’ll never have it again, and sometimes i find myself wishing the day away, wanting the night or the weekend or the 2nd Saturday in September to come quicker, when really i should try and enjoy every last second i have on this planet, or at least do something with the time that isn’t wishing it would go away.

I know what I don’t want. I don’t want a clock watching job. and i would like a job where I am active and not sitting at a desk. I would like enough money to have a house and a car and some music and books but not much else. I would like to work with nice people and feel worthwhile. And I woud like a job that keeps me busy, that you can be creative in and use your imagination and do lots of things. I would like to have time to spend with the people I love and money to send to see them. I would like to wake up on a saturday and have NOTHING to do and feel NO GUILT that I could be doing something. If that’s one thing Oxford teaches you, that’s to feel guilty about not working. the other is to bullshit like your life needs it.

does this sound like the job of an academic scientist? Maybe I’m just kidding myself and thinking the grass is greener when it isn’t. And with science there is always the dream that one day you might be remembered for making some sort of discovery, might get your name used as a unit of measure or taught to kids in high school. but then again, who am kidding? plant science is not the way to do it.

so what should I do? forget the glory and go for job satisfaction?
– teaching, good holidays and worthwhile but kids piss me off as I don’t think i’m very patient
– detective- would be cool but stressful and loads of paperwork and you have to risk working as a bobby on the beat and getting bottled and abused etc
– nurse- would get abused too and have to clean up vomit
– paramedic- i like the sound of this one today, as active, worthwhile, part of a team. but I guess it’s very competetive, quite dangerous too and maybe i’d be too squeamish although i think you get over that
doctor- too late now, and most of them are arseholes? or not? and stressful? paperwork?
forensic scientist- cool but i think you just end up being a pipette monkey and not thinking either, plus everyone wants to live the CSI dream
osteopath- my friend B is training to be this and is loving it. sounds cool, like a doctor/nurse but no vomit

I have no idea why I am a plant scientist, I have good reasons to give if anyone asks, but really it’s human biology that fascinates me, that and evolution. what’s a girl to do?

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One thought on “Oh, what’s a girl to do?

  1. i so feel you. i myself work on a model organism (yeast) and doing very basic research. makes me wonder sometimes why on earth i’m trying to elucidate how this unicellular organism would respond to different stresses. but at the end of the day, it is that sense of satisfaction of knowing that in this planet of 5 billion people, i’m the person who figured out why these life forms behave the way they do when subjected to stressful environment. anyways, how about a career as a science writer?

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