Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why does the thought of quitting make me cry?

Today, I want to quit. I really really want to quit.

But for some reason, that makes me sad. I don't know why. I guess I feel defeated, or something, and I hate to think I'm quitting because I give up?

But I do give up. I am SO gave up. I don't have anything left to give. And I get nothing for it. So why should I keep doing it?

Do I want to quit for the wrong reasons?

Am I hating science because I'm not good enough at it? Or am I not doing as well as I could because I never liked science as much as the successful people do?

I'm definitely angry. It doesn't help that I've confirmed, in the last year, that contradictory data were deliberately left out of at least two papers whose conclusions I know to be false. And those papers are preventing me from publishing what I've been working on.

Yeah, that's fair. I'm angry that there's no justice in the world, but especially in science.

I pulled out some of my career change books that I re-read every few years (at the end of grad school, for example).

I guess this is the part where I go through and tick off transferable skills and think about what I want to do.

I've decided that what I hate most about science is the general lack of integrity. I'm watching grad students who will do anything to get their work published, even if they know their own data are crap. I'm watching PIs who will go to any lengths to hypocritically rationalize their unethical behavior.

Everyone just says it's "playing the game."

Ironically, so far this morning I got an email saying that something I ordered is coming in today or tomorrow; a collaborator sent me some reagents I needed; and a friend emailed me about a job opening in her department.

Once upon a time, those three things would have been enough to keep me going.

Meanwhile, my bench mates are crowded around a computer watching You Tube.

My PI is back to thinking my project is crap.

And I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to get through the day. I can't decide if it would be better to cry, or try not to.

Oh fuck it. Maybe I'll cry first, and then get on with pretending like I don't mind being here. No sense in quitting until I have health insurance lined up.

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At 11:45 AM, Anonymous PhysioProf said...

YFS, you are hating science and failing to thrive because you have not had good mentoring. I don't know how long you have already been a post-doc, but there are good mentors out there.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Jake said...

I don't think integrity is found in any mature organization. Once an organization has been created and grows to a certain size after having fought other organizations for dominance, it will have internal rules that are supposed to guide the participants. The problem is that the participants start optimizing for the rules (playing the game) that were designed to prevent malfeasance (you'll absolutely notice this when you start trying to second-guess what resume readers are looking for ... it's a frigging war zone with little purpose other than a shot at the grand prize (which is a cozy position/title somewhere... I guess much like much of science). Thus I don't think one is going to find integrity in the corporate structure either. Where I do hope to find it is in organizations still fighting other organizations e.g. small outfits with stakeholdership and startups.

I've been thinking of quitting for a long time too. It is just very hard to put one's finger on why, because there are so many things. I mean, what do you tell your boss? The system is old and sick and I'm not going to spend my life on it any more? I have been postponing this for too long.

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crying works. Let it out when no one is looking.

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOTS of hugs. I'm right there with you. Going on my 3 year of shittiness. Making up my lectures while bossman continually tries to pawn his crappy work off on me (uh, I have my own NSF funding to do my own damn GOOD work elsewhere). He sucks, this place sucks, and the thought of the job market yet again, round 3, sucks.

I have my first interview next month and I can't tell you how outraged I am about the details already (but it wouldn't surprise you). Let's just say I won't be guzzling the beer, wearing ANY jewelry, and will dumb down every slide to 3rd grade level so the deadwood might learn sumthin. Games, fucking games, all the fucking time. for a fucking job. round and fucking round we go.

You aren't alone, by any stretch of the imagination.

At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although there are certainly problems with the integrity of people in science, and scientific publications, I think you will find that this issue is MUCH worse in the rest of the business world.

All of the things that you have problems with, mainly related to inter-personal relationships, will also be problems in other career paths.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should not quit yet :)
I think everybody notices the things you described, however most people do not react - for various reasons. It is not always because they agree with unethical approach to science (all these shortcuts are unethical regardless how insignificant they appear). It is rather that we all have limited energy and we have to make choices how to spend it.
I know many scientists that are more creative than me, have deeper or broader knowledge of my field than me, are better organized than me etc., and thanks to all these characteristics are more successful than I am. Their success does not make me angry at all. I know, however, people taking the shortcuts that you described and getting with this strategy ahead of me, for example in a successful search for a faculty position. It makes me really angry, but the question is still the same, should I fight against them or rather focus on my (good) work. I know that it does not help at this point or rather never helped me, but all these "shortcut" strategies are relatively short-term. I think that real winners, not only in science, have to look at things from long-term perspective. My problem is patience, I am not good at waiting and the idea that in ten years I will be ahead of them does not help me now.
Regardless of this, I think that having a "non-scientific, how to handle the game?" mentor helps. I do not know how difficult would be for you find one. I prefer really old people in this role. They usually have more time, more patience and really saw all of it.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Dr. A said...

You are not alone! Don't be down, We think you are Brilliante!

At 1:54 AM, Blogger tnk0001 said...

I think quitting gets such a bad reputation because it's always tied together with giving up. If you leave and find something else, maybe you'll love it as much as you once loved science, and maybe you won't. Maybe the reason you need to quit is that it's hard to see science mangled the way it gets in the rush for papers and fame and money. It's sad to see something that should be pure and honest and free of these things be weighed down under them till it might as well be a game.
Anyhow, good luck ...and I usually hide out and cry in the bathroom when these days hit.

At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Dear. YFS, I'm so sorry to read this post. I hope things improve, either by staying the course or by changing your plans. I've definitely been there, so hang in there.

At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is almost like battered wife syndrome. How can you stand to stay in science given all you've been through and your current circumstances?

If you are still compelled to stay in science, then do it. If this is what you truly love, then you cannot leave it without regrets (and always wondering "what if I stayed longer"). However, if you feel you have seen it all, then perhaps a change of scenery will be uplifting and satisfying.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger JaneB said...

I second PP (unusually) - there are better places out there than this hellhole you've found yourself in. And I am so so sorry you're there, you deserve better, and so does everyone else in your group.

Right, pep-talk. If you keep using the word 'quit', with all its nasty connotations of being a loser or a failure, you will be facing yourself all the time with two negative choices, right? Fail or suffer. This is not about 'quitting' - it's about making other choices, finding better choices, making the most use of your talents and your one and only life. You're looking for places that will appreciate you and all the things that make you you. You've done good work, published good papers (stuff the CNS nonsense, were the good, original science? Did you add your brick to the growing house of knowledge about the world?), taught others. Given that, you have been successful given the post you have.

You're having trouble getting to the supposed next level - well I know lawyers struggling to make partner, engineers fed up because their only options are to carry on being treated as greasy monkeys or move into roles that include things they know they aren't skilled for such as sales or management, teachers trapped by the lack of prospects in the classroom, especially if you challenge your bosses in an effort to do the best for your classes. Most systems are pyramidal hierachies, that's how humans seem to like to be. It's incredibly frustrating.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to have a clear timeline for when you will switch your energies elsewhere. Maybe one or two more goes at the market. Maybe by the time your current run of experiements or tranche of funding finishes. Maybe a big birthday - or a small birthday. Living divided, hating so much of your day, is going to make your life smaller and meaner and miserable, and as you only have one of them... at least have a deadline so that you don't have that awful 'this is it forever' feeling. Start to work actively towards that deadline, towards seeking out people happy in their work and asking them what makes them so, towards looking at your fantasy lives and your other passions. Then you will at least feel like you're DOING something, not just trapped in a grinding mill.

Maybe you feel like crying partly because the 'I want to stop' feeling it's a truth you've been reluctant to admit to yourself?

Whatever, I know I can't say much of any use, I did eventually get a faculty job (if not the job of my dreams), and I'm in a totally different field. But... I'm thinking of you, and I really don't like to see the self-hurting that's involved in throwing yourself against that immovable wall again and again.

I wonder if Physioprof has a space in his lab for you?? :-)

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a recurring theme in your blog. You cannot do the same things over and over again and expect different results. Why are you ruining the best years of your life?

Don't put science and research on a pedestal. There are many other worthwhile things you can do, and as a scientist you have a tremendous skill-set that you can use in a variety of areas.

I got out of science this year, and I was in industry. Don't go into industry. Biologists are the first to be fired. I'm now doing IP law (and going to law school, which is paid for by my law firm), and it's great.

Wouldn't it feel great to just go to your PI and say "see ya!"?

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Sorry I can't tell you. Too long.


Yeah. What's funny is, I'm pretty sure my advisors are surprised I've lasted this long. They've all but told me I'd be better off leaving because they think I'm not tough enough.

Anon 4:23,

Didn't cry much yesterday. Made up for it today.

Anon 4:29,

Well, at least you have an interview.

Good luck. I hope it's not as bad as, um, it could be.

I hope it's better than this.

Different shittiness, different day?

Anon 6:19,

Yes. I've heard that before.

At one point I thought that was good enough reason to stay in science.

Lately I think I'd rather make twice as much money, be more bored and just as frustrated, especially if it comes with some job security.

Anon 6:46,

Ha, thanks.

I used to think that if I just stuck it out long enough, eventually it would be the Tortoise and the Hare.

The problem is the Tortoise has to get funding and a faculty position, and both of those clocks are running out.

Interesting point about really old people. The ones I have met have not had much to say to me that I haven't heard elsewhere. They agree that the system is fucked up, but they don't have the energy to do anything about it. They also aren't exactly rushing to retire, even as they're saying it's a pity there aren't more jobs for young people.

Non-scientific old people that I've met are just horrified and/or think I'm being hyperbolic when I tell them how bad it is. They just can't process the information, so they deny it.

It's a perfectly normal human response.

Dr. A,

Thanks. I don't really have the wherewithal to follow the directions right now, but maybe later.


Good point! It's all about how the story ends, right? If I found something amazing, some kind of Even Higher Calling, that would verify that I made the right choice to quit?

If not, what am I signing up for? Boring mediocrity?

Anon 6:11,

I think you're right. Maybe I should try to handle it more like a breakup. I was always pretty good at getting over those, and I would never stay with someone who abused me.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


You're hilarious. Can't you just picture me and PP trying to work together? I think the conversation would quickly devolve into:

PP: Fuck you!
me: Oh yeah? Well Fuck You!
PP: Oh Yeah?...

But that's just a guess. =D

I do have a deadline. The problem is I'm not sure I want to even try to last that long.

Anon 12:17,

Well of course it would feel good and actually I would say "Hope I never see ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya!"

But, um, I have zero interest in IP law. I hate the whole idea of patents. Maybe you missed that post.

Good luck in your career, though.

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Dr. J said...

I'm with Dr A...you're not alone.

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank-you for blogging about these feelings. It is 2 am and I can't sleep because when I close my eyes I start reliving my last meeting with my PI, and imagining the next one.

Having someone constantly tell you that you are incompetent, careless, unproductive, and lack the drive to succeed is not good for ones self esteem.

Now I feel a little less alone.

I am quitting in eight weeks, and counting down the days.


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