Just for the fun of it?
Been thinking a lot again about the old "art for art's sake" part of doing science. In other words, just to know the answer, even if no one else knows or cares.
This is very similar to the pressure of blogging vs. writing just because I enjoy writing. Almost every time I sit down to write lately, I debate whether I should be writing here at all, or if I shouldn't just be writing in my journal for writing for my self's sake.
This analogy got me thinking again about the Journal of Visualized Experiments (as in, "By JoVE, I think she's got it!"). It hasn't really caught on yet, at least not in my little corner of science. But ever since it appeared, I've had real hope that it will fill a serious hole in science.
The thing is, no matter how carefully done, there is really no substitute for doing the experiment yourself, or short of that, witnessing it (live or recorded). JoVE is the opposite of science for science's sake: it's science for everyone else's sake.
My frustration with my PI lately mostly stems from this central problem of trust. My PI does not watch me do experiments. Therefore, my PI, being a control-freak, does not trust my results. Does not trust my skills as a scientist. Does not trust me.
And yes, after all the hard work I have been doing, yes that is depressing.
But it's not just my PI. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to convince not just my PI, but my scientific "peers" and "colleagues" (aka competitors and reviewers) that my results are real. They may be stranger than fiction, but the data are what the data are. And I might not be able to explain it all right now, but the default setting assumes that I can't be trusted to have at least, in good faith, done the best I could with the best of what's available right now.
And nevermind the part where I should be given a chance to continue to try to figure it the rest of it out, because I'm really the best person to do that.
But given all the hurdles to getting your science seen and respected by everyone else, wouldn't it be easier to just do it until you yourself are convinced? And screw the part where you're working your ass off trying to convince everyone else, when they're not even open-minded enough to appreciate how hard you've been working?
Especially if there's no jobs anyway? What the hell difference does it make if I piss away what's left of my funding just amusing myself playing with scientific toys until my time is up?
I wonder how many people are daily asking themselves these kinds of questions? Is it just me?
Lately I'm not sure what gets me to lab everyday. Sheer work ethic, I guess, to bring home a paycheck and health benefits, if not any sense of accomplishment or respect.
Sometimes I try to console myself that, even if it doesn't work well enough to convince anyone else, I should try to have fun doing it, at least maybe that would restore some sense of personal accomplishment (even if it's not professionally recognized). Sometimes this works, at least temporarily.
But I think the central hypocrazy is that constantly having to worry about how to convince everyone else is sucking all the fun out of it for me.
Is this what it's like for the rest of your career? Always worrying about what everyone else thinks? Or is it really true that you can hide in your little corner, do your little thing until you think it's good, and then put it out as an offering when think you can't possibly make it any better?
This is the part of mentoring that I never got. My thesis advisor was a hide-in-corner type. The GlamourMag wannabes tend to be the crowd-pleasing type. Guess which type has more funding?
I can't figure out how to reconcile these. The cycle is wearing me out. Here is a stripped-down version of how things have gone for me. This was sort of an interesting exercise. Maybe some of you will recognize it as familiar:
1. Have exciting idea for a way to answer a cool question.
2. Do experiment. Have fun doing it!
3. Get exciting result. Feel slightly nervous that it might never work again.
4. Mock up figure. Try to contain excitement.
5. Repeat experiment somewhat nervously.
6. Get reproducible result! Hooray!
7. Revise figure, rejoice in the scientific method!
8. Present figure to various people (including PI).
9. Receive criticism from various people (including PI). Feel slightly deflated but still determined.
10. Perform different experiments to address criticism, slightly annoyed but mostly confident that they will be consistent with original result.
11. Mock up supplemental figures.
12. Repeat supplemental experiments.
13. Get reproducible supplemental data. Phew!
14. Revise supplemental figures. Rejoice that the scientific method works!
15. Draft manuscript. This part is fun, too.
16. Submit manuscript to PI. Don't expect an immediate response, but need a break from looking at it myself.
17. Time passes. No response from PI. Not a big surprise.
18. Present work to other people; ask for comments on manuscript draft.
19. Receive feedback from other people (no response from PI). Some of the feedback is very positive! This is fun too!
20. Approach PI and ask if/when draft will be read.
21. Perform additional experiments as per feedback from other people. That was helpful; rejoice in the scientific community!
22. Get additional results. Make additional figures and supplemental figures.
23. Revise manuscript. Yes, glad we did that, but no, these additional results did not change the point of the paper. Maybe it is a stronger claim.
24. Resubmit revised manuscript to Journal of PI's Desk.
25. Commence Nagging.
26. PI reads manuscript, does not understand it.
27. Long meeting with PI. Leave thinking PI understands somewhat better.
28. Repeat steps 18-27.
29. Commence reading books on Negotiation.
30. Attempt to convince PI that it's time to submit manuscript.
31. Repeat steps 18-26.
32. Consider quitting science.
33. Write blog; visit therapist; cry a lot. Think about alternative careers.
34. Diagnosis major depression. Make appointment with psychiatrist.
35. Repeat steps 18-32.
36. Watch peers from other labs gets papers accepted into High Impact Journals.
37. Repeat steps 32-33.
38. Get asked if I'll be applying for jobs this year and did that paper ever get published?
39. Repeat steps 32-33.
40. Avoid confronting PI for fear of bursting into tears, yelling, or both.
41. Repeat steps 36-40.