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An old doc

Oto artykuł, który napisałam na konkurs Nature dla felietonistów. Wyniki już zostały ogłoszone - podobno było 300 kandydatów, podobno nawet załapałam się do finału, ale niestety się nie udało. No to puszczam tutaj. Co ma leżeć.

This is an entry written for the Nature Columnist Contest in 2011. The results are already published - apparently there were 300 candidates and my entry was accepted to the finals. Nonetheless, I did not win :( So I am putting it here. I think it shouldn’t just gather dust on my hard drive.

An old doc

I remember how I felt when I first saw my PhD student ID. It smelled of fresh paint and leather (artificial, to be honest). I run my fingers over it every five minutes. Actually, I fought the oddest urge to buy a small but sturdy safe, put the ID inside, and sleep on it. I was, at last, a real PhD student, who will have a real thesis project and, after several years of work, will defend it.

By the gods, nobody would take it away from me.

The appetite grows with what it feeds on. Now a student ID is hardly enough and, as time passes by, I became more and more anxious. This sense of anxiety grew even more after reading some success stories.

For example, look at that fellow. She has her own lab, and two dozen good papers at the age of thirty four. I keep telling myself – you don’t have to be a star to do fine science. Anyway, she probably got her education in the UK, where people finish their PhD at the time we in Poland start it. They can’t possibly be that good while still wet behind the ears, can they…?

Time to think about my own turf. I browse through the young grant programs. Almost all of them have the age cutoff of thirty five, except when it’s thirty. I’m about to miss that last one. Why the cutoff anyway? I’m sure there must be better criteria.

Ah, shuddering fear and green-eyed jealousy!

I’m in my third year but, you see, before I applied I’ve spent three years in another lab. One of the questions at the entrance exam was if I started so late, how old would I be when I finish. I was focused on the exam and besides it’s unwise to talk back to the committee, so I just cringed inside. But the words have sunk in. And they kept resurfacing in the worst possible moments, even after my professor helpfully threw in a few names of scientific late bloomers.

What if that committee member has had a point?

It’s not like I’ve stunned everybody with brilliance. I’ve stumbled along with the others, skipping the usual hurdles with fluctuating performance and self-esteem. Sure, I do believe my project to be the most important thing in the world of neuroscience. I imagine that our rivals will disembowel themselves with their pipettes upon seeing my groundbreaking results. The problem is they are yet to be published.

So the question remains, will I succeed? My supervisors must have seen some potential, since they took me as a PhD student, but what if I do not live up to the expectations? I am aware that the postdoc is when the real trial begins. My uncle, who is a big fan of yachting, took part in boat races - regattas - as a student. He remembers being told once: “I can’t tell if you’ll win prizes in the junior league, but you can be pretty sure you’ll eventually have to race as a senior.”

There are also other factors to consider for the future. If I go abroad, my fiancé would have to look for a job in the same country, and he’s not a scientist. Babies don’t pop out of nowhere, and while my tenure can wait, my menopause won’t.

Feeling wrinkled and cranky, I put my bottom in the chair and apply for another conference. Time to roll the dice. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a travel grant? Or… an emeritus discount?

czwartek, 02 czerwca 2011, notkostrony

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