Archive for March, 2010

“To be or not to be a scientist: that is the question”

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

shakespeare-on-bookWhen I was a little boy in Brazil I wanted to be an astronaut, mainly because I was a very curious kid. At that time, the Space Agency (NASA) in the United States was booming with the space shuttle and the space program. The International Space Station just started to be constructed. My dream was to see the earth from the top and maybe one day visit the moon. As a kid you have strange and naive dreams. After some years, I lost my interest with space and became interested in the world of the very small after having genetics in School. I was interested in what was inside the cells – specially the DNA – and the Human Genome Project got my attention at that time. It was in the end of the 90’s and I was finishing graduation when I decided that i wanted to be a scientist and study human genetics. This was the big thing going on in science at that time. The Human Genome Project was ongoing and I was following every step of it. At that time I did a Ph.D. in genetics since people told me: “…to be a scientist in this field you need a Doctorate degree and then you have to go to the United States to do a Post-Doc in a very nice lab and become a principal investigator”. The important information they didn’t give me is that this is a long and laborious process and I am still in the middle of it…I just wanted to become a scientist to understand how the world of the very small things work, that was all. And maybe win the Nobel Prize some day after a big discovery. Unfortunately, after growing up and becoming an adult you realize that things are not so simple. Today I am a researcher after doing a Ph.D. in genetics that consumed 4 years of my personal life (being a scientist requires a lot of dedication and commitment!). However, it came to my knowledge that scientists don’t have good salaries, have to work a lot – write grants, write articles, publish articles, manage people in the lab, manage the finances of the lab, and there is the competition for space and the vanity, a lot of vanity and egos in science. Being a scientist is not an easy task, you need to be a good multi-tasker. Frustration is part of science since if 10% of what you do in the lab works and give you nice results it is a good percentage. Bureaucracy is a big problem since you become more a bureaucrat trying to solve paperwork daily problems than trying to answer scientific questions. What I try to say is that there is a big distance between a dream and the reality of it. I am quite sure that for all careers it is difficult and there are a lot of obstacles to overcome, but being a scientist needs a lot of persistence and love for the profession. Dedication is the word for it, a lot of dedication. Even with all of the negative sides, I believe there is nothing more rewarding than getting good results in the lab, having scientific articles accepted in nice journals, understanding how the human genome works (and we still don’t know much of how it works even after the end of the Human Genome Project) and being able to test and confirm scientific hypotheses. Being a scientist is the constant need for learning and update. This profession can have ups and downs like every profession, but if you want to be a scientist go for it. It could be very rewarding! However, i am still asking myself like Shakespeare wrote in his novel a long time ago: “to be or not to be … a scientist…: that is the question”.