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A researcher’s life

What’s like to be a researcher? Well, if you watched “The Big Bang Theory”, you might have an idea, which becomes correct if you remove the fun part. No, just kidding. I love being a scientist. I think it is quite funny too, but probably I am just too nerdy about it and I think it’s funny what’s actually black humor. Wouldn’t you laugh after working 60 hours in one week to run some important experiments, when on the last day you erroneously mix two different samples and you have to repeat everything? True story, folks. And still, I love my job. 

I am a biologist specialized in tumors, but I think that I can speak for whoever works in a laboratory. Researchers do a very complicated job. Unlike an inventor, a researcher has to find something that already exists, and this makes our task way more difficult than creating something new. With few or no hints, you need a massive dose of luck to spot the right direction towards which to move. Manual skills are not the most difficult to achieve, even though a lot of precision is a requirement in the wet lab. An adequate knowledge and the experience to plan and lead a project are the tricky ones. That’s why after graduation we need to achieve a PhD, during which we read a lot about the topic of interest and learn how to do science in real life. 

Like an archaeologist, we also explore some unknown path, trying to unveil a mystery. In a stretched way, we are some sort of Indiana Jones: with a lab-coat instead of the hat, we try to avoid failures like he does with lethal traps. The only difference is that he succeeds. Failure is inevitable in what we do. This is a serious point, because if you cannot accept the fact that you will fail many times before getting a good result, you are not suitable for this job. It would blow your mind, and I am not exaggerating: a recent survey published on the journal Nature, highlighted that 36% of graduate students develop anxiety and/or depression during their PhD (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03489-1).

Sometimes, research offers its best from unexpected situations. Let me tell you a story. In 1879, Louis Pasteur was studying the bacteria causing chicken cholera and asked his assistant to inoculate some virulent bacteria in chickens before a holiday. The assistant forgot to do it, so inoculation was done using the old bacteria culture, after the holiday. Pasteur observed that chicken survived, and didn’t even get sick after subsequent inoculation of new virulent bacteria. Thanks to his assistant’s sloppiness, he discovered the attenuated vaccine for chicken cholera, and this is considered the birth of immunology. That’s a good reason for researchers not to get too upset when they mess up things in the lab. There is always the chance that lead turns into gold… 

My girlfriend is a scientist too, and I think I benefit from that. Being a researcher is unhealthy for a relationship, if your partner doesn’t know what your job means. Sometimes you might have weird working hours: if an experiment lasts 12 hours, it means you have to stay in the lab for at least half a day; you may have to work during weekends (especially if you deal with cells or animals). Now imagine how my life could be if my girlfriend wasn’t a researcher: “Darling I’m sorry but I have to spend the evening in the lab” “Again? I bet you are dating some bitch, aren’t you? You pig!” or “Tomorrow I cannot join you for shopping, I have to pass by the lab to split my cells” “Tomorrow is Sunday, do you mean that your stupid cells are more important than me?”. Yup, it would be tough.

Despite the mental energy that this job requires, and the massive amount of unpaid overtime, I think I couldn’t choose better job for me, because it greatly fits my character. I don’t like to follow schemes and routines, and I am fascinated by the idea that I am nearly the only person in the world working on a specific topic. And moreover, I get enthusiastic when I think that my work could contribute to improve people’s health. 

So what do you think about being a researcher? Anything to ask? Shoot me your questions and share it with your friends!

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