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Life Angst, or is there life outside lab and should there be?

Leslie Kay lmk2 at garnet.berkeley.edu
Thu Aug 4 13:12:46 EST 1994

In article <31r418$eft at cerberus-138.wustl.edu>,
AC Missias <acm at pharmdec.wustl.edu> wrote:
>How many other people have wished that they had the time to get more
>involved with activities, organizations, interests that they value but
>push to the side?  To what extent is this just a fact of life in any
>career versus being something specific to science or perhaps to
>academia?  How do people attempt to answer these questions for

I felt this way also, and after my first year of grad school I 
dropped out to have a 40 hour a week job, normal life, and so forth.
(The graduate assistant for my program at that time convinced me
to take a leave of absence rather than just withdrawing.)  For
5 years I worked as a programmer and various other things, travelled
whenever I made enough money to take some time off, wrote poetry,
spent time with my friends, and thought a lot about myself and my
life.  Then one day (well, after I'd spent 7 months living outside
the US in an environment that, to quote Camus "brought me face to
face with myself"- L'envers et L'endroit) I decided I was bored
and depressed by the prospect of spending the rest of my life in
a non-challenging career, and that I was just plain bored and wanted
to use my mind some more.  I went back to school, reenrolled in
the Biophysics program, fully intending to merge into philosophy
or philosophy of science, and found myself loving science, loving
biology (which I didn't before), and discovered the lab which 
helped me find "my" work (brain dynamics, I was in Genetics before).

A couple of years ago I met a professor who was a classmate of mine
in Junior high school, and I being still a grad student, was sad
at the "low" level of my career.  We talked for a while and she said
that she wished she had taken time off, and I realized I didn't regret
the 5 years (well, 8 if you count the three before I started grad 
school).  In fact, they served to make me the person that I am.

So, even though this doesn't answer the question of "is it better
to work in a 'regular' job after the PhD", I found that it was better
to work in such an environment while I discovered what I really
wanted in life.  This of course, would be much more difficult to
do once the PhD is done, if one wanted to return to the original
field of research.  But I found that what really made me happy and
made me look forward to the rest of my life was becoming a scientist.
If I'd stayed in school originally, I would have become a scientist,
but I don't think I would have discovered "my" work, and now I would
be looking or thinking about looking to leave.

Leslie Kay
lmk2 at garnet.berkeley.edu

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