I’ve let the blog slide for a while, partly because I’ve got better at saying things out loud, face-to-face, to people around me. But today I am feeling a need to put my thoughts on paper (figuratively, at least) and this seems like as good a place as any.
Today was the last day of my current postdoc position. I mean the very last day; you may have noticed that it is Sunday, 31st July. My supervisor’s funding runs out at the end of this month, and with it my job. Thankfully I was fortunate in getting a position in another lab at the same institution, in the same field. Very fortunate, actually. I start tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it, although I haven’t had much time to contemplate it until now.
I had hoped to spend my last week revising my papers, updating my lab books and organising all my things, but of course I ended up doing experiments until the very last minute. There was one really key experiment that a reviewer wanted that, because of the timing, I couldn’t finish until today. So, there I was in the lab on a Sunday, finishing this experiment and finally starting to let it sink in that I was leaving. I threw away reagents, washed up plasticware for the last time and packed my radio and desk lamp and tea bags into an empty box of printer paper. I dreamed of a big exit for myself, a happy ending where I would get this last piece of great data, rejoice in the fact that I hadn’t been chasing a dead end all this time and that my hypotheses were correct, gleefully share it with my supervisor, resubmit my paper and waltz off into the sunset finally feeling good about myself as a scientist. After all this time, I should know better, right? The result was negative. I looked at it a million ways but there was no avoiding the screaming lack of any positive data whatsoever.
I was disappointed, but not really surprised. It fit with the pattern of most of what I have done for the past several years. I put my heart and soul into a project, work my ass off, believe that I have something, and then am let down. I say this not with bitterness, but with a dawning acceptance that this – it seems – is the way it goes in this business. Science takes all you’ve got in terms of effort, dedication, persistence and cunning, and gives you very little in return. Perhaps everyone, except the few who are lucky or blessed with genius, comes to terms with this at some point. When I think about this reality of the life of the scientist, I feel an intense sensation of pain deep inside me. It is a painful truth. I do not mean to be melodramatic when I say that there is something inherently tragic about the whole thing. I wonder if there can ever be a happy ending.
So it is with mixed feelings – of relief and regret, of pride and humility, of hope and resignation – that, late this evening, I finally pick up my box, shut the lab door behind me and walk away.