September 15, 2004

i successfully split a bunch of my cells into 12-well plates and changed the media without someone watching me the whole time. ok, it’s a very small triumph, but it was the first task i’ve completed in the lab without careful supervision and i only messed it up a little bit. yeah!

the graduate student who is helping me out (ok, teaching me everything so that i don’t burn the lab down accidentally) surprised me today by saying that he sometimes wishes he had gone into medicine, and occasionally ponders returning to school so that he could pursue that route. i tried to figure out why he felt this way, and he just said, “i just think it seems like it would be so interesting.” in some ways, i agree with him — sure, practicing medicine certainly can be interesting at times — but mostly, i was baffled.

this guy is so into his research that it’s almost a little scary. i can tell that he loves thinking of new experiments, and he is always excited to see what his results will be. he doesn’t seem to get discouraged when the results of an assay are negative, but cheerfully will say something like, “well, now we know it’s not that!” and he’ll promptly think of 5 new experiments to try. if i ever achieve that degree of facility in my scientific thought process, it would be thrilling.

but to hear him saying he wants to do what i experienced for the last year?? my first thought was: “but no! how could he want to pass up the glamour and excitement of discovery for work-rounds and scut??”

yeah, it’s sort of sad. this is what came to my mind immediately when i thought about medicine. but at the same time, i know i don’t really think it’s all so bad, because i’m certainly not ruling out a career that is clinical (at least in part!) and i think i could even be happy practicing all the time, if it was in the right field (peds endocrine, per se). so why did i think of the less-appealing parts of a medical career first? why did i immediately recoil when he said what he said, and why does medicine seem so much less exciting to me than it did before i started?

i think that more than anything else, this is a classic case of ‘the grass is always greener.’ i spent the last year immersed in the world of hospitals and sick patients and fear of malpractice lawsuits and tired, unhappy residents and attendings. i am just now getting acquainted with the lab, and by contrast the place seems so much more peaceful and intellectually stimulating.

but this is because i don’t really know what it’s like to work there.

when i think about it some more, i can see how peaceful could become boring, stimulating could become frustrating, and the whole place could seem incredibly gray and lonely after a few years inside. from his view, the hospital probably looks exciting and fast-paced; furthermore, after a few years in the lab, i’m sure i would miss day-to-day contact with people who aren’t grad students/post-docs, too. normal people (especially children) can be a lot of fun, and helping a person get well (as opposed to say, some cells) can be amazingly gratifying.

i’m not sure what i’m trying to say with this post except that no job is perfect (except maybe paris hilton’s), and i think you really have to experience things first-hand for a good deal of time before you can figure out where you belong.

i definitely don’t know where i belong yet. maybe i’ll scrap this whole science/medicine thing and open a coffee shop. or become a rock star. or whatever.

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