research vs practice: faceoff #9353

February 3, 2006

yesterday, i was teaching one of my final mcat classes (at least for the time being), and during the midsession break a student asked me what i wanted to do when i graduated. this happens a lot, as you can imagine: they’re either sitting there wondering why anyone would be silly enough to go to school for nearly a decade, or they’re sitting there gazing longingly at me, hoping that i’ll somehow get them into the program. anyway, so i started going off on my ramble about how i-don’t-know-i-used-to-think-peds-endocrinology-but-then-i-decided-maybe-lab-and-i-really-want-a-family-maybe-pharma-hmm-i-don’t-want-to-try-to-multitask-too-much-blahblahblahBLAH.

and she said, ‘i can’t imagine you would want to be in the lab; you seem like such a people person.’

now, people have told me that before, and it always makes me feel good for some reason, but for some reason it also really made me think when she said that. my main problem with her statement: is there any reason that working as a researcher is any less people-oriented than someone who works as, say, an endocrinologist? one might argue that i don’t have patients, but i would say that my personal interactions are just as important now as they were on the wards — teaching and learning from fellow labmates, discussing results and future experiments, or just brightening the day of a labmate who looks really frustrated and annoyed. trust me, there are many people working in both places (lab or hospital) who really lack interpersonal skills — or the desire to just, say, be a nice person. and i would think that this would (hopefully) negatively impact both careers. and it works both ways: i would guess that a lot of the success of my boss has more to do with people skills than it does with brilliance in science (not that he’s not brilliant, but a lot of people are. a lot of scientists, anyway).

not only are they important, but in some ways the interactions that you have with your fellow researchers, those above you and below you, seem more genuine than those in a hospital. i can’t count how many times i’ve heard some doctor talk extremely sweetly to a patient and then step behind the door and bitch about how uncooperative/incurable/fat she is (i’m not kidding about that last one. many doctors, even fat doctors, love to discuss the fatness of their various patients.)

anyway. i’m not trying to imply that medicine or science is entirely one way or the other — but just that i think it’s unfair to assume that people-skills or extraversion would be wasted in a non-medical field.

the end.

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