crisis, continued

March 21, 2006

i don’t exactly know what’s happening right now. i can honestly say i never considered leaving the phD part of my md/phD until, like, 2 days ago, and now it seems like the only thing to do. i keep wondering if i have gone crazy without realizing it — who just throws something like this AWAY, for one? i can’t figure out what i like, what i want, where my career should go. i thought i liked science, but now i’m worried that i just *wanted* to like it, and i’m very good at convincing myself (and others) that i’m all pumped up about something

when really . . .

oh god. i don’t know. and going back to medicine — it’s not like that was all roses and smiles, either. i hated many things about my clinical year: feeling rushed, feeling stupid, feeling bossed around, feeling not-in-control of my day. but i will admit that despite all of this stress, it wasn’t boring. or maybe i was too busy and stressed to BE bored. i have already opened up to some of the members of my lab about my thoughts and anxieties — i don’t hold back when i’m having a crisis like this, i spew bilious uncertainties all over the place. i can’t help it. the more i repeat and repeat what i’m thinking/saying, the more i can convince myself that things are real, that i’m making sense, and all that. or maybe that’s how i lie to myself. i’m so confused.

someone in my lab suggested that i make a list. well:

what do I like about research:

– freedom to make my own schedule
– working at my own pace
– having my own projects and ‘managing’ something by myself
– the satisfaction when something works (rare)
– the fun and nice bunch of people i work with in my lab, including my boss, who i am very lucky to have as a boss

what do I not like about research:

– i guess i just think it’s kind of boring most of the time. there is a reason why i fall asleep in >50% of the seminars i go to. i also fall asleep watching football and movies i don’t like. a pattern forms . . .
– i don’t get excited about things just because they’re ‘cool’. yes, i get excited when data for MY projects work, because then it means i could get published and feel good about myself and maybe graduate someday.
– i always feel like i’m not working nearly as hard as i should — because i’m really not inspired to do so
– the fact that my stuff, like, never works and my project has turned into a genetics fishing trip*
– writing (things like this prelim = killing me), reading papers.

what do i like about clinical medicine:

– feelings of accomplishment when someone improves under the team’s care
– the problem-solving aspect of it (and the fact that many problems CAN be solved/understood — unlike the way lab seems, where the problems seem infinite and the prospect of actually solving them bleak)
– working with interesting and/or nice people, especially younger patients and children — i even like teenagers
– the career flexibility once residency is over
– not boring — days went by quickly, though not without a lot of anxiety/stress on my part

(when i say ‘medicine’, i really mean pediatrics or psychiatry, the two fields i would consider true possibilities. i don’t know where this sudden re-emergence of my interest in psych has come from, except maybe my own newfound craziness . . .)

what do i not like about clinical medicine:

– procedures (well, maybe i would like them if i didn’t feel so #(@#@( incompetent)
– long hours and lack of sleep
– lack of control over my time on an hour-to-hour basis
– some of the attendings/residents (which can turn a team toxic and make life suck)
– emergencies
– feeling rushed
– always worrying that i’m not good enough at it (although i do that with everything, so really this is a non-issue)
– adult patients who have brought their maladies on themselves or who are mean and unappreciative

what do i want in my eventual life/career:

– to have a strong marriage and family and 3 gorgeous/brilliant children, preferably 2 girls
– to be able to work part time for a number of years while my gorgeous/brilliant children grow up. yes, this is controversial. no, i didn’t put that on my application to be md/phd. but things change. i have changed. and i don’t want a nanny raising MY children. at least not all of the time.
– to be able to go back and enjoy my career once they are high-school-aged (or something like that)
– to feel like i’m doing a good job on a daily basis and feel like i’m putting real effort and sweat into my career and life

i think i know what i want to do, career-wise. but i will be (a little bit) patient. i meet with my advisory dean in one week from today, and so i will ruminate on this for those 7 days. it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out my own true desires, but i feel like i’ve spent so much energy on measuring up to some figment of what i think i’m ‘supposed’ to be that this really is difficult and painful. i guess it has to be.

* fishing trip: when your project consists of ‘fishing’ for something good and publishable — ie, picking genes one at a time from a list until one of them does something worth noting. this is an annoying way to go about science, because when genes are ‘misses’, you have wasted a lot of time and have nothing to show for yourself


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