Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat


Nothing horrifies me quite like failure. It's part of the reason I went into science. It was challenging intellectually, yes, but to be perfectly honest, it was also pretty simple to earn credentials - degrees, papers, recommendations, the respect and admiration of family and friends. Academia sure does give a person a false sense of self-importance. Your advisers shuffle you from undergrad to grad school to postdoc and you don't have to worry much about staying employed. PIs in experimental science always need lab grunts.

In science, you must share your output with other people and subject it to their scrutiny. However, their judgment is not aesthetic; in experimental science, it's hardly subjective at all. You have four or five people who make similar measurements using similar techniques deciding whether or not they think your results are consistent with current theory. Usually, they approve. Usually, they care little for the presentation unless it's completely incomprehensible. And voila, you're published. It really is frightfully easy to be successful in experimental science, in my opinion, without ever risking your ego. Stick to known techniques, perhaps combine them in a slightly different way, and you'll produce a mountain of new and important results. Maybe they won't be revolutionary, but they will be valuable.

Maybe this is my viewpoint simply because I never aspired to be a world-class experimental chemical physicist. Figuring out why would probably be another post on fear of failure all to itself.

With writing, drawing or photography, the only way to be successful is to share your work and subject it to other people's aesthetic judgment. No one is going to take time out of their day to look at what you've made unless you convince them it's worthwhile. You have to believe in your work, and if it's to be any good, it represents a total investment of your ego. It requires both emotional and intellectual conviction. The only field in science that demands so much of an individual is theoretical physics.

I'm afraid to make an exclusive commitment to creative work. There's an uncomfortably real risk of failure, of years and years of abortive attempts and of living in obscurity and poverty. It's even more difficult when I have such an accessible escape route. I can move back to California. I have a place to live. I have a huge network of colleagues and friends. I could settle, probably not happily, but contentedly, into a research career.

I feel as though I have to decide whether a blinking blue light in the darkness is a lantern fish's lure or just a bunch of bioluminescent bacteria. But in reality, it's likely that neither of these options is as irrevocable or dire as I think it is right now.
Tags: friendship, navel-gazing, science
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