why i am leaving grad school: a teaser

November 12, 2010

I have deadlines, and so I slept in, cleared out my google reader, and now am posting on here.  Procrastination much?  But, in an effort to at least control the damage, I’m not letting myself clean up and post my advisor-related post for my series on being a chronically ill graduate student, even though I am dying to, and I am also not letting myself do justice to explaining why I’m jumping ship here.  Instead, I’m borrowing a bit of text from an article in Molecular Cell that’s circulating in the blogosphere this morning (it’s free even if you don’t have academic journal access).  Its title, “Stress in Biomedical Research: Six Impossible Things,” claims it deals exclusively with that field, but I found it quite relevant for my own as well.

Anyhow, here’s a snippet that explains nicely and succinctly why I am getting the hell out (emphasis mine).

Many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and even some faculty got into this business without fully realizing how hard it is, and at some point, you may decide that continuing in this mad pursuit just isn’t for you. You need to know that this is fine. Hopefully, you began this path because you like science, and if you dislike being a scientist, it need not follow that you no longer like science.

Indeed.  I love science, and probably always will, but screw being a scientist.  Another bit I want to quote at you sums up (without meaning to) why I dislike being a scientist: the culture.

If you have gotten this far, you may well be thinking, “But there’s nothing here that helps me with the stress I feel in this job.” We do our best, and our work, when it does work, is savaged by reviewers. Or we finally manage to publish it, and we feel that nobody has noticed. It’s so hard, and I have not given a single piece of practical advice as to what to do about it.

So I apologize in advance for what I am about to say: Oh, please stop whining and get some backbone! Who ever told you this was going to be easy? If you are a student or a postdoc, and you feel that the stress is overwhelming, look into some other career choice—it does not get easier. Yes, I know that we are supposed to tell you that it will all be fine if you can just keep at it, but this isn’t a service industry. This is a creative enterprise that has this in common with all other creative enterprises—you do it not because it provides you with security and a stable career ladder, but because you can’t bring yourself to do anything else.

I really, really, REALLY resent the idea that we must suck it up and sacrifice ourselves for our science, and just about everybody I’ve met in this field believes it (for one of the worst offenders, check out this horrifying piece of writing, titled “Where’s the Passion?“).  Sometimes people claim not to think things work this way, but it’s an idea that creeps in the longer you stay in this field, and you internalize it without even wanting to.  I believe it, even though I don’t want to and even actively hate the idea, and it’s been incredibly hard to acknowledge that it doesn’t have any power over me.  Yet, in a way, it still does, because the only options in front of me are to sacrifice some of my most closely-held dreams of the future for science, or to leave the field altogether.  It’s been a battle to acknowledge that the latter is even an option, honestly.

So, that’s more than just a teaser; that’s the core of my reasoning, framed in the most impersonal terms.  I love science, but I despise being a scientist.



  1. That bit rankled me too. Even if I’m doing this because I love it so much it’s the only thing I can do doesn’t mean the conditions should be such that I have to sacrifice so many other parts of my life.

  2. […] don’t see many options for people who love science but don’t want to be scientists. Lady Quantum has had enough of that and is going on to other (way more awesome) […]

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