11 Things About Being A Research Scientist That Drive Me Nuts

By Linda May-Zhang, a biomedical scientist and engineer

Being a research scientist is incredibly fun. You get to make discoveries. You get to create things. One core aspect of the job is to constantly read and learn about new innovations. You are an expert in your field and have intellectual freedom. Depending on the lab culture, you may even have fringe benefits like flexible working hours, a hands-off boss, and freedom to follow your instincts for the next experiment.

But it’s not an easy job.  Your job is to advance the field, which means making new discoveries, pushing the pipeline, publishing or patenting, getting funding, teaching junior scientists, and meeting various deadlines.  In fact, some little things seem beyond your control (or just plain annoying) that impede the workflow and can really drive a person nuts. Here are 11 things about the job that can drive a research scientist crazy over time.

Can you relate to any of them?

  1. Science.  Self-explanatory.  Just kidding.  But why must science be so unpredictable when we are being so careful to use logic and prior knowledge to do everything right?
  2. Forgetting to fix my cells.  Or using the wrong buffer at the last step of elution.  Don’t you hate when you carefully plan and carry out a 3 day experiment, only to mess up on the very last step?
  3. Booked up instrument time. When you have an urgent experiment to do but the instrument is booked up for 2 weeks.
  4. Needing to graduate or move on to your next role but you can’t seem to get an experiment working.  A critical study needed to be done months ago but it’s taken you months to troubleshoot. Your family and non-scientist friends can’t understand why you’re being dramatic about your life. But your fellow scientists know the pain.
  5. Being on a lab budget and yet needing expensive things. Your lab manager or head has a lab budget and yet you need to buy specific lab items that are expensive. You try to find alternatives but you do not know the quality and do not want to mess up any experiments. What to do?
  6. MIA collaborators.  You were so excited to form a collaboration. The other lab was super responsive to helping you plan the experiment. Now they’ve been MIA for months and aren’t responding to your emails. Where are they?
  7. P=0.056. That’s just painful. You just increased the n one last time and suddenly P=0.06.  You feel like quitting.
  8. Grant application deadlines. It doesn’t matter if you’re the junior scientist working on generating data or the principal investigator in charge of submitting the grant application, the period before a grant deadline is just horrible. Suddenly the lab is ordering everything and performing every experiment under the sun on overtime.  Everyone probably spouts a few more white hairs with every grant submission cycle.
  9. Where is the lab order?
  10. Needing approval on an urgent lab order or a grant application but the administrator is nowhere to be found. And when you find them, they give you a lecture about being last minute and refuse to help you. I get it but …. please?
  11. Reviewer #3 ….

Despite all the frustrations of being a research scientist, many scientists would never do anything else as a job.  In the end, these frustrations are minor compared to the exhilaration that comes when making a groundbreaking discovery or the knowledge of working towards a bigger goal.  That being said, don’t you wish that certain aspects about the science experience can be easier sometimes…?

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