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all 50 comments

[–]iorgfeflkd 12 points13 points  (1 child)

Read papers

Read papers

Read papers

Do experiment/computation

Read papers

Do experiment/computation

Read papers

Do experiment/computation

Analyse results

Read papers

Write paper

[–]marcosdecarvalho 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The perfect description.

[–]fermion72 9 points10 points  (7 children)

As a graduate student in computer engineering at a well-regarded university (read: top 30 in the U.S., but not top 10), here's my answer from the academia perspective:

  • You need to have the smarts to make it worthwhile (and I'm not certain yet that I have the smarts!). Creativity is 50% of the job, and if you're not creative, you'll have a really hard time with it.

  • There is a constant demand for you to publish. Depending on where you are, tenure can minimize the stress here, but you'll be quickly sidelined if you don't keep publishing. If you're not tenured and you don't publish, you're going to be in need of a job soon.

  • There is a ton of reading to do to keep up with current research. People get scooped all the time in the sciences, and that's another reason for the necessary creativeness.

  • In a university setting, you spend a ton of time trying to get funded. Grant-writing is a necessary evil, and it is a time-suck.

  • It is rare that a piece of research makes a big dent. It's definitely a lot of baby steps. Furthermore, many scientists end up in a niche that is small enough that not many other people in the world understand what they're doing. This can be exciting, but it can also be a bit lonely.

  • I know a lot of professors and scientists who love what they do. That said, a fairly high percentage of those tend to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

  • The hours you work fluctuate from amazing to dreadful. One week you might work 10 hours, but then next it might be 100. If you don't like deadlines, this is probably not the field for you.

  • If you are passionate about the work, it can be the most fulfilling job you can ever imagine. You can be surrounded by lots and lots of brilliant people, and you can get as nerdy as you want.

[–]I_Post_SMAC_Quotes 1 point2 points  (2 children)

It is rare that a piece of research makes a big dent. It's definitely a lot of baby steps.

There are two kinds of scientific progress: the methodical experimentation and categorization which gradually extend the boundaries of knowledge, and the revolutionary leap of genius which redefines and transcends those boundaries. Acknowledging our debt to the former, we yearn, nonetheless, for the latter.

-Academician Prokhor Zakharov

[–]Pandaemonium 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Best novelty account EVER?

[–]TheWalruss 0 points1 point  (0 children)

SMAC is so full of wisdom I wish I were a mindworm.

[–][deleted] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

You need to have the smarts to make it worthwhile (and I'm not certain yet that I have the smarts!). Creativity is 50% of the job, and if you're not creative, you'll have a really hard time with it.

This. It largely depends on your discipline, but creativity accounts for alot in research. If you don't have the smarts, you won't be there in the first place. I've seen alot of very book smart and very technical researchers who are very good lab technicians, but don't have the vision and insight for research.

[–]MyStady 0 points1 point  (1 child)

It's funny how applicable these points are across disciplines--and by that I mean, the culture of scientific research captured in your reflections is also accurate for the pure/academic and applied/medical research I've seen in various fields of chemistry and biology research. It also seems to be accurate for other posters as well; I guess we share a common experience.

[–]musitard 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I agree. I'm a music major in jazz performance. This way of life is extremely similar to the careers of my mentors, my teachers, and the professionals I've worked with. You just replace reading and writing with practicing and performing.

[–]robeph 0 points1 point  (0 children)

(and I'm not certain yet that I have the smarts!).

and this is often the separation of those who do and don't have the smarts. Second guessing yourself (as long as it is not done to detriment) often leads to better results than an elitist self-assured person who MAY actually not have the smarts.

It is rare that a piece of research makes a big dent. It's definitely a lot of baby steps. Furthermore, many scientists end up in a niche that is small enough that not many other people in the world understand what they're doing. This can be exciting, but it can also be a bit lonely.

the baby steps are a slow walk of each step gathering what culminates in a tremendous amount of knowledge. Sure it can be slow, sometimes you come across something that pushes the boundary forward a good bit, but that is the exception and quite unnecessary.

There is a constant demand for you to publish. Depending on where you are, tenure can minimize the stress here, but you'll be quickly sidelined if you don't keep publishing. If you're not tenured and you don't publish, you're going to be in need of a job soon.

I hate this factor, although I feel it should be addressed, I also agree that some forward motion MUST exist. The problem arises from the journal industry in general, not the need to publish

[–]bishopsfinger 8 points9 points  (5 children)

Postgrad in chemistry here. If you love science, and you're creative, it's wonderful. Nothing else in this world can compare. Think about it; you're seeing things no-one has ever seen before. Making things no-one has ever made before. It's a lot of work, but trust me, working in a supermarket 9-5 three days a week is a lot more exhausting than working 9am to 9pm in the lab. I wake up and I think "Right, time to change the world"... And I'm not even bullshitting myself. It's wonderful. Any other questions?

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (4 children)

I would love to be a biochemist or microbiologist.... it seems so neat. Working in IT security is like working on a robot planet sometimes.

[–]robeph 0 points1 point  (3 children)

I'm back in university now, Biochem, I'm going to take to PhD

I worked on contract for Sun Microsystems for about 7 years as a test engineer doing QA on protos for new systems, (mainly optical router systems and some clustering stuff they did, chromis/sunfish adromeda/falcon etc.)

Computer's in general are ok, I hate the field and how it works (industry, not computers).

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (2 children)

After I posted that comment last night I ordered this book.

[–]robeph 1 point2 points  (0 children)

That's the way to go, read read read. If you find you can't keep the book in your hands, don't go that route. Buy another book, and read it. I realized what I wanted to do by examining my huge library of books. I have antique (1700s) biology / physiology texts, contemporary ones, anthropology, anatomy, chemistry, any related subjects. I have books about physics, mechanics, various sciency stuff outside the focus, but over 1/2 of my books are bio/chem/enjoyed because of their distant relationship to the 2 former. Thus I decided to do this.

[–]bishopsfinger 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I did computational chemistry for a bit. Got fat; got bored. Sitting around fiddling with computers for a living just seems so godawful. I know computer science has revolutionised the way we live but.. Christ... just sitting there, every single day? I have a friend who makes screensavers for peoples phones and he's become filthy rich doing it. But he also has back-aches, hates his job, and despite being 'creative' in his work there's hardly any real satisfaction in it... is there? Hmm... I consider myself very lucky to be earning minumum wage as a grad student.

[–]supernovacore 5 points6 points  (2 children)

I'm in a PhD student in Immunology in Manhattan at a major university. I love it, but some days FML.

[–]zbenet 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Looking to head to do PhD in Immunology in Manhattan. Right now I'm doing immunology at the NIH.

[–]supernovacore 1 point2 points  (0 children)

womp womp?

[–][deleted] 3 points4 points  (5 children)

ok, i'll ask it -

how many of you are celibate or near celibate?

[–]*polhold00268 0 points1 point  (0 children)

someone answer this guy already!

[–]Pandaemonium 0 points1 point  (2 children)

Everyone in my lab gets laid. Not in the lab, unfortunately.

[–]robeph 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Psht, you need a different lab then. Here at the CDC Lvl 4, we get pretty wild in the lab.

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Everyone else in my lab gets laid. Not in the lab, unfortunately.

:(

[–]bishopsfinger 0 points1 point  (0 children)

As a scientists, I am currently getting laid.

[–]Dimpl3s 2 points3 points  (2 children)

I am also interested in this, I'm in college and want to go into research.

[–]xecosine 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Do it! You can get started now. There are always grad students posting flyers around the department asking for help. That's where I started.

[–]Dimpl3s 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I'm an engineering student, and I've asked all the professors if they need help or if they know of anyone that need help. They all say no! :(

[–]therealjerrystaute 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Well, there's researchers who work for the government, those who work for business-- and those who work for themselves. Those researchers who work for themselves and get paid for it are officially professionals too.

I'm a self-employed researcher. Although it's certainly tough at times and not nearly as financially rewarding as lots of other choices, it can also be quite satisfying.

Here's an infographic of mine, and a more typical research compilation.

But as this is the science subreddit, perhaps you'll like this one best.

[–][deleted] 2 points3 points  (2 children)

You forgot the large bulk of researchers who are in academia.

[–]therealjerrystaute 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Yikes! Sorry about that! But from what I've read over past years, many academic researchers these days are either partners with government or business interests, or actively applying for potentially profitable patents for their universities (and/or participating professors and grad students) to own. Are there significant numbers who still operate without such tie-ins or profit-seeking ventures?

[–][deleted] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

More research work gets published as papers and submitted as theses and dissertations than applied for as patents. It's the whole publish or perish thing in academia.

But you're right, a lot of the funding do come from governmental sources and corporation partners. In return they get first hand and immediate access to research results whereas papers must be prepared and go through the peer-reviewed process spanning up to years.

I'm actually working for an R&D department of a Global FORTUNE 500 company. I can say a lot of patents out there are actually really obvious general ideas (almost like the wheel, as in anyone could independently come up with it), and in these cases the patent system only serves to stymie progress for everyone else.

[–]Radar3000 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I'm a RS in Canada. I currently work in both academia and government, both of which have their pros and cons. I've never really found the job to be cruel, but it's certainly not an "easy" job. Getting started, at least in my field, was easier than most since it is new and still growing, but it can be tough to attain permanent positions within academia or the government, especially if you are very interested in one topic. My experience and education qualifies me for several positions, but most of them I am just not interested in; I think a lot of the problems people have with their research jobs stem from this.

I find the research I do interesting, but the methods can get boring. If I had to take a job in the same field, but doing research I wasn't interested I think I would find the job very difficult to do. I can deal with the "bad" parts because I enjoy the overall process.

EDIT: Politics are also huge in both the government (obviously) and academia. Most researchers got into their specific field because they love the work; why else would they spend ~10 years in university? The problem arises when politics affect what you love. Funding, early project termination, restructuring, and management (who don't understand the research, but still have to manage it) can all cause issues which result in a less-than-perfect atmosphere.

[–]jkb83 2 points3 points  (5 children)

I'm a PhD student in Neuroscience. This sums it up pretty well: PhD Comics

[–]Arkaic[S] 2 points3 points  (4 children)

I'm an undergrad in neuroscience; any words of wisdom or insight for me?

[–]jkb83 2 points3 points  (2 children)

oh cool!

As for words of wisdom, grad school in neuroscience can be super exciting and interesting, and sometimes it can be downright depressing and frustrating. For me, my overall experience as been dependent on a few important factors:

  1. Finding a lab you like that does research you're interested in, with a project that you will want to spend a lot of time investigating.
  2. A good advisor that is present, supportive, and knows their shit without being an asshole.
  3. Cool people in the lab that will commiserate with you when stuff goes wrong and party it up with you at conferences.

Sometimes it will suck, I wanted to quit - but I am so thankful I didn't. I love neuroscience, and if you really like the field then stick with it. The pressure to publish only really applies if you are seriously interested in the postdoc professor career path. Otherwise, it's less vital!

If you have any other questions, feel free to PM me!

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Neuroscience biochem grad student here,

I agree with the statement above. and I'll add a bit of my own wisdom to the mix.

The biggest problem you face won't be your discertation at the end of the road but it'll be motivation to keep yourself going. Stick with it, get the support and friendship of people both in your field and in the "normal" non-academic world. Don't let yourself be discouraged, everything you do even now as an undergrad is important!

  1. Don't be afraid to start looking for money to support yourself as well. Universities and institutions usually have good fellowships and scholarships for pre-professionals and graduate students. Start your research into your own funding now and be way ahead of the game.

  2. Collaborate as much as you can. Don't be afraid of the word interdisciplinary. Learn as much as you can about everything in the world around you, chemistry, physics, biology, philosophy, art. You'll find, especially as a neuro-scientist it all fits together and this knowledge will allow you to fill the pieces into the grand puzzle.

Good luck and see you at Society for Neuroscience in San Diego next year!

[–]jkb83 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Nicely said.

As for funding, it depends on the program and your supervisor - my program required proof of application for external funding to government agencies as a part of the application. I didn't get it my first year, so my supervisor paid me salary. I did end up winning a scholarship, but he was paying me directly up to that point.

And I go to SfN every year :D 2010 will be my last!

[–]robeph 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Don't do what my universities Neurobiologist Prof did. That is all. (UAHuntsville)

[–]saprophyte 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Its fucking awesome.

It is also hard, but in my experience most scientists ham up the hassle a lot. There are no other professions in the world where you can dream up a fantastic idea and have people literally throw piles of cash at you to make real. Yeah it's competitive, but it's competitive because it's fucking awesome. Being a successful research scientist is like getting paid to build your dreams one experiment at a time. Do it.

[–]T0RN8R 0 points1 point  (0 children)

what type of research are you most interested, and/or involved with?

[–]bakedfish 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Yes, but that doesn't mean that it's not awesome. There's never enough time in the day, but there's always free coffee somewhere.

/Biochem PhD student

[–]wojosmith 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Depends on who you work for. You make more money in the corporate world but more rigid. University/Academic's more fun, more laid back but you do have write for a lot of grants to stay afloat. Yes many researcher's do team up with industry for funding. The parties are geeky like computer people. And the days can be long but if you like what you do it stays interesting. Then if you burn out you go into sales and sell lab/medical equipment like me now.

[–]DReicht 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Aw man, you guys should check out humanities research.

[–][deleted] 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Academic: If you like endless grant writing, this is the job for you. If you like trying to break into the cut-throat good-old-boy network of journal publishing, this is the job for you. If you like glad-handing at parties and golf outings and such with foundation board members and government suits for their money, you'll like this job. Otherwise, my advice would be to get into the private sector and always chase the latest fads. You will always have a job and make a good living. Otherwise, I recommend against this profession.

[–]T0RN8R 0 points1 point  (0 children)

which area of research do your bad experiences come from?

[–]w0mbat 0 points1 point  (2 children)

4/5 chance you will hate what you do and only do it because it's all you know how to do & your only other choice would be to make espressos at Starbucks

1/5 chance you at least partly enjoy your daily routine as a researcher

I was never one myself but I worked alongside several, all but 1 of whom hated their occupation and was scheming for ways to switch careers.

[–]CptAJ 0 points1 point  (0 children)

That applies to the rest of mankind as well so I don't see how its particularly relevant here.

[–]robeph 0 points1 point  (0 children)

You worked with them at starbucks?

[–]Gobias_Industries 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It's called "Publish or Perish" for a reason. While you might get to do science that is interesting and you really take joy in, the majority of time will be spent writing papers or grant proposals in order to get reputation and money to continue doing that science.