October 3, 2011

A Day in a Life of a Scientist (welcome to real life)

As I mentioned in my previous post, my naive vision of what a day in a life of a scientist might look like didn't quite correspond with reality. Here is a more realistic description of my average day.

You get in to work late because you stayed up way too late last night, contemplating your life, the universe, and everything, and then you got stuck in traffic on your normally forty minute drive to work. You open your email and discover that your boss had sent you a VERY IMPORTANT EMAIL last night at seven pm. Something about a report that was due yesterday that you had never heard about until now, but it's all of a sudden your responsibility to write it and get it sent out, and of course this takes priority over everything else in your life. You sigh, realizing that your plans of going to lab early and getting something productive done on your own program have now officially been shot to hell.

You stop by your boss's office, still have asleep because that morning cup of tea has not kicked in and you haven't yet had your second cup. While your boss explains to you what this urgent report is all about, your mind starts to wander, as you begin to question, for the umpteenth time, why you spent all that time and effort and took on all those student loans to get that advanced degree. As far as you are concerned, some aspects of your job could easily be done by a high school graduate, and other parts could have benefited much more from an arts-and-crafts class than from a third year of thermodynamics.

On the way back to your office, you pour yourself a second cup of tea before sitting down on the less-than-ergonomic chair and starting on the report. Sometimes, this report happens to be on an exciting topic, and you immerse yourself in googling, searching for all the relevant and interesting information. Inevitably, you wind up on Wikipedia, which sends you on a never-ending spiral of clicking on "related" pages, and we all know how that goes. Before you know it, it's lunch time and you have written an entire paragraph of the report.

Lunch time is an exciting opportunity to learn where you stand on the social ladder of the company. Most of the time, you don't concern yourself with this imaginary ladder, and quietly eat your lunch at your desk while reading your favorite blogs. Sometimes, a coworker invites you to join them for lunch in the cafeteria, and you join them because you know this crowd will always have fun stories to tell. Occasionally, another group of  (older) coworkers goes out to a restaurant for lunch, and every time you join them, you end up regretting it. That crowd spends the entire hour engaged in a bitter bitchfest about their work, lives, politics, and everything.

After lunch, you head back to your office and face the dreadful report again. In a small act of rebellion, you decide to spend a couple of hours on your own program after all, report be damned (anyway, you work better under pressure, and five o'clock is far away). You head over to the lab, only to discover that your experimental setup has been dismantled, and your samples have mysteriously disappeared. The lab looks as usual, like the eye of the hurricane just passed through. You spend the next hour looking for equipment and materials to set up your experiment again. It's finally all assembled, but then you realize that your experiment takes five hours to run, and it's already two pm, and that report still needs to be written.

Before leaving the lab, you write a menacing note to anyone who might be eyeballing your equipment for their own purposes and tape it securely to your setup. You shuffle back to your office and glance at your email (which is open all day, in case anything "urgent" pops up in your inbox). You find that your boss has CC'ed you on the end of some email thread on some topic you hadn't been "read into". Familiar with this tactic, you anticipate yet another quickly approaching deadline heading your way soon.

Anyway, that report has to go through several rounds of approvals before being sent out, so you finally resort to a cup of coffee in an effort to keep yourself alert, and hunker down with the report. At four pm, you are done with a draft, and send it off for review. Finally, you have some time to properly plan your experiment for tomorrow, assuming no one "borrows" your equipment again. But at this point, you are so frustrated at the realization that you had spent most of your work day on a report that someone else will put their name on, that it is difficult to concentrate on your experimental plan. Still, you focus on it and write it all down, step by step. You even print out the procedure, so that it's ready for you to start in the morning tomorrow. You hope that tomorrow will be more productive.

The work day is over, and you are getting ready to leave when your boss stops by to discuss some brilliant new idea that needs to be addressed this week. Half an hour later, you finally start your car and drive home, stopping on the way for groceries. That dinner isn't going to cook itself, so you get home and get cracking in the kitchen. By the time you are done with dinner, it's eight pm, and all you want to do is curl up on the couch and read a good book. You force the fleeting memories of dance classes and hobbies out of your mind. You close your book and head to bed, thinking:

Tomorrow is another day.


  1. Haha any similarity to real life is just coincidence. You had me nodding in recognition and smiling the whole time!

  2. Thanks :) It's a bit sad, I think, but unfortunately that's the reality sometimes.