No term is easy. No experiment is a walk through the park, no class is not challenging (whether it’s like the teacher is spewing out facts in Greek or you are bored out of your mind). “Anything worth doing….” as the saying goes, though sometimes I wish there were more hills and less valleys. Sitting in my Developmental Neurobiology class a couple of weeks ago, the lecturing professor did some cool things. He talked history. He talked art. He talked life. He told us stories of our early twentieth-century forebearers – Ramon y Cajal and Hans Spemann, among others. Their lives,their backgrounds, their philosophies were given to us, connecting their life with their science. “You must choose a hero, someone you can look up to when times in the lab get rough. Someone you can hold on to to guide you through it. A science hero.” An inspiration. A science hero.
In everyday life we tend to idolize greatness and thoroughly crucify failure . . . and everyone has an opinion on who is truly great. The history of the world is full of opinions and feelings and assertions, all at odds with each other. In science, we tend to de-emphasize our history. Assays, genes, and various other techniques we use often bear our science forefather’s names, yet the person behind the discovery is often forgotten. “To know our history is to know our future . . .” and yet many of us young investigators are ignorant of where our knowledge comes from. Our science grandparents and great-grandparents are forgotten as we push to gather more data, to publish more articles, to push the envelope ever further to the edge.
But where are we going?
A truly big question, one that can be asked on the individual level, the lab level, the discipline level, and even the world level. “To question oneself . . .” is the highest form of human excellence, Socrates said, but answers are often learned far after we pose the question. The Graduate Student is perhaps the most complicated species of student on the planet because we are riddled with discrepancies. We are students, not employees. We work more hours than the average technician, but we supposedly do this only for our own personal gain. After all, we do get a degree out of it. Weekend time is not ours, it is the lab’s. We are to live and breath and worship science. Yet we should also have a family, an outside life. There are no simple answers when work or life gets hard, and questioning ourselves tends to just murky the water further.
And so, when the experiments get hard and the water of self-discovery becomes muddy, who do we look to for inspiration? Who will serve as the rising sun after a stormy night, the hydrogen bonds in our protein structure, the scaffold that will prop us up and help us to persevere? Go. Find your science hero. Draw strength from their stories and use it to propel yourself forward to your future.