Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle
Feb19

Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle

A blog network's not a network without connections to the world outside. So I'm reviving guest posts to CENtral Science, starting with a fantastic re-post. "Science, the human endeavor" originally appeared at Ever On & On, the blog of postdoc/multidisciplinary scientist Biochem Belle. The post sparked an intense conversation about work-life balance, with a good helping of jokes, at the Twitter hashtag #RealHardcoreScientists. "There are times in life we need to let up on the pressure we place on ourselves," Belle writes. That's advice that chemists and journalists should heed. From astrophysics to microbiology to behavioral science, one common thread runs through all research - the human element. Science is an intrinsically human endeavor. It takes human curiosity to ask the questions, human logic to design the experiments, human ingenuity to incorporate the results into an evolving model. Despite tropes portraying science as a purely logical enterprise executed by cold automatons, it is wonderfully, woefully, beautifully, messily human. Yet sometimes it feels as though we're expected to be both more and less than human. More in that we need to work longer hours at higher efficiency, through health and illness. More research, more papers, more grants - sleep is for the weak! Less in that we should not allow little things like stress and emotions and events outside the lab to influence our pace and focus. Chop, chop, no time for distractions - science waits for no human! Sometimes the pressure to be more and less than human comes from external sources - those above us in rank or, more often in my experience, those at our own level. But much of the pressure to perform is internal. We see funding woes and dire job prospects and competitors' papers, or maybe we just see an unanswered question, one that we know we can resolve if only we work hard enough. We dial up the pressure to be "better". That compulsion drives us and can be a constructive force. We also use it to build unreasonable expectations we set for ourselves. Sometimes we try to keep our lives outside the lab compartmentalized, to keep it from interfering with our work. But you know how we're fond of saying that science isn't 9-to-5? Well, life isn't 5-to-9. It isn't so easily contained, packed into a box and placed onto a shelf, to be taken down at a less disruptive time. We must take care of ourselves and the lives we have - lives that bring change and crises and good fortunes that demand our time, focus, and attention. There are times in life we need to let up on the pressure...

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