The stress of being in academia: Part I of ??

Well, I haven’t updated in a while! It’s definitely not something I can excuse, so the only thing I can say is sorry. Every time I say I will be more consistent on my schedule and every time I fail. But I will keep trying. Who knows? Maybe one day I will finally have a consistent schedule.

TL;DR – In this short post, I talk about my experiences working with people in academia (they were great), and the stresses/fears I feel relating with that (the next group may not be so great)

I was involved in a research project for a while (technically I still am, but it’s pretty much done, at least my part). I was part of a really fun group to be on, and the feeling of finally looking for something new was terrifying and yet, quite exciting. There was no answer notes to the questions I had to solve, I had to find them for myself. Myself and quite a few others. You see, scientific research is an highly cooperative effort, where different individual strengths combine to give the best possible outcome. And I was lucky. I recognize my own efforts, which were not small, but I definitely was lucky to be in a group that was not only good, but, most importantly, was fun.

There are a lot of things to worry about when you’re going to start a research project. You have to figure out where to start, what you will need to start, what to do if you fail, the budget that may be necessary (by the way, this includes your living expenses, after all, you are the most important asset for the research, and if you are not, say, alive, the research is not going to finish itself), and who you’re going to be working with. Naturally, you can expect to get very stressed out when thinking about all that. It doesn’t help if you have to move to another city/country, which often happens.

For example, I am about to complete my Master thesis (yay, finally), and I’ve done research in foreign countries twice. Every time it worked out alright at the end. Now, this itself is not surprising, the vast majority of people I’ve met in academia where amicable at the least, and the average was very, very laid back and chill, cool people to hang out with. It helps a lot to have laid back and chill supervisors in your group when you’re junior to every one. But I always have this thought at the back of my head, “I should not get used to this, my next experiences may not be as good as the ones I’ve already have. I’m gonna fuck something up, and I’m gonna have a hard time dealing with it, everyone in the lab will hate me.” That might be my impostor syndrome kicking in, and the more time I spend in academia, the more I start questioning whether I should be there. Which is why having a group that not only works with you, but supports you in that struggle is incredibly helpful and precious.

A common joke about office jobs is that you hate your coworkers (and there is an interesting commentary to be made there, relating to alienation in a capitalist society). While that is funny in fiction, I can’t imagine being able to work (specially not doing research) with people I hate. Sometimes… Okay, most times, something goes wrong, a code doesn’t run, a result doesn’t make sense, you reach a road block or a wall, and you don’t know where to go next… That is quite common in science practice, so you’ll have to get used to that. Not everyone has insight to see a result and immediately be able to figure out what it means, and if it makes sense, what went wrong/right. The point I’m trying to make is that the job itself is highly stressful. You can’t afford the added stress of having to deal with a co-worker you hate. And to be honest, you probably won’t “hate” anyone.

What might happen is that you have a work ethic and schedule that is in conflict with someone else’s. And if you guys don’t talk to each other about it, one of you will one day be annoyed the other one didn’t do the work in the way that you thought appropriate.

Of course, this also brings the issue of actually picking a group to work with. Most times, you can’t exactly afford to choose who you get to work with (the free market of labor is a sick joke on the concept of freedom). And I guess that is one of my stresses. I’ve been lucky so far. And maybe my experiences are representative of the majority of the academic community. But I can’t really prove that, something that hurts my little smooth brain. So I continue, hoping I get good experiences throughout my career while having the thought that everything could go down in the end.

This ended on a bit of a downer, so I don’t want you to think that things will be bleak for you if you ever get to join the scientific community. And even if you end up in a bad group, you can always get into a better one later on. My point is not to make you think things will go bad at the end. It’s mostly just me pouring out my own internal stresses. And hey, getting into a good group is only one of the things that will stress you out. Wait until I bring up “Publish or Perish” someday in the future.

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