I've been feeling pretty depressed for, oh, the last year or so. No, not a lie-in-bed-chain-smoking- Nicaraguan-boredom depression, more like a crying-in-the-work-bathroom depression. If you've been reading this blog, you're probably aware of the fact that I'm currently in the process of getting a Ph.D. in microbiology. Year five and counting. I don't talk about work much, because hey, bacterial ribosomes aren't exactly hot blog fodder, and I generally make an effort to keep things light. In the grand scheme of things, it's not a bad deal: I like my project, I like my coworkers, and I'm getting paid to get an advanced degree. However, on the smaller scale, it's failed experiment upon failed experiment, 60 hour workweeks, very low pay, no finite ending, and the only feedback you ever get is negative: "You haven't made enough progress. These data don't support your hypothesis. You're not thinking deeply enough. You're overthinking things. You didn't do the proper controls. You need to be doing more experiments simultaneously. You're all over the place- you need to focus." I don't take it personally- that's how scientists are trained to think, and how they're training me to think. Find the flaws. Identify the alternative explanations to your data. Design and execute experiments accordingly. The problem is that after five years of hearing people tell you that your work isn't good enough, you start to believe them. Maybe it isn't. Maybe I'm not cut out for this. Maybe I've chosen the wrong career, after all. Then you feel like shit, and you feel like shit about feeling like shit. Geez, it's not like I'm in a refugee camp in Darfur. There are far greater tragedies in life than a few crappy Western blots.
So, that's the mindset I've been battling for the last several months. On Friday, the first member of my incoming class of five defended her thesis. We went out for martinis on Saturday with a couple of other grad school friends to celebrate. We started talking about our various struggles, and I learned something. They're miserable, too! No progress. Fighting with their P.I. (Principle Investigator, a.k.a. lab boss) . Lack of a publication. Stress. Endless demands...do this experiment, then that one, then another one, then maybe you'll have enough for a paper. Listening to their complaints, a wave of relief just rushed over me. It's not just me! Grad school depresses everyone. It's not that I want them to be unhappy; it's just nice to know that I'm not alone.