It’s been quite a week for me; an assortment of 6 different grant proposals having been submitted from my lab–most of them co-investigator proposals requiring a good deal of interdisciplinary coordination. In fact, the last few days I felt very much the way a chess grandmaster must feel when playing those “simul-chess” games against 20 opponents at the same time.
And this of course reminds me that I cannot fail to mention the incredible World Championship Chess between contender Boris Gelfand (Israel) and reigning champion Vishwanatha Anand (India) who managed to maintain his title after 12 tough regular games that ended with 10 draws, and a victory for each. So during this time I was further preoccupied with getting up at 5 am CST to watch the 12 noon rapid chess tiebreaker games on Wed. morning, in which Anand prevailed.
But I have fallen into a familiar chess trap–in that this blog was not intended to discuss chess–I’ll leave that to my more chess-advanced colleague in Manchester–and go back to what I was trying to say.
Which was–is: that in thinking about careers in life sciences, I think one of the differences between students/postdocs and principal investigators that is rarely mentioned is the “loneliness factor.”
What is he on about now, you ask. Has he actually gone bonkers? Is it a breakdown of some sort?
No. Truthfully, for those students or postdocs out there aspiring for an academic career, this is something to prepare for. Really. It’s lonely at the “top.”
Think of it: Scientifically, at most academic institutes, as a PI you will likely be the resident expert in your general field. In other words, scientifically speaking, it’s unlikely that you will have someone to talk to about your studies on a routine basis. Not like a postdoc or student who can discuss his or her work with another student or postdoc in the same lab in a collegial manner. And I’ve witnessed some PIs who have had a terrible time internalizing this idea.
Then all the administrative and grant-writing work; all done “behind the scenes” in a sterile office. As a PI you can hardly go and whine about the status of funding to your students and postdocs (well, perhaps occasionally!)–it’s my job to encourage and motivate, not scare the living daylights out of them! lt’s lonely out there!
So it’s no wonder PIs get the “blues” now and then. And I just happened to discover a beautiful old song by 17 year-old Janis Ian, a favorite singer/songwriter of mine, from the 1960s entitled “Lonely One.” That did it for me. I guess I’ll just curl up and drool into a bucket. Until the next deadline.