When I was young I had dreams of being an astronaut or a famous athlete. I figured I could go to the Moon or win Wimbledon and then I would have ‘made it’ and could spend the rest of my life on my laurels. Of course I was seven and had a penchant for laziness. I still secretly do, the problem is I am too restless to ever rest on a laurel even if I had one – or really understand where that phrase comes from.
But the problem is I have chosen science research as a career, after several other career attempts, and science research never ends. It never really comes to a nice absolute conclusion where there are no questions left to be answered. That is not how science works. There is always: Yes, but what about this? I know some folks think they can solve everything with science, or rather scientific thinking, but I firmly believe the nature of science and critical thinking never allow us do do that. Quite simply its the way science works.
So in a science career, when do you ‘make it’? Is it when you get your A-levels? High school diploma? Masters? your PhD? Is it when you get your first big paper in Nature? Journal of the American Chemical Society? Angewandte Chemie? Is it when you get your first big grant? Is it when you get elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society? elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science? when you get the Nobel?
I don’t know. At each stage of my career (so far), I keep thinking if I could just get to the next step – then I will have made it. But then at each next step I don’t feel anything close to having made it, its more like: Oh my! do I have alot to learn. For me the process of settling into a new position, which I am presently doing, makes me think about all of the things I don’t know and don’t understand, not what I already do know.
There is inherent insecurity associated with this feeling, the good news is I have the (maybe naive) belief that I can figure it out, I can learn or I can at least attempt to figure it out, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily will.
So I don’t mean to shock anyone but there are a few scientists out there with really big egos. Egos are often, in essence, the ugly front face of insecurity. And some of these folks, in my estimation, have come as close to having ‘made it’ as I can imagine. But why so insecure? Perhaps it is because they don’t really feel like they have made it either.