The Price of Being a Scientist

chagal_1917Science is a bitch. A sweet bitch.

She caresses your life and, suddenly, your world only turns around her. When you finally realize that you have been paying a too high a price for that you both could be together, it might be too late.

I attended a conference not long ago. There, I met an old friend and colleague, whom I didn’t see for a long time. During lunch, he was telling me how he and his wife—also a scientist—were on a waiting list for adopting a child.

They’ve been too busy building up their academic careers. Now, in their early forties, it was too late for a pregnancy.

Next day, I met another old-friend’s couple. I’m not joking, they told me the same story: they’re in the adoption queue for the same reasons.

Since then I started to think on how much we have to give up to be a scientist.

I look at my colleagues in many departments. Plenty of people with their partners living in another city, sometimes in another country; commuting every weekend, when it’s possible; spending their evenings over Skype. And these are the lucky ones. Many others are just regurgitating their bitter loneliness.

They probably never anticipate how costly would be to keep Science as a mistress. How capricious she would be, demanding that they pack all their things and move to another country every two or three years following her, wherever she decides they should go.

If you’re young and your dream is to share a home with a loved partner, have kids, friends, maybe a pet, then resist to temptation: don’t lay down with Science. Once you do, all these plans will start to melt.

As a discrete but jealous lover, she won’t say anything in any of your feeble attempts of building a private life. Nevertheless, she will comfortably embrace you in her cold arms and–without even seeing it happening—you will find yourself postponing every plans of buying a house or of simply growing a garden, until your better years are sour.

In the ideal world, science institutes would be worried about the hordes of academic nomads migrating from one research center to another. They would offer family-friendly conditions, where couples could have jobs in the same neighborhood.

This isn’t an ideal world, is it?

But I’m not that kind of guy that always see the glass three-quarters empty. I prefer to see it as one-quarter full.

Science will let you touch her secrets. She will let you travel the world, know people everywhere, maybe even write an international blog.

About private life?

In due time you will learn that keeping a long-distance relationship is a challenge that can be very rewarding. In the short periods that you and your partner have together, you won’t have many reasons to fight. You will be always full of news to tell each other. You won’t be bored by sharing routine and friends. You will always keep the flame burning by the aim of reuniting, just like the Aristophanes’ half-beings in Plato’s Symposium.

And all that thanks to Science, that sweet bitch.


Categories: Science Policy, Scientific Culture

Tags: , , , ,

12 replies

  1. You have penned everything that has been going through my mind. I am wrestling with the thoughts about my future in academia. It’s a toughie when Science is your muse.

  2. The worst of it is that plenty of people do not do any science, but stay in academia, because they are afraid of change. Then all the “inconveniences” you mentioned are rather meaningless. So for them Science will never “touch her secrets.” Or other guys “think they are doing science. No, they are doing technical well-stablished routine work with little scientific innovation” (from your post “Is there a fair future for computational theoretical chemistry?”). When they realize it, it will be great disappointment, but better earlier than later, when it is too late to have a child.

  3. I have encountered feelings reading this post, I like it and don’t like it…

  4. The good bloger Mario and your interesting posts…. Since the time of the “Defenestrando Idéias” I provide us interesting insights to think! Cheers dear Friend!

  5. Somehow this is a common thing for our generation, however it seems to be more spread in the academic community and even worse in the scientific community. The plan: to wait for an academic stability to have a family. The truth: reality is cruel and we know that most of us will never get a permanent position, so maybe the best is to leave these empty selfish dreams and get “a real” happiness from other sources. Nice post anyway. Cheers!


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