When I left the lab, I wondered if I’d also left the emotional highs behind: would I be able to experience again the excitement and rush of awaiting results and making new discoveries if I’m not running experiments? Or the gratification of working on something as important as cancer? The answer, surprisingly, has been yes.
In some cases, transforming ideas that have been percolating in my mind for awhile into something tangible like a new course offering has been akin to the buildup of months spent generating tools, collecting reagents, and troubleshooting protocols and then the reward that follows with being able to commence the actual experiment and collect real data. A great illustration of this is our fall course From Scientist to CSO: A Business & Industry Primer, providing leadership and management skills training. Since before even joining the Academy, I’ve felt that business and other “soft” skills are important for scientists to learn; therefore, one of my aims has been to assemble a program that would provide the benefits of a typical pocket or mini-MBA. Now, combining this new course with our 12 week spring course From Idea to IPO, I’m hoping to have achieved my goal or come close. Needless to say, having this vision finally brought to fruition has been exhilarating.
In other ways, the rushes experienced in scientific research have been replaced with positive feedback from my audience and stakeholders. When I see that registration and attendance is high for the events I’ve strategically selected, it’s like getting a positive result from an experiment supporting my hypothesis or model. When students and postdocs thank me after an event it’s like scientists complimenting a poster or talk I’ve presented. And when the academic leadership from our partner institutions is pleased with my programs and work, it’s like garnering the approval of my dissertation committee. Instant gratification is a wonderful thing- and interestingly, it comes more often than it did in the lab.
Then there’s the fulfillment that comes from working on something that you really believe in. Just as I used to be passionate about research that could someday help unravel the mysteries of disease, so too am I passionate about improving the training and development of scientists. Many modifications could be made in our graduate curriculum to better support the array of possible careers in science and align with the realities of where science PhDs are ending up (see a recent paper on this here). It’s great to be in a position where I’m not only advocating for these changes but also filling in some of these gaps.
So, yes, I’ve been successful at replicating some of the anticipation, excitement, and fulfillment of being in the lab. And I don’t even have to spend hours in the cold room. Ahh....