Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some things I love about my job

I love sitting down to hash out, clean up, modify, or troubleshoot code. I do a lot of coding in Labview and Igor, and I really enjoy it. I love coming up with the framework for how to accomplish my goal; I love sticking in all the odds and ends needed to do the calculations; I love testing to see if it works. I love it, until I don't. I suppose I get fed up when I realize something is far more complicated that I thought, when I think I might need to scrap days of work and start over, or when I start to feel like the solution is soooo un-elegant. But in general, I really enjoy coding.

I love the days when I'm working on an experiment that will really reveal something. Even if I'm still trouble-shooting, and it's not yet "real" science, I love when I've devised an experiment that will give me an answer, one way or another. Either I will see a statistically significant change in this measurable due to this variable, or I won't, and it will mean something. It will mean something because the important signal is somehow guaranteed to be above the noise level. I wish all my experiments had been this way, but they weren't, and they drove me crazy when they weren't. So often in my grad school experience, I did experiments with one desirable outcome, that depended on so many assumptions, and with a million alternative outcomes that would only leave me clueless about which assumption was incorrect.

I love the days when I've reached the experiments that are actually scientifically relevant. These days can only happen once I know I've fixed all the annoying, time-sucking problems that are merely obstacles along the path to real science. I wish more days had been like this in my grad school experience. I would have been happier, and I would have accomplished so much more.

I love instrumentation design. Sitting down to devise the relevant specs, and seeking out the components and composing a design that will satisfy those specifications. I love ordering those components and assembling them into a working instrument. I love testing that instrument. And I suppose I hate troubleshooting that instrument. Because that means the design or a component is flawed. Because I did so much frustrating troubleshooting as a grad student, and it was such a barrier to doing real, publishable work.

I love when I find a problem and realize the solution is easier than I feared. So many of my testing and troubleshooting days were filled with dread at what mysterious new problem I might find, and how many months it might take to fix. I loved when I found a super-obvious culprit, with a super-easy fix.

I love teaching other people the stuff that I know. I love sitting down to a problem I already know how to solve, telling and showing and leading an interested person through the process, and always learning and solidifying my knowledge along the way.

I love discussing science with interested, knowledgeable parties, who aren't combative or judging me. I love arguing out complicated problems, being right or wrong at the start, and settling it in the end (or even not settling it, but keeping it as a problem in progress).

I enjoy giving talks, although I'm still working on being less nervous in front of larger groups.

I enjoy quantifying my results, in plots, in tables, in text. Except when I feel too much pressure for the answer to fit some preconceived notion.

I don't mind doing repetitive, mind-disengaged tasks every-so-often, when I know the product is necessary and useful, and it will be used to make progress.

I enjoy speculating about the biological meaning behind experiments. I like thinking about how the experiments I'm doing now may mean this or that, and may allow other experiments to be done later that could be a window into this process or that process.

I enjoy reading relevant literature, going to relevant talks.

I love feeling like I'm contributing to progress. I love helping other people, as long as they appreciate it and it doesn't get me into trouble for lack of my own progress.

So much to love about my job. Now, to take these things, and try to figure out what I want my next job to be. Post doc? Industry? Teaching? Journalism? Science museum? Educational other?

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