Famous Scientists Quotes -3-: “Become a scientist only if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else”

Hi all,

I have been listening to old podcasts of “This Week in Virology” lately, notably TWIV n°100, with David Baltimore (Do I even need to present him ?) as a guest star. He was talking about all the seminal work he did in virology, and was asked to give an advice to young aspiring scientists. And he said the following: “Become a scientist only if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else. It is hard, and only gets harder.” 

Picture from discover magazine.

To be honest, it creeps me out big time. I’m not going to lie. I can totally picture myself doing something else. Many things actually. So I asked my supervisor, former supervisors, other scientists, what they thought of this. To my great relief, they ALL said that they could imagine themselves somewhere else, and that they even seriously though about getting out of academia at some stages of their careers.  Pfffiouuuu, right ?

So let’s just stop acting like academic science was just the only valid thing to do when you love science. And even following that path does not mean not imagining yourself going somewhere else sooner or later.

4 thoughts on “Famous Scientists Quotes -3-: “Become a scientist only if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else”

  1. It’s not about academic science being the only ‘valid thing to do when you love science’. It’s about not imagining doing anything else. There is a difference. Personally, I don’t remember what I did; but I know when I found virology I knew that was what I wanted to do. Before that, I wanted to do some other things, but not afterwards.

    • Dear Vincent,
      1- It’s an an honor reading your comment here, I read your blog and listen to TWIV on a very regular basis !
      2- I 100% with your point, and I think I could have explained a little bit more my thoughts. I do not want to do anything else than messing with my viruses and flies either. But some friends of mine do think about other careers outside of academia, and somehow, it is now valued or accepted by some PI’s. This is why I wrote “it’s not the only valid thing to do”, but it was not really related to the quote. And yes, one thousand time yes, there is a big difference between these two ideas.
      After writing this post, I got comments from you and Pavel Tomancak (@PavelTomancak On twitter) that indeed, you wanted to be scientists in academia for sure. Somehow, it is a little bit more difficult for a young PhD to be so sure about that, although it is plan A. Time, work, and a little of luck are still needed until then.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject here, I really appreciate. I’ll hear you soon on TWIV, I always listen to it when I inject my Drosophila’s with viruses 🙂

  2. For me, I decided to give science a go not because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but because I knew that if I did do something else I would always want to be doing science, at least at some level. That being said, it is getting harder, and I do agree that PhD students shouldn’t be looked down upon for imagining other paths worth taking. As a non-scientist friend told me when I was torn about whether to go to grad school or not, “Life is long.” You never know where you might end up.

    And by the way, it’s nice to come across another Sarah, PhD student and drosophilist! 🙂

    • Hey Sarah the Drosophilist ! 😀
      That is true, life is so long, you’re never sure where you’ll end up … At the moment, I enjoy doing my PhD a lot, and I’ll see what’s next when time come !
      Btw, I saw you were from Cambridge, I was there this summer for a Drosophila course and love that city so much ! We very quickly visited the fly lab in the genetics departement, it was breathtaking ! 🙂

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