When people ask me why I do a PhD, I never really now what to answer … Is “because this is what I like to do” not enough ? But what do I actually like about it ? Some days, I am really not sure anymore; but then comes that moment. A defining moment reminding you why you like doing science. I think it applies to me, and I am sure it is true for many other scientists.
It’s the thrill.
The thrill when you suddenly think that are on the path of discovering something new.
It’s that moment of solitude that you generally don’t immediately share with anybody else. It’s that impression of having something truly great and novel, and the certainty that you are the first and only one in the world having that thought at that precise moment. These are the most magical and precious moments I had in my science life …
Of course, there are different kinds and levels of thrills.
The intellectual thrill happens only when two neurons that never connected before suddenly do so. You have a new idea, no data to support it, but it sounds brilliant to you. Sadly, after a few days of evaluating the idea, or “submiting it for internal review” to you colleagues, you often leave it on the side of the road because you realize it was more science-fiction then science.
The practical thrill happens when you get new exciting data. It is more solid then the intellectual thrill, and is obviously more exciting. That kind of thrill can influence your next experiments and interests, and actually change or embellish your research project.
This week I had an “in silico” thrill while analyzing some data. It’s somewhere in between an intellectual and practical thrill (I am more a wet lab kind of person). Maybe in a week I will leave it in the back of my head, or toss it away; but for the moment I am still obsessed with it …