James Watson became interested in science because of bird migration. He was six years old. Many years later he was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA. What happened in between? Martin Chalfie was studying the genes required for touch sensitivity in C. elegans. And then he was awarded a Nobel Prize for developing GFP as a biomarker. How did he come up with that idea?
When I sat down to write this essay I intended to describe how bad graduate student stipends are, how overworked we are, and how graduate school is slowly killing our love for science. We often joke, at least in my department, that our stipends are so small that we effectively live below the poverty line (we are actually ~200% above the poverty line). The financial struggles of graduate students may be more pronounced in some cities than others but it is not the whole story. We graduate students knew what we would earn when we signed up for this gig, and I would guess that if we had to do it all over again, we would.
It used to make sense to paste data into a lab notebook. Western blots were exposed on film, DNA gel images were printed off, acrylamide gels were dried, and protocols were written by hand. However, with the increase in electronic data, lab notebooks are beginning to look like a cut-and-paste art project, with digital data printed out and taped into a physical notebook, and little (if any!) hand-written information.
The current funding environment is proving to be a very difficult hurdle for many. Although the grant situation at the moment is dire for nationals here in the US, it is and has always been a difficult task to get funding as an international student or postdoc. The lack of NIH opportunities for international students/postdocs decreases the chances of getting other grants, and some international graduate students and postdocs have a hard time joining labs because many PIs are looking to hire people with actual, rather than practically non-existent, funding potential.