Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life changing moment

Today I came across the following article:

It is the story of Douglas Prasher, the biochemist who found the gene for the protein that makes jellyfish glow. Three of his colleagues who built on his work were awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry this week. Douglas Prasher now earns $10/hr as a shuttle driver at his local Toyota dealership.

The article has brought back to me a small, seemingly insignificant moment in college, that changed life forever.

When I was in college pursuing my degree, I was full of hopes and dreams about my future life as a researcher. Then one day, as I was walking into the lab where I worked, I had to pass by a hallway full of cages and equipment. When I asked what was going on, I was told the researcher down the hall had exhausted all his funding and had to shut down his research after 20 years.

It was at that moment that my life changed forever. Presented in front of me, with great clarity, were the instability and struggles I would face if I continued on my current path. I didn't even know the man, but I took it as a slap in the face. I went home and reconsidered everything. I had mounting bills, and long term student loan debt looming in front of me. I loved my work in the lab, and I loved my studies, but there was nothing special about me or my work. If the guy down the hall couldn't make it after 20 years, what were my chances?

If I continued on my path in science I would face many more years of school and debt, with a very nebulous future on the other side.

My part time job at the time, was as a character at Disneyland. There wasn 't anything special about my work there either, but I was pretty good at it and it was fun and easy money. I thought, what the heck.....If I stayed there for a year or two, I could move into other things in Entertainment, pick up the cash, pay off the bills, become solvent and settled and then I could return to science. It would be a short little break, just a dalliance really and when I slid back into research, I'd always have a back up career.

Well, it was more than a year or two, and it was long a windy path, but I am back in science now and I do have a really solid back up career. So imagine my bemusement when, just as I am seeing the light at the end of the academic tunnel, (pretty much the exact same place I was last time) along came the Prasher story. What does it mean? Hard to say, but it has caused me to reflect on my original decision all those years ago.

It was logical, it was practical and it was a life changing decision. Do I regret it? Not for a minute. Oh sure, my life would have been considerably different, but would it have been as fun, weird, or extraordinary.... probably not.