Science or the family business?


Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.

Dear Alice,

“Doing work that is enjoyable is one of the secrets to a successful, well lived, happy life.” —Alice

“Doing work that is enjoyable is one of the secrets to a successful, well lived, happy life.” —Alice

I have been a postdoctoral fellow for a year and a half, without any publications so far and do not see any in the near future. I have plenty of publications from my doctoral study.

My parents want me to join them in the family business because of my uncertain future in the life science field, and part of me thinks that it is a good idea, too. Am I being pessimistic or realistic?

—Kam

Dear Kam,

It is not a question of pessimism or realism. By getting this far, you have demonstrated that you can do almost anything you set your mind to. To make a living should not be the primary reason to move into the family business. Do it only if it is something that you will enjoy. 

Some years ago, the French Nobel laureate André Lwoff and his wife, Marguerite, advised me to stay in science only if I loved it. If it should turn into something I no longer enjoyed, then I should do something else. Doing work that is enjoyable is one of the secrets to a successful, well lived, happy life.

So be honest with yourself. If you enjoy the intellectual challenges that science offers and cannot imagine doing anything else, then you should stick with science and find ways to improve your situation. You could find another postdoc, with a different adviser. A year and a half into postdoctoral training may be too early for making a judgment on your future success.

However, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing and cannot remember the exhilarating successes of your graduate training, then maybe it is time to find something you find more worthwhile.

—Alice

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