You may or may not be aware from reading my prior writings that for a time, I was considering a career in research. I worked in labs during every summer through college, and even though I didn’t do any research during med school and not a whole lot during residency, I actually ended up doing a research fellowship.
Also, I have research in my blood. My father is a physician who gets a chunk of his salary from research grants. My mother didn’t go quite so far as that, but did publish around a hundred peer-reviewed articles during her career. My father especially encouraged me to incorporate research into my career, saying that it was interesting and also provided extra career flexibility.
So anyway, I did this fellowship. And it sucked.
I mean, it was pretty much The Fellowship Where Everything Went Wrong. I know what you’re thinking, that it’s not possible for a research fellowship to go that badly. Well, what if your research mentor is arrested and goes to jail midway through the year?
I’m not saying that happened. But I’m not saying that didn’t happen either.
Bad fellowship aside, I did get a taste of what it was like to do research. There were some parts of it I liked very much. For example, I really liked when the article I wrote came out, and I got to gaze at it lovingly. All the other parts weren’t quite as good. But I like to write, I like statistics, etc., so it wasn’t all bad.
Soon after my mentor was arrested, I learned about a career development award that seemed like an obvious one for me to apply to. I had been working on putting together a project, but things weren’t going so great (what with the arrest and all), so I knew I was going to have to do some fast work to put it all together.
My idea involved using Zoloft for hair loss in men (not really, but let’s say it did). I figured I could give guys a pill, either Zoloft or a placebo, and then have them return at regular intervals to measure their hair growth. It seemed simple enough, but there were SO many barriers to making it happen. First, we had to figure out a way to pay for all those Zoloft tablets. Second, I had to assure a bunch of other people doing various other studies that I wasn’t going to steal and taint their research subjects. Then, I had to write a 200 page IRB application, describing every tiny detail of my study and how I wasn’t going to kill my subjects or even harm one precious hair on their heads (and most likely, not make the hairs grow either).
But you know what? I was kind of excited about it. It was a fun little project. And this way, I’d have the next two years of my life guaranteed. I remember discussing it with my new mentor (who was still a free man):
Mentor: "And after this grant ends, you could apply for the NEXT level career development award! And you could just live in a little research cave."
Me: "I always wanted to live in a cave."
Mentor: "You'd be like Batman! Except you'd be a scientist."
Me: "Actually, Batman was a scientist."
Mentor: "So you'd be exactly like Batman!"
Unfortunately, my Batman aspirations were never realized. My application for the career development award was rejected without them even asking to see my proposal.
It was a blow. It made me feel like shit, to be completely honest. At the same time, another friend of mine applying for a different research grant also got rejected. He showed me the rejection comments and they were actually really, really mean. And suddenly, I felt like research was all about rejection. My skin wasn’t thick enough for this. And I couldn’t imagine having to depend on these grants in order to make a living. I couldn’t live that way.
And the next day, I started applying for real jobs.