Hide and Seek

I am an intern at an organization I used to work at as a science graduate student. I was really nervous about seeing people I had worked with again….I would not be talking to them about the latest data points my computer spit out, or the difficulty I was having in lab.

Instead, I would be interviewing them for stories and asking them to simplify their language for me. This felt really weird since I knew that they knew I was perfectly aware of the meaning of words like thermocline, or what Apolemia was.

For a couple weeks I nervously avoided certain people, unsure of my reception. But two weeks ago the decision to confront one of them was taken from me. I had to interview two researchers whose offices were on either side of the scientist I was nervous about seeing. Everyone works with their doors open, so he saw me walking back and forth as I talked to his colleagues.

I bit the bullet and poked my head in to say hi to him. And to my great relief, he was as nice and welcoming as when we worked together as mentor and graduate student. He wanted to know what I had been doing since I left, what I was doing now, and what I wanted to do in the future. We spent about 20 minutes catching up.

In hindsight I guess I shouldn’t have been nervous, but I was. He was always nice to me before, so why should that have changed? But I think my nervousness had more to do with my own feelings.

I enjoy what I do, and I’m where I should be. But a tiny part of me still feels like I bailed on science. I wonder if that part of me will always be there. In talking to my classmates, I know I’m not the only one with these thoughts. But I wonder if I’ll still feel this way 5 years from now. Or 10 years from now.

Any thoughts from former scientists turned science writers?


About janejaelee

Jane Lee is a graduate student in the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program.
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3 Responses to Hide and Seek

  1. SandeepR says:

    It’s funny, I’ve had almost exactly the same experience. At this point, the reactions when I’ve met former professors and classmates has been uniformly positive, so I’m pretty sure it’s all in my head. And like you, I love what I do and can’t imagine ever going back to research, but some tiny part of me does feel like I bailed. I do hope that goes away eventually.

    But another aspect of it is just that I’m sick of explaining what science writing is. I’ve had people ask whether that meant writing instruction manuals, or grants, or ghostwriting journal articles. And in India, I just get completely blank stares, followed by: “You mean, journalism…? Why do you need a PhD for that?”
    Add to that the fact that no one understands what I could possibly be doing still in school after a PhD, and well…sometimes it’s just easier to skip the conversations šŸ™‚

    • Jane Lee says:

      That’s true. Having to explain something over and over again is tiring. But luckily, most of the people I’ve talked to are familiar with the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz, so I don’t have to say much more than “I’m in the program,” and they get it.

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