Apoorva Purohit is a researcher in the field of molecular simulation of biomolecules and materials. She has a passion for creative writing and is currently working on her poetry book. She says that she is a private person and writing is a very important part of her life as it gives her an opportunity to experience different personalities and their journeys.
Mark has been conducting research on energy storage devices from the past 30 years. Recently, he was promoted to the Professor position in Massachusetts University. Before joining this university, he worked for a private company for a few years, but there he did not get the freedom to work on technologies that he was passionate about. That’s why he joined this university to be able to pursue independent research on projects that interested him. Everything worked out well for him and now he has a well-established laboratory with excellent students and technicians. His papers get published in the top journals and he has collaborations with the best people in the field.
Today is a special day for Mark as it’s the 20-year anniversary of his lab. He looks happy and proud of his journey as he wakes up in the morning and eats breakfast with his wife and kids. “It was not an easy journey,” he tells his wife. “I believe that luck and persistence, both are very important factors in research as most of the times we have to get through muck before reaching the real gold,” he says. Then, he picks up his phone and starts checking his emails while sipping his coffee. One of the emails is about the rejection of his proposal by the funding agencies. He sighs and then shows this email to his wife. She shockingly says “Oh no! You have spent around one month writing this proposal.” “Yes, and within one second all that hard work has gone to waste,” he replies with a sad smile on his face. It is so important for him to secure grants in order to attract more students in his lab. However, he is used to such emails by now as rejection is the reality of a researcher’s life no matter how accomplished he is.
After dropping his kids to school, he drives to his university where he has to deliver a lecture to the graduate students about the laws of thermodynamics. Earlier, lecturing was an interesting experience for him as it gave him an opportunity to connect with young researchers, but now after so many years it has become repetitive and he’s almost tired of it. During the lecture, a student asks him, “Is there any process in this universe with no heat loss?” He answers the question and starts teaching again. After 20 years, the questions asked by students are also predictable for him and there is no exhilaration for him in this experience anymore, but still he tries his best to make the lecture as interesting as possible for the students.
Following the tedious lecture, he comes to his office on the 9th floor and begins reviewing the draft of a paper written by one of his PhD students. This draft has been on his desk for past two months but he was extremely busy in writing proposals and working on a patent. “There is nothing special about this work and I have seen hundreds of such ordinary papers,” he thinks. According to him, he has a lot to lose with one below standard publication as his reputation might get affected in the research community. Mark is contemplating about not submitting this work to any journal, when suddenly the fire alarm in the building starts ringing.
Mark is extremely petrified because this alarm started in his lab. He still remembers that winter evening around three years ago when there was an explosion in his lab due to an ignitable gas released in an experiment. Luckily no one got hurt that time but he received a serious warning from the Chairperson. If such an explosion has happened again, it might be the end of his career. He runs towards the lab to get everyone out. His students rushing out of the lab inform him that mild smoke has released from the apparatus near the alarm and there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Thereafter, Mark anxiously waits outside the ten-floored building which has been evacuated due to an accident in his lab. He stands there with hundreds of researchers shivering with cold and pointing fingers at him. Within thirty minutes, the rescue team declares that there was nothing serious and the lab can be used again. Mark can take a sigh of relief now, but tomorrow he needs to present an explanation of this incident to a committee of Professors.
After the rescue team is gone, Mark runs to his lab and checks all the apparatus to make sure everything is safe and everyone is fine. “I want you all to be extra careful from now on as any negligence could risk both our lives as well as careers,” he warns his group members. Then he heads back to his office and calls his collaborators from Europe. He needs their experimental results in order to start one of his important experiments but the collaborators inform him that one of their machines broke down and that’s why they cannot supply him the required data on time. This is another bad news for Mark because the funding agency wants to see the progress of that experiment within one month and if the results are not satisfactory the grant might be rejected.
In any case, Mark has to snap out of it as now he has an appointment with a student who is interested in pursuing research under him. So he welcomes the student in his office and explains his projects and working techniques. Earlier he had decided to introduce this student to his group members, but after the smoke leak he feels it would be better to let go of that idea. While leaving his office, the student says, “Dr. Mark, I believe that I would be a better fit for the computational labs rather than your lab as I don’t enjoy performing experiments, I like programming more.” Mark is used to such responses and he understands that one must always do what they are passionate about, but it is his job to explain his work excitably whenever anyone shows interest in it.
It’s almost 9 pm now and Mark is exhausted so he decides to go back home. Generally, he leaves by 7 pm so that he can spend some quality time with his kids, but today was tougher than the other days. While leaving his office, he notices that all the male professors have left and only two female professors are still working in their offices. “I wonder why people think that working with women is less productive than men as their priorities are different,” he thinks while driving back home.
The kids are already sleeping by the time Mark reaches home. After dinner, he prepares notes for the lecture that he has to deliver the next morning. At midnight, he lies on his bed thinking that the reason he chose this job was because of his passion for research and exploring, but now he is doing everything except for research. Before sleeping, the last thought that comes to his head is “When did my life change from being a researcher to a person dealing with bureaucracy and grubbing for money?”