Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Future, Shmuture.

Since coming to JLab (the Thomas Jefferson Accelerator Facility), I've been doing a lot of pondering. From previous posts, it's obvious that some of my musings concern the nature of science, absolute truth, and all those wonderful philosophy of science things. But lately, I've been thinking more about my future. Specifically, I've been thinking "what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life. "

Much of this pondering has been prompted by my interning at a national science laboratory. Obviously, the experience is making me a bit more aware of what the scientific community is like, and what it is "real scientists" do. The fact that I'm asking the above question makes it pretty obvious that I haven't exactly been overwhelmed with delight by my experience at the lab. I don't have my calendar out, counting down the days until I can leave, but I don't really see myself doing this sort of thing for the rest of my life. At least not if I want to be really happy.

Part of the problem is due to the nature of my summer project. I'm basically making a program to simulate realistic data for VDC wire chamber detectors they use in hall A, and then testing their current analysis software to see how well it works, what sort of noise it can tolerate--all of that good stuff. I understand that this sort of thing has to be done, and that being an undergrad labitch, these projects are unavoidable. But just because something is a right-of-passage, so to speak, doesn't mean I like doing it.

The thing is, the work I see going on around me is not providing any sort of comfort. I just can't see myself being happy if I spent my life as these other physicists. So much of their time is devoted to working on a tiny aspect of an experiment or problem. Very few of them actually see direct results of their efforts. I understand why this sort of structure is in place. There'd be no way any small team of researchers could develop (or maintain) an entire particle accelerator on their own. Science has gotten incredibly complicated. The only way to get anywhere is to combine as much manpower as possible, I suppose.

But to me, this aspect of a career in science is awfully disheartening. You're constantly required to fit your work into the bigger picture context. Otherwise, you're just slaving away at something so seemingly asenine and random. I've realized that I was somewhat naive in regards to the nature of scientific research. I fell in love with the idea of being a sort of explorer of the natural world. I wanted to be the one out there searching for quarks with my magnifying glass and a flashlight! But that's not how it works....at all. I feel like working so far from the real problems would become tiring.

I'm aware that other areas of science, or even other types of labs, may not present this problem. But, it's really hard to know for sure. Also, the fact that solving small individual problems doesn't appeal to me highlights another new realization. When it comes to physics, I absolutely love learning the concepts and all of their consequences. But I'm not especially excited by the processes required to get to these realizations. When it comes to science research (or even theoretical science), you constantly deal with these processes. The moments of realization and conceptual wonder are very few and far between.

So....I have no idea where this leaves me. The more I think about what I enjoy (especially the fact that I enjoy physics concepts but not the meat of the discipline) the more I feel pulled towards philosophy. After all, physics is a philosophy of the structure of the natural world. Who knows.

I say "future, shmuture." Honestly, who needs one of those?


Anonymous Lis said...

silly future.. speaking of which let's go back! To the future! woooo!!!

I'm done. I don't know how anyone could survive as a scientist, but its not my bag. good luck fig everything out!

2:19 PM, June 22, 2005  

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