Finding my calling: My journey towards scientific writing
I am a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology at Kent State University and have loved science since I was a kid. I remember when I first learned about the ultrastructure of a cell in seventh grade, I was utterly mesmerized by the intricate interplay between organelles and molecules and the tiny world that existed within a cell. My idea of scientific research at that time was to go on expeditions with a microscope and explore things that no one has seen or known before. It was really exciting for me to wonder how scientists quench their curiosity and go after things that intrigue them, be it the structure of a cell or the anatomy of a human brain. I had hundreds of queries in my mind, and I was fortunate to have a great biology teacher in high school who would not only answer all my questions about cell biology but further fuel my interest in the biological sciences.
Fast forward a few years—I was studying at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur for my master’s degree and finally it was time for me to plunge into actual scientific research. Much to my surprise, my research project could not sustain my interest. I realized that I did not like the traditional nature of the field I was working in; my lab was a hardcore developmental biology lab, while my undergraduate training had been in biotechnology. I did not like the fact that the research I was doing would have no direct impact on the world. I would feel frustrated when my experiments would yield no conclusive results, even after I had worked like a bee on them for months. Despite all my hard work and long hours, I would not get any returns and a major reason was that I did not like that research project, as it was an exploratory project in developmental biology and I was more interested in translational research which could have real-world applications.
Finally, after much introspection, I made up my mind to apply for PhD to labs in the US that worked on translational research projects. I was extremely fortunate to get into Kent State University and work in a great lab on an osteoarthritis project that has the potential to convert benchside research into bedside applications. Thanks to my PhD supervisor, I felt motivated to work on the project and could see the significant impact it could have on millions of osteoarthritis patients. I found this field quite interesting and really enjoyed the project despite the occasional experimental setbacks. However later on, I had an epiphany that completely changed my aspirations.
Although my productivity in the lab had improved considerably and now I have several publications under my belt, the favorite part of my PhD journey turns out to be writing about what I do in the lab, i.e., writing manuscripts and communicating science. I love it when my friends ask me to proofread their manuscripts, and point out their errors in grammar, punctuations, consistency, and clarity. It occurred to me that sitting at my computer and thinking and writing about science makes me feel more fulfilled than pipetting at my bench. I guess writing makes me happy and it is a sort of therapy for me.
I recently wrote a review article for a journal and I had such an amazing time writing that document which was more than 6000 words long! When I told this to one of my co-workers, his remark was, “How do you like writing so much, I hate writing my own manuscript, and I just love working at the bench.” Well, to each his own, as everyone is different and as long as you figure out what you love doing most, you are on the right track. I know that I love science and I love writing, and it took me a long time to realize that I can actually combine the two and go for a career in scientific writing and science communication. It’s never too late to realize what exactly your calling is and what would be a perfect fit for your skillset. Now that I am aware of my calling, I plan to be a medical writer or a scientific writer after I graduate this year. It would be the perfect amalgamation of my love for science and my flair for writing, and will give me the joy of doing what I love doing.
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