Sunday, March 31, 2013

To the aspiring scientists out there

Tomorrow I start the job I have been working towards for the past 15 years and I have been dreaming of since middle school. I always wanted to be a scientist and when I first joined a lab as an undergrad, I decided I wanted to run my own lab. I have had wonderful times and truly terrible times, when I have teetered on the edge of dropping out of college to man the cashier at a supermarket, dropping out of grad school to go write movies or just simply hide under a rock, leaving my postdoc to go work as a scientific consultant in finance or a policy advisor. For years every day I would wake up and think "Will I quit today?", and then I would chose my job as an aspiring academic scientist above anything else. Every day.
And then, as I was interviewing for positions, something snapped into place. I truly loved the interview process. I loved talking to people about science all day, sharing my work, developing my scientific program and most of all, I loved the image of my lab which was forming in my head. Kind if when you imagine the face of your future baby and you are filled with joy. One day I was ogling the different scientific positions LinkedIn was throwing my way and the next I was set on a course to start plotting all my R01s.
I can honestly say that since getting my job I have had the best year of my life. Hiring people, buying equipment, shaping my thinking as a leader, networking like crazy have all been fascinating and exciting. It was that wonderful time when you are still protected in your postdoc lab, blessed with lots of my own funding to spend, and trying things out with training wheels. A time when you can enjoy and imagine what is coming without really worrying about it.
Tomorrow the training wheels come off. Tomorrow we begin to worry. Starting tomorrow I have 3 years to come up with substantial NIH funding and the clock starts ticking to March 31 2016. Considering how fast these past 6 months have flown, and that setting up everything in the lab may take another 6-9 months, and that I'm trying to finish three papers, and that there are multiple grants due this summer, the future is uncertain. Yet, I'm still excited and hopeful and happy to start this adventure. I am living my dream. At the same time, I have a lot of grad school friends who have not chosen this career and have gone to do a lot of fascinating things in other professions. And that comforts me, because I see that they are happy and successful, and if the NIH continues with this crazy run and funding doesn't come, I will be okay no matter what.
So, to you, aspiring scientists out there, most of all learn to believe in yourselves. Figure out what you want to do in life and plan for it, develop it, grow into it. A job, any job rarely falls in your lap, no matter if it's in academia or outside. In the lab look for your anchor, the one place or one experiment that makes everything alright, no matter what (for me it's at the microscope, looking at cells; I have friends who clone when they are stressed...go figure). My anchor tells me that I need to be there and nowhere else. And finally, if you do something you really enjoy, it will come through when you talk to people about it and maybe they will see how cool it is. So far this transition is great fun, more fun than I ever thought it would be, so know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.


  1. Cara Chiara,
    I love your enthusiasm, the best complement to such a well functioning brain! I am very confident Manzini Lab will go very far under your leadership.
    A big hug from Mozambique and best of luck to you and your team!

  2. Excellent job done by you. I think in the early age you gain lot of experience and these are so helpful for the people who are like to work for education.