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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

What they don't tell you about science (and medicine)

When I turned five, my birthday present was my first bike.  It was pale forget-me-not blue, and I was so excited to ride it on the thin concrete patio that linked the house to our back garden.  Living in the West of Scotland, despite having a birthday in June, it was still fortunate to have nice enough weather to do a trial run on the day itself.  That was a great bike.
I want to ride my bicycle...
So it was rather a treat to get to ride an almost identical bike several thousand miles away, 21-and-a-half years on.  Riding through Sacramento's sunny streets on a 'winter' (read: 18 degrees celsius) afternoon is just one of the many heartwarming, life-loving moments of recent days after an incredibly stressful couple of weeks (/months!).  

Napa Valley
I've listed this posting as 'What they don't tell you about science (and medicine)' - but perhaps I should call it 'How to pick a job which is nothing like what people think it is'.  People often say to me 'what a solid career choice you've made' or 'it's a job for life' - and about my time in the US as a researcher at Yale as 'you're sorted' and ''you'll always get a job in science'.  I've never believed any of these, but these last couple of months prove, rightly, that nothing is certain.  I applied for a job to return to almost as soon as I arrived in the USA, along with thousands of junior doctors across the UK.  I was lucky enough to get consecutive job interviews, first in December and again in January; but that involved two trips back to the UK.  There's nothing like the cost of a plane ticket to put on the pressure. And justifying your salt as a doctor is stressful both in the context of having done it for the last 2 years, and in my case taking some time out to do research - you feel that you have a lot to justify.  By no means is it seen as a positive thing by all people that I've taken myself off Stateside for the year.

Macarons! Yum yum yum.
The route to becoming a total wine snob...
What's joyous is that I get to do this all over again in 2-3 years' time.  And then another few years after that.  And that's just the clinical bit, where at least there are usually jobs around.  Depending on how much I wish to make science an integral part of my career, I'll be joining the 'publish or perish' world which brings a whole other dimension of uncertainty.  Scientists are revered as being brainiacs trying to save the world - but they are poorly remunerated with very little job security for the privilege.  So before you think that the road is lined with gold for doctors and scientists alike - the exact opposite is true, particularly for the latter.  

Alongside all of that, obviously the job you are doing at the time must also continue, and science does not always play the game.  My 'science' has been working ... variably.  It is somewhat disheartening when an experiment you have been working on for six weeks appears to not be working.  The number of failed experiments that go into one scientific paper - I think it's probably a 1 in 10 ratio of success to failure.  But when those successes come - oh boy!  So exciting!

State Capitol of California
So having traversed all of that, I am now falling in love with life and the world again having taken myself off to California to continue my 'cultural exchange' and give my little brain a rest.  And boy, the love is flowing; the kindness shown to me by a series of relative strangers is blowing my mind.  My senses are kind of overwhelmed with all the sights, smells and tastes that California is offering me - having meandered through the beautiful Napa Valley, exploring the historic corners of Sacramento and creeping through Big Trees (aka Giant Sequoias) Park, I'm probably going to have go on some sort of diet after sampling buttery Chardonnays and fruity Pinot Noirs, sticky Macarons (the salted caramel - WOW), full-flavoured cheeses, delicious lamb dishes, and even a genuinely good portion of fish and chips... and all under the guidance of incredibly kind new friends.  All good stuff for the soul, and good for reminding you about all the things that are great in the world.  After all, a job is necessary but it is just a job.  The kindness of people is of far greater value and one that I am feeling the full force of at the moment.  
I'll leave you with this: we had a chinese lunch yesterday and this was the contents of my fortune cookie.  I'm not sure I have enough of worth to write a whole book yet - but I am not at all short on ideas!

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