Being a researcher is not always a picnic

Doing your own research and Science is rewarding.  You get to work with subjects that you find to be interesting and important (at least to some extent, more about this later). When you get your research paper published, you get the feeling that you have contributed something to the world; this new piece of information, that perhaps, can help to make the world a better place. You can get to attend interesting Science conferences abroad and travel around the world visiting other research labs. You also get invited to academic parties, like ‘karonkkas’ (there is a whole post on this here in this Blog). And most of all, if you are lucky, you have great research fellows to work with (but just if you are lucky enough!).

When you say you are a researcher, people outside the academic world might think you are smarter than you actually are! (as they don’t know that all the information you have comes from Google) 😉

Sounds great,  right? However, doing science is no picnic.  I have been thinking about writing this post for a while now, but for some reason, I always felt that it wasn’t appropriate. I thought that I have no right to complain as it was my own decision to choose this “Science life”.  However, I also wish that someone would have told to me all  the “downsides” of a Science career before taking this decision. And maybe writing about these issues in public can also promote positive changes in the matter.


Landscape from Lake Kirkkojärvi, Kangasala
A view from Lake Kirkkojärvi, Kangasala.


So here are few of the downsides of being a scientist (my own experience comes from working in Finland, so the situation might be different somewhere else).  Is there anything that you can relate to?

1. Getting a research grant isn’t easy these days. Just the writing process of a great/perfect application (because “good” application is not good enough) takes a lot of time. And often the annual grant calls of different foundations overlap or at least are very close to each other every year. This means that you spend several weeks, even months just working with these different grant applications. This is quite frustrating because all of this work can be in vain if in the end you are not granted the grant/scholarship. Then you are left with a lot of wasted working hours and no money for research. Not a very rewarding feeling.

2. If you are lucky enough to get a grant, the amount of grant you get can be smaller than you applied for or the time period for the grant is shorter than your research requires. Meaning that the first thing you do, when you actual start working on your research project, is that you start writing new grant applications to get the money you need to conduct the (rest of) study properly.  Not a good way to spend your time when you should be working to get research (results) done.

3. Because the time periods for which the grants are granted varies from 6 months to 5 years, your “job” is never secure. If you are not able to get new funding for your research constantly, you can easily find yourself being unemployed. It is not a very inspiring feeling, when you write e.g. your thesis for months with only the minimal income that you get from the unemployment office (trust me on this one, I have been there).

4. And getting new research funding means that you have to come up with new interesting research ideas constantly. And it is not enough that your research ideas are interesting to you, your research ideas have to be interesting for the funders as well; and if your study subject isn’t ‘media sexy- enough’, it can get difficult to sell your ideas.

5. The point 3 above induces a lot of insecurity and stress in your own personal life. It is difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to plan your life any further or make important life decisions when you never know whether or not you have a “job” after your current grant runs out.

6. As a young researcher, your general income is most likely a lot smaller than the income of working people your age outside the academia. This combined with the continuing insecurity described in point 5 makes it hard to even think about buying your own house or having a family and kids of your own etc.

7. Young researchers, after finishing their PhD, are encouraged to go for postdoc- research abroad. For some research foundations, it is not only encouraged, but it is a requirement if you wish to get their grants. Thus, it puts some researchers in some awkward positions. Moving to another country can mean that you either have to leave your spouse/family behind or they have to move with you. And either way, this might be very difficult to arrange.

8. Although many employers outside academia value high education, saying that you have a PhD degree when applying for a job not directly related to research (but still related to your field of research) is not always an advantage. For some reason, some people think that because your background is in research, it means that you are unable to do “real and practical work”.  The stereotype of a researcher and a scientist as being “smart, yet awkward and unsociable nerd” is strong.  Why this is like that, I don’t know.

Here were some of the drawbacks I shared of being a researcher that I have been struggling with or that I have seen fellow researchers struggle with. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed how few young scientist give up research completely. However, things aren’t that bad all the time and, as I said in the beginning of this post, there are many positive sides of being a researcher as well. Then, perhaps one of our future post will be all about these positive sides. And I bet that post can get longer than this one 🙂

Myosotis sp.
Myosotis sp.


Ps.  The pictures are not related to the post whatsoever 😀

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