Undergrad Science vs. Real Life Science

Marcia Levitus, PhD: Undergrad Science vs. Real Life Science

Highlights the transition into graduate level science where the answers aren't known.

Video Transcript

Dr. Marcia Levitus's Bio

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Transcript: Undergrad Science vs. Real Life Science

Okay so I, again, I did my PhD in Argentina, and I think it was a different experience. I see students here, I can realize, I mean I recognize things that were clearly different. Things are not always the same. The things that are clearly universal are just the learning experience of any grad student who has to go through the frustrations of realizing that science is complicated, not black and white experience. I think the first thing that every-I mean me and everybody else go through is realizing that grad school and science and real life science is extremely different from the undergrad experience that we all have in the sciences.

When you're an undergrad, you have your experience is so linear, you have your teacher gives you a problem. The problems has a clear solution. That's an obvious way to get the solution. You know that the teacher knows the solution. The solution is all textbooks so it's a little like puzzle solving. It has absolutely nothing to do with real life science, so you get very good at solving problems and you felt that you are a good scientist because you can get your answers right all the time. Then you go into grad school, and you realize that the first thing is you feel that your adviser still knows the answers and, of course, he or she doesn't otherwise you wouldn't be doing research on the topic.

I think it's very hard to realize that you're doing something that the answer is not known, and the answer might not be as interesting as-excuse me-as you think it was. My frustration was-and also the timing is so different. You're an undergrad, and you have a reward schedule that you know that if you behave good, every second month you will have an A, and you'll be happy and then you have your graduation date fixed. You know exactly how things are going in terms of timing. I think the satisfaction is a clear kind of satisfactions. In grad school, things come in bursts and in real life research.

Sometimes things are very easy, and you get wonderful results and you're extremely happy, and then sometimes you may be months and months, sometimes years of things that you have no idea how come you don't get any result given that you're really working very hard on something. I think the first lesson is to deal with the frustrations of research and research is extremely frustrating. Then you realize that whenever you get something done, that's the joy you get-a big burst of joy because you know after all this painful experience, you're getting something that is extremely rewarding. It's a completely different sequence of effort-reward that is not what you learn in school at all.


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