Why I Stayed In My Run of the Mill Science Job and Wrote This Article
Why I Left My Big Fancy Tech Job and Wrote a Book
I love Silicon Valley, but it’s deeply flawed
Several years ago, I was sitting in the audience at a big science conference learning about some new approach for detecting foodborne pathogens. The speaker gave a really nice presentation and I found the entire talk fascinating. The whole conference was filled with wonderful discussions, new technologies, and I had a really great three days.
On the plane ride home, I tried to write something about what I had experienced but discovered that I was actually unable to convey what I had observed in a way that was in any way interesting. Instead it sounded like something a high school senior might submit for a college entrance essay. My goal at the time was to write something that people would enjoy and that they might even find important and exciting.
These scientists were doing big things!
Keeping the world safe from foodborne disease!
But also, on some level, it all felt a bit off.
So, where to begin?
Should I start with my early life as a young researcher? Like the time I was still in graduate school and the principle investigator I was working for — a guy who owned two shirts in the same color and wrote a textbook on microbiology — asked me whether or not I felt I was ready for my comprehensive exams (I even used a whiteboard when I took my orals)
Or maybe I could start with the lack of money — all the ridiculously low salaries and absurdly low benefits with seemingly little basis in reality. Or the time, just after I got my Ph.D. I was so broke I ate Ramen noodles for a week, exactly as I had done for many weeks over many years as a graduate student holding no such degree.
You can’t really claim that you’re doing research to help everyone in the world when your own work is completely ignored by the the outside world.
Or maybe I should start with the scientists. The employees at my most recent job — research scientist at a large testing laboratory — are some of the smartest, most passionate people I’ve ever worked with. They worked through the night to help people in a natural disaster. They gave money and vacation time to help the sick family members of other employees. They ran marathons on the weekend to raise money for clean water in Africa.
They also spent the weekdays complaining about how little they felt the company valued their efforts.
To be sure, science has done some great things that have truly changed our lives for the better. And I do think that in many, many ways, it has taken noble stands during difficult times and helped redefine what people expect from companies. It has also led me to some of my best friends and greatest opportunities, for which I am very grateful. There is so much I really do love about this world, and about science in general.
But there is also what mainly drove me to stay in my current job. The issue that I got tired of defending in the comments and responses to my articles. My terrible writing abilities. The inability to use proper grammar and punctuation, the overuse of cliches. All those shitty articles about machine learning and artificial intelligence. I mean I really suck at writing.
Idid not write a book or leave my current job, and instead wrote this article for two reasons. First, I wanted to explain why I decided not to leave my current job or write a book. Despite how it might feel to myself each morning, I am a terrible writer. There is no two ways about it, I flat out blow. Plus I’m no Jessica Powell. No way in hell is Medium going to give me prime real estate in their member featured stories section just to plug some shitty book I wrote for reasons nobody can seem to explain.
Second, I did not write a book because it takes way too much time and effort. I needed to end the self-delusion and either fess up to the reality that I am too lazy to write a book or live up to the vision I had for myself. Because if you’re going to tell people you’re a writer, you better be ready to write a book. Me not writing a book is my small way of letting the reader know I am not ready. I can’t do it. No freaking way could I ever write a whole book. Meaning…
I can’t tell my readers that machine can’t learn and artificial intelligence does not currently exist and may never but then throw my hands up and say I give up when somebody challenges me to write an entire book about those topics.
When I didn’t write a novel, I eliminated almost all work and the requirement for dedication and effort to make a point.
This article is satire, remember — but it’s also true that I am a terrible writer.
That’s also why I ultimately decided to publish this article under my name. I was very tempted to publish it anonymously. I didn’t really want the attention for myself, and I didn’t want people to interpret the article as a specific take on one writer. (For the record, I wrote it when I was fully employed at my current job.) Nor did I want readers to have to spend a whole bunch of time reading some genuinely awful attempt to be funny that I shit out in about 20 minutes last night before I went to bed.
Writing satire feels a bit like trimming a bonsai tree with a machete. But it felt like the right approach for an article that was going to suck no matter what. Because sometimes you’re not writing a novel; you’re just writing about argan oil for the hundredth time. And that’s fine — I’m sure there are plenty of people who like argan oil (including myself)— but let’s just be honest about it.
Stop trying to convince me— and yourselves — that I can write. I can’t.