IAmInYourShoes Interview

“Be curious. Always wonder…”

Research Scientist Career Path

Research scientist career path/job description: What is it?

It is hard to define. You do not own a laboratory but you perform experiments without supervision. You are responsible for the maintenance of the experimental setups and you train new users. In addition, you think about new projects, research ideas, possible collaborations etc.


What is your educational background?

I have BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Physics.


How long have you been doing this job?

If I also count the years that I spent in the university as a student (undergraduate and graduate), approximately 11-12 years.


Why/How did you choose this career?

I was always interested in science in my childhood years. When I started university, I was mostly interested in theoretical physics. However, physics courses that I attended in the university shaped my thoughts about my career path. I realized that I enjoyed electromagnetic theory and optics classes a lot.

Also, I felt very happy while I was performing experiments. So, I decided to study experimental laser physics. I think I made the right decision. Since I was not good enough to handle physics problems which require heavy mathematics (confession ☺), most probably I won’t be as successful as today.


Does your family have a role in choosing the research path?

Both yes and no. They had no idea about any science-related career but they always supported me. I graduated from a common high school. Such schools are not able to provide a high-quality education like other private schools and science-based high schools.

I was afraid of my classmates who graduated from the top high schools. Some of my friends and relatives were really annoying during the first years of university. They always said that I should quit from the physics department because I will not be able to graduate anyway. My parents supported me a lot. So, I closed my ears to such advises and tried to do my best and I graduated in the exact time without repeating any classes.

Did your career path meet your expectations?

I can say that a great majority of my expectations are met because my work is my hobby and I am working in an environment that I have always dreamed of.

But I see now that some of my expectations were really naive. So I will list my “emotional expectations” as a-b-c and then you will see the realities in brackets.

a) Everyone who is interested in science has high ethical values.

(Not right. It’s possible to come across with selfish, jealous, malevolent, and immoral people in this area like in every other business areas)

b) All the researchers are science lovers.

(No, even a large majority of these people are doing this job because they are afraid of working in the industry.)

c) Institutions have a big budget for scientific research.

(Most researchers I know do research on subjects that they do not want to work in. The biggest reason for this is that there are some fashion (in) and out of fashion (out) areas in science and that institutions allocate budget to these “fashion” researches. It is also very tiring to deal with people who have no idea about scientific projects but hold all the money in their hands)

Apart from the negative thoughts listed above, my biggest disappointment is the money I earn. I never thought of money at the beginning of this road, but I started to realize the importance of making money as I grow older.

While we were a master and doctoral student, the university paid us a little higher than the minimum wage under the name of “scholarship” without insurance from the state. My colleagues, who were roughly the same age as me, and did not choose an academic path were both gaining work experience and working with higher salaries with insurance. It is important to point out at this point that even if you spend your years in masters and PhD specializing in a subject, employers do not count this period as a work experience.

If you are considering to switch to a non-academic area in your career after PhD, be sure to consider this because you start far behind your peers (even if you have worked for years). If I look at my current position, I finally have insurance and I get a slightly higher salary. But I would be getting a much higher salary if I spent these 6 years in the industry (MS and PhD).

As a summary, be sure to love it when choosing to pursue an academic career. If you do not love this, one day you will not want to do this by earning less money, and you can be easily depressed. I was able to move forward with little money, without having to worry about it, as I had been dreaming about this job all of my life. And I focused on my career rather than building a family.

What mistakes did you make in your career path?

The biggest mistake I made in my career is not being brave enough.
Now I am braver than before but still, I need to be more extrovert. I wish I contacted more people at the conferences I attended.


Do you find yourself in a state where you question your career? Why?

I question my research scientist career path when I have financial problems or when I have to work while everyone is resting. As I mentioned above, I can not say that I am making good money and this situation makes me think as years go by.

Also, science has no working hours. It is necessary to constantly question and think in order to become a successful scientist. I usually spend the day working on experiments in the lab. I use evening hours to read/write articles, to think/write projects, to follow the literature, and even sometimes work on topics in my undergraduate books. Such a lifestyle can sometimes be really tiring.


How hard is it for you to change your career?

I do not think it’s too hard. I think someone who survived in science can do a lot of different things. Because we are working on analytical thinking, problem solving and questioning throughout our education. Life itself is based on problems and solutions. But I think it can be hard for us to work in business fields based on abstract concepts (☺), like law.


Can you describe what makes you happy/satisfied with your job now?

I am very happy because I work in a field that I dreamed of all my life, I constantly learn new staff and I play with devices (☺).


10 years from now?

I hope that I will have my own lab and my own research topics in 10 years.


What motivates you to get out of your bed and start working every day?

The feeling about learning new things about the universe. In addition, knowing that I will use and observe the physics rules in the experiments.

What makes you sad in your career path? Why?

I see that science is not as clean as I thought in my childhood (uninvolved in wars). I dreamed about scientists who are only working in the name of pure progress in the name of mankind and the feeling of discovering the universe. But on the contrary, I see that there are a lot of immoral people working in this area.


How do you keep on learning? What is your secret to continuous learning?

Be curious. Always wonder.


Can you recommend a Ted talk/YouTube video/blog post/Twitter account for people who need inspiration/information?

I recommend Gerard ‘t Hooft’s site,  Nature and Science.


How do you make today better than yesterday?

I always see today as a new opportunity. I remember this when I wake up.


Any pieces of advice to the people who will walk on your career path?

– Will you love this work? Think about this seriously.

– Do not hesitate to ask even the silliest questions.

– Self-criticise. Instead of blaming others or your working environment for things you do wrong or incomplete, first question yourself. This will make you mature.

– Explain, teach. Do not hesitate to share the information.

– Be interdisciplinary. Because you have chosen physics, do not only live in physics world. Wonder about biology, art, archeology… Wonder about life.

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