Why research?

I have been thinking about this question quite a bit lately, mainly because I’m contemplating whether to do a masters or not after I graduate from NUS. I am still thinking if I should and I’m hoping that I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do about this after I’m done writing.

Broadly speaking, I think it’s an issue about opportunity cost vs the cost of a missed opportunity. The question is what else would I have otherwise done? Where will I be going with a masters degree? I think this is something that everyone faces in their twenties, full of energy, imagination and passion yet lacking a sense of concrete direction. Anyhow, let me try to distill:

Research is something that draws you in so it’s very easy to be completely engrossed in your work and forget about the world. Scientific research, in particular, is rather investigative, so there’s a thrill to find out why and find evidence to support your findings. At the start, I didn’t like how I couldn’t share my experiences in the lab with people who didn’t possess the technical background but now I actually enjoy it because it actually feels awesome to be doing something so specialized.

Research has made me a better person as well, I cope better with failures, I am more organized, I am getting used to thinking and planning ahead, I’m becoming more patient and careful. I used to be really sloppy with my work but I think I’m beginning to take pride in what I am testing/ making. So I am quite sure a year or two more of research work will make me grow as a person.

However, the thing is I do not feel the passion and love for what I am doing. I’m not motivated by the grade of my final year project or the possibility of publishing my work in a high impact journal. What drives me, in fact, is the process of doing research. It’s like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, I see research work as a game with defined rules (some less well-defined) and I’m motivated because I want to pick up the next piece and try to fit it in. In a sense, the exact nature of the puzzle or the research work doesn’t really affect my motivation. This worries me considerably because research is a specialized task and one needs to acquire in-depth knowledge about a subject matter so passion/ interest should matter. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite interested in investigating the properties of anti-cancer platinum complexes for its potential applicability but on a daily basis, this interest doesn’t drive me. Furthermore, by getting caught up in the details, I am afraid that I will forget the bigger picture and I will forget where I want to go in life. I am afraid that one day I’ll put down the jigsaw puzzle piece and wonder what am I doing with my life.

On that note, I’m not sure how a master’s degree will benefit my teaching career and whether it will help to bring me to where I aspire to be in the education sector. I don’t want to do something today and disregard where I will be tomorrow.

Which will be better?

UPDATE: I spoke to a friend about this recently and she had a pretty interesting proposition – the idea of opportunity cost implies that you have already ranked your options in one way or another. It’s quite enlightening. So I went back and asked myself, “Do I think about the opportunity cost of doing a masters or the opportunity cost of not doing it?” I think I have the answer to the question.

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6 thoughts on “Why research?

  1. I would suggest if you really question yourself if research field really for you. I havefrfriends who stuck in jobs that they are unhappy about. But due to their education speciality, it is harder for them to switch career without bearing a pay cut

    • Hi there!

      Thank you for your suggestion. I have been questioning myself quite a lot lately about this matter. How do people know what jobs make them happy before they really embark on it?

      • Hmm.. The easier method is to interview friends who is currently doing research, learn from them what kind of work are they doing. Second if possible volunteer yourself to a short ‘internship’ to a research lab and try it out yourself. Lastly, never restrict yourself to this choice. Try to explore other field by reading up and who knows you can find other hidden talent of yourself.

      • Thanks for the advice! I am actually working in a research lab right now in NUS. I think it’s okay right now, possibly because most of my peers are also doing research/ something related to university..I am not sure how it will work out after graduation when I see my friends getting on with their respective lives and I am still doing the same thing. But I should try to understand myself more, will see how it goes 🙂

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