Research – Myth vs Reality

  • Bharti Kumari

I finished my PhD. in 2019 in the field of physical chemistry from a Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. A lot of people ask me about my research, about what it is like being a researcher, about challenges I faced during my research and I can see the excitement on their faces when they ask me such questions. During these conversations, I realized people have a very different notion (weird if you ask me) about scientists. Here are some points that separate the facts from myths.

1) Every Scientist Works on Super-Computers

Myth: Attributed to Hollywood movies, people consider every research to be tech-savvy and fascinating. They have this image in their mind of scientists with their perfect-white lab coats, opening a majestic door after verification by triple security systems that scan their eye-retina, their fingerprints and verifies voice. After the door opens there are huge holographic screens with super-computers crunching data in the background and (my favorite) an excited and productive team greets you. In movies, scientists are shown to get results in seconds and in a blink of an eye, they are heroes talking to international media about their new discovery and how it will change mankind forever.

Reality: Research is insanely boring! Yes, you get challenges along the way and it is equally exciting to get over these challenges but most part of the research is monotonous beyond comprehension. You must work on the same subject, on the same machines, on similar research parameters hoping to get a different result every time.

2) They Know Everything

Myth: People think and expect that the researchers know everything and they keep learning new stuff every day.

Reality: No! Researchers are one of those people in the world who actually don't know what they are doing. Most of the time, research is mainly led by 'trial and error' and sometimes it can be a total failure. Researchers don't learn new stuff every day, they just learn a little more about the same stuff which they have been studying for years. The knowledge gets deeper in the subject and certainly not wider.

3 Research is All About Doing RESEARCH

Myth: Like in movies, they represents that research is all about finding something significant, discovering something new. And once you have achieved it, it is a Happy ending!

Reality: In reality, research is not only about thinking out of box and celebrating it with Eureka! Remember, in an academic world, research is all about 'getting the results + publication'.

Thus, 50% of research is performing experiments, executing ideas, analyzing data and rest 50% about presenting your work (spending hours on PowerPoint), convincing the audience about your theory, answering a lot of "WHY and HOW", writing a paper (spending months on word, plotting graphs, decorating the figure). So, in research, apart from doing research it is equally important about creating presentations, writing papers and attending conferences.

4) Publishing Papers

Myth: You become a pro when it comes to 'Publishing Papers'.

Reality: Hahahaha! No, never. Believe me, writing a paper and publishing it is never an easy task no matter how skilled you are. Writing a paper is like, reading 30 different literature, and then writing one sentence with 3 citations. Of course, you can not miss the citations because some of them are the collaborators and you can't afford to mess up with them.

5) All Experiments are Successful

Myth: Every experiment you do provide some significant data and gives a publication.

Reality: In research, only 10% of experiments give useful data and can be used further, the rest 90% of experiments are useless or just garbage (just see the picture below).

An NMR spectrum from my experiments just giving me a middle finger to analyse it

But as it is said, every failure is not a failure, it leads you to the right path, so keep going :)



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@Diksha Dhiman Thank you so much Diksha, I wish you very good luck for your rollercoaster Ph.D. life ;) :)


Diksha Dhiman

I have just enrolled in PhD,specialisation same as yours i.e Physical chemistry,I can totally relate to what you have written and learnt new things too.

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