A topic that I feel is amazingly underrepresented in modern psychology. Poets and artists have the luxury of creative depression. They can languish. They can complain about the unfeeling world. They can be neglected and ignored. They can be misunderstood or not understood at all. They can glamorously cut their ears off. The can go into a decline and die gloriously in penury on the streets. Monuments will be built for them. Their art will be feted. Their tortured souls extolled. But scientists! It's a whole, different story, and a very sad one.
Can you imagine Einstein having torments of agony trying to explain relativity to uncaring citizens? If he explained the theory to a grad student, and the grad student (poor chappie) had no clue what the great physicist was talking about, the said g.p would 1. be totally oblivious that the grad student had not understood it (mainly because grad students early in their career, as toddlers even, learn the art of nodding and looking alertly attentive - its an art form really) 2. assume that the grad student has no clue what gravity is in the first place, never mind a grand unifying theory and therefore be truly unperturbed by the grad student's lack of comprehension (in fact Albie might have had a fainting fit if the grad student had immediately understood the magnificence of the theory and asked pertinent questions) 3. not only ignore all signs of incomprehension on part of g.s but also reel out a series of experiments that have to be completed by the end of the week, to be included in a grant proprosal, to be written up and submitted on his desk by day after tomorrow.
It is indeed the sad lot of us scientists that we have to stuggle on with eternal cheer and optimism, explaining theories that people actually care about and which make a difference to the world at large. Not for us the incomprehensible squiggles on a large white canvas that will then be misinterpreted continuously for the next eight centuries by pompous art critics (in fact any incomprehensible squiggle will be called into question by the Thesis Committee and investigated to an inch of its life *sigh*). Nor the communion with stars in the bareness of space enclosed by four walls (mainly because it is of course logically impossible to commune with stars in the presence or absence of bare space), the blinding life-changing truths revealed by the inner soul and accepted as gospel (cos of course the blinding epiphany has to be subjected to *some* sort of experimentation -preferably in triplicate- before any conclusion can be safely reached, let's not even get into the number of reviewers who have to pass it before it can come close to publication), or even the comfort of estrangement from kith, kin and the world at large (for one, any Indian family would be unbearably proud of having a child who's a scientist-which of course is why there are no geeks in India- and for another, there are always other grad students grubbing for free food, snotty PIs shadowing your every move, warring post-docs each wanting a share of the pie, I mean it's a whole different world inside a lab, believe me! And a very crowded one, full of opinionated, arrogant, extremely intelligent people). Since all the respectable avenues for depression and a cheerless existence have thereby been removed from the average scientist's grasp, there is no choice but to be happy.
Imagine this scenario. A bunch of cancer cells arrive in the lab, the cells are plated, diluted and squinted at under the microscope. Now, if you were a poet or an artist, it would have been the work of a moment to picture the exceptionally brilliant, popular, 18 year old cheerleader who is right at this instant lying pallid and comatose on a hospital bed, waiting to hear news that could well be a death knell, depending on strangers to decide if she will live or die. This could lead to the creation of an epic poem, a masterpiece on the uncertainty of life etc etc. But since (for all events and purposes) you're a grad student, the conversation you'll have will be along these lines:
Grad Student 1: Wonder which patient these cells came from. Life can be so uncertain. One moment you're alive and the next minute you're dying of some genetic mutation that you might or might not have inherited from you great grand mother on your father's side. It makes you thi-
Grad Student 2 (with great excitement): Dya see that knob like thing on the left hand side corner of the field. Doesn't that look like aneuploidy? Man!! These chromosomes are so screwed up!! This is just perfect!! It completely proves our hypothesis.
Grad Student 1 (galvanised into action and elbowing GS1 out of the way): OMG! You could be right!!! But wait, though there's a knob-like thing there, look at the right hand side corner where you will see.......
See, what odds we have to struggle against? This whole week I've been struggling to stay depressed, but I've realised that inspite of the complete lack of sun over the past week, the cheerless grey skies, the incessant rain, the lack of any results from my various experiments, the having to work overtime, the fact that I didn't get some news about something that I was hoping to get news about, inspite of all this, I cannot keep up the depression. Science is a killer that way. I give up!
Update: I know that someone's going to point out that Einstein had what could be considered as a nervous breakdown during his career, so I counter that by saying it was complicated by a bilious stomach!! How can you romanitcize a nervous breakdown when it's accompanied by a stomachache????!!!!