I recently finished George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows, the fourth book of the Song of Ice and Fire series. The series tells the stories of the rises of falls of kings and queens vying for rule of The Seven Kingdoms, the ensuing wars, a dark ancient threat at the edge of the realm, and the men fighting to protect the lands that have all but forgotten them. Each chapter focusing on tells character’s point of view, and there are many of them. Each book has taken on epic proportions. At the conclusion of the fourth novel, Martin explains that as he was writing, he realized the book had grown far too large for a single volume. He decided instead to split the volume, publishing the tale of some characters in A Feast for Crows and saving the rest for A Dance with Dragons. The afterword was dated June 2005, and Martin hoped to have the fifth volume out within the next year. I laughed when I read it, as I knew A Dance with Dragons was not released until early 2011.
Of course, life has a tendency of running amok amongst our plans and making us wait for things longer than we intended. This is true even in–or perhaps especially in–scientific careers. The experiments you propose to your thesis committee take twice as long as you think. You’re sure you will be able finish your Ph.D. in 4 years, no problem; it takes six. You’re certain that manuscript is almost ready to go; it’s finally published 2 years later… Rarely does research less time than expected. You’re waiting on other people or administrative clearances. Instruments break. You get ‘sidetracked’ by unexpected findings or other projects. Established techniques stop working, animal models aren’t consistent with previous work, or cell lines aren’t surviving, and you spend weeks or months troubleshooting, getting the system back to where it was so you can move forward at last. The reviewers want those additional experiments. Whatever the cause, your plans take longer than you think.
Yes, …its true your plans take longer than you think to achieve. But I also suspect that today’s economic climate makes it even harder to get to these goals achieved.
Perhaps so but I think it’s important for young scientists to realize that even if your lab is rolling in money, it doesn’t always mean things will happen quickly.