Once Upon a Time,
I went to graduate school. I went to my first choice school and got into my first choice lab working under a famous and powerful scientist. I got the fellowships I applied for and passed everything with honors and had everything I wanted.
I also learned a lot about the life of a research scientist. I learned about the practical things: getting tenure, writing papers and grants and responding to reviewers when they send your papers and grants back to you, funding, and giving seminars. I learned about this "flexible" schedule that everyone talks about, but that only exists for people well into their career. I learned that word flexible is relative. I learned about the politics ruling over all of the aforementioned practicalities and about the big-business world of who you know, who you publish with, and who you drink wine with at meetings. I learned that meeting truly amazing scientists can be inspiring, but that being a truly amazing scientist is not necessarily the same as being a tremendously successful scientist.
You know what? Nothing was really that different than what I had encountered as an undergrad--it was just on a bigger scale, with greater gains and losses, in a more "famous" setting.
Although there were parts of it I loved, just like in my undergraduate days, I still felt restless. I still felt that I was not using all of my skills and that I was not being positively reinforced enough to be "happy". The parts of science that I loved were not necessarily the parts that would make up my life when I became a research scientist.
I also felt that I did not really like the environment, just like those days when I avoided the biology building. I liked parts of the experience, especially sitting around in seminars or coffee houses and discussing theories and new findings and ideas. I just didn't feel like I was in my niche--and we all know what happens to animals who fall out of their niche (they usually get eaten or die of malnutrition).
And that's where I found myself on the day that I asked you all, "what motivates you to do what you do?".