I've been out of the research labs for over two months now, and you know what I miss the most? No, not the safety meetings (hah!) or the smell of the solvents - what I miss is getting fresh data on experiments. Waiting for results on something crucial is hard to take, but it's also exciting, and there's nothing I've found outside of science that compares.
I've sat at my desk holding a warm printout from an LC/MS, or with a newly arrived e-mail from the biologists, and I swear, I've closed my eyes for a moment before I've looked at them. That's the last moment of not knowing; after that you're living in the new world that the experiment made. I don't know what I'd do with a job that didn't have that feeling in it, and honestly, that's one reason I'm still looking.
It occurs at all sorts of levels - checking the NMR to see if your reaction worked or not, waiting for the PK results to see if your idea raised the blood levels, holding your breath when the compound goes into two-week tox testing. And beyond that things get really terrifying, when human data start coming in from the clinic.
Ask Vertex. I wrote here about their antiviral compound (telaprevir, VX-950) for hepatitis. It's a huge market that really needs a better drug, and a lot of people have taken swings at it. Well, on Saturday night in Barcelona, the company is presenting their latest clinical data, and investors are checking their heart rates. The drug's success would be the biggest event in the history of the company (and a huge advance in hepatitis therapy), and failure (the antiviral norm, unfortunately) would be very, very hard to take.
The company's top clinicians already know the answer, of course, because a person's got to have time to make slides. They've had the experience I was talking about, on a scale that few people have ever felt. You click a button, turn a page, and the future writes itself out there in front of you. . .