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Scientists: What are you thankful for?

Turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie have all become U.S. traditions for Thanksgiving. The holiday has also grown into a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for in our lives. But sometimes it can be hard to feel gratitude, especially if you’re struggling through a difficult point in your research or experiencing other career challenges. So, to offer some inspiration, we asked: When it comes to your work, what are you thankful for this year? The responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

This year, I’m thankful for all the free opportunities and resources that are offered for Ph.D. students by other scientists. I was able to attend a career symposium at the National Institutes of Health, listen to webinars through a number of professional societies, network on LinkedIn with people I’ve never even met, and have open access to the endless number of blogs written by fellow scientists. Choosing a career outside of academia is daunting, and not many academic advisers know much about the positions that exist or how to be competitive for them, so I guess I’m mostly thankful for postgraduates in nonacademic positions for sharing their knowledge!
- Alexandra Schober, doctoral student in neuroscience at Albany Medical College in New York

I’m thankful for my fellow labmates, who make me a better scientist, and a happier person, every day. Their support helps me persevere on those less than ideal days (or weeks) at the bench.
- Samantha Jones, doctoral student in biomedical sciences at the University of California, San Diego

For my research in climate science, I use a satellite to measure physical and optical properties of clouds with the view to further improve weather and climate models. I'm so grateful to the engineers, scientists, and funders who built not only the satellite I rely on, called OCO-2, but also other Earth observing satellites, which have taught us so much about clouds and have laid a great foundation so that we can now focus on exciting new information from OCO-2.
- Mark Richardson, postdoc at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

I am thankful for the ability to work on projects to enhance graduate education for students from all backgrounds.
- Kenneth Gibbs, Jr., program director in the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland

I started my tenure-track position in spring 2015 and now feel like I have hit quite a few new faculty milestones, including the first B.Sc. and M.Sc. students completing their research projects in our lab; my Ph.D. student passing his first-year review; my first last-author papers getting published; my lab members presenting their work at international conferences; and winning intramural funding for my research. I am thankful to all the people who have helped me and my research lab reach so many firsts: my group members, colleagues, collaborators, and mentors. And, of course, I’m thankful for my friends and family who have helped me keep some semblance of a work-life balance.
- Melanie Stefan, lecturer in biomedical sciences at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom

This year at the University of Washington, my fellow postdocs and I began to organize to form a postdoc union. I am thankful for the energy, hope, and optimism I have seen from my colleagues across campus, as well as for playing a role in something bigger than myself that will positively impact my university and, more broadly, careers in science. But the unionization campaign can be exhausting, so I have been thankful for the moments that remind me why I love science in the first place. This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Wyoming to see my first total solar eclipse. It was awe-inspiring and deeply moving. In fact, I met a lovely chemistry professor there who cried during totality. I was smitten. So, this year, I am also thankful to be spending Thanksgiving with her.
- Brian Weitzner, postdoc in biochemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle

The big one here is my promotion to professor! But I’m also thankful for good colleagues and supportive line management while I have managed some chronic illness. I am also thankful to those people who encouraged me to believe in myself and to go for things I would not have achieved otherwise.
- Kate Sang, professor of management at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom

I am incredibly thankful for the welcoming environments in which I’ve lived and worked as an openly gay scientist. Displays of togetherness like the March for Science and professional development groups for LGBTQIA individuals within many scientific societies affirm the commitment of scientists to embracing diversity and helping everyone feel like part of the greater scientific community. The love and support of my colleagues and friends has been invaluable as I continue my professional journey and strive to promote diversity and inclusion in all facets of my work.
- Geoffrey Heinzl, postdoc in chemistry at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland

It might seem a little controversial, but I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving—Canadian Thanksgiving in my case, but the same logic applies to American Thanksgiving—because it is a colonial holiday. My areas of expertise are ethnic and racial diversity, multiculturalism, and Indigeneity, and about 5 years ago I decided that I could no longer commemorate Thanksgiving in good faith. I guess I am thankful to be in a place in my career where I can say what I’m thinking.
- Rima Wilkes, professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver

I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, especially Ph.D. students in the social sciences and humanities and Ph.D. holders working outside academia. Getting outside of my lab bubble has empowered me to try new things and helped me clarify my values and interests. For example, I was inspired to participate in a 4-day workshop about public scholarship. Because of the workshop, I began to truly think about the roles and responsibilities of academia in communities. Since then, I'm helping to start a science advocacy group on campus in hopes of improving public trust in scientists and opening conversations between academic researchers and the local community.
- Sara Wong, doctoral student in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

This Thanksgiving, I am extremely grateful for my parents’ support through graduate school. As a first-generation student, the entire idea of graduate school is foreign to my family. And as the eldest child in my family, I often carried several family obligations, such as looking after my younger siblings. To go out-of-state for graduate school felt like the biggest betrayal I could have done to my family. However, my parents have always been proud of my accomplishments and encouraged me to pursue my dreams, despite not fully understanding what it is I do. I feel proud to say I am making their sacrifices count by pursuing my Ph.D. I could not have done it without my parents encouraging me to “écharle ganas”: keep pushing forward.
- Evelyn Valdez-Ward, doctoral student in ecology at the University of California, Irvine

I’m thankful for all the scientists, aspiring scientists, science enthusiasts, and critical thinkers who understand the importance of basic research. I’m thankful for the research subjects and animals involved in my current and past research, because they are the backbone of scientific advancement and deserve the utmost respect. I’m thankful for the technicians and managers who make my lab run smoothly and seem to have unending patience for me. I’m thankful to have colleagues and a boss who I can bounce unlimited scientific ideas off, and are honest and kind when those ideas are not as great as I think they are. I’m thankful to be in an environment where questioning the status quo is the status quo. Simply put, I’m thankful to be a scientist!
- Collin Diedrich, postdoc in microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania

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