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I love computational materials science. I was an experimentalist and involved in some Computational work during my masters degree. I did not not enjoy the experimental part. I did not enjoy the lab politics, the dependency on others. Also, I did not enjoy the significance of the work I was doing. Most of the time, it was just reporting the experimental data without trying hard to find a theoretical reasoning.

On the other hand, I was fascinated by computational research. The only limitation was I myself. Implementation of ideas, thinking about the fundamental physics that's occuring, and getting to theoretically predict the results was exciting. Thus, I was extremely determined to do a PhD in computational aspect of materials science for this particular reason.

Fast forward 4 years, I am done with my PhD. And I have published some papers on my research area. However, I did not do anything substantial during my PhD. I did not get any awards, nor my research got any media coverage, applying for grants with my advisor was always a nightmare. Contrarily, my colleagues who work on experimental aspect of the research, find it much easier to publish, gets multiple awards, easily gets grants approved, have media coverage for every "groundbreaking" stuff they develop.

Now that I have completed my PhD, I sort of envy the experimentalists and regret not being one. I feel that being average in computational materials science is disasterous as compared to being average in experimental research. I feel that I made a wrong choice 4 years ago when I decided to apply for a computational PhD than an experimental one.

My question is: How does one know that the field of research they are in is the best fit for them ? And how to be content with one own's research field and not feel resentment that probably I am not a good fit for this field?

  • Do you enjoy doing the actual research? – Anyon Jul 11 at 12:39
  • Yes, I do. But, I feel dissatisfied with the quality of work I can manage. There are researchers who are leaps and bounds ahead in their Research. I will never able to match them. While, Research in experimentation is more about the resources one has. Even a mediocre experimental research receives more attention than a theoretical work. – Doubito Jul 11 at 12:49
  • Well, for the comparisons to others in your field, please see How do you come to terms with the fact that you might never be among the best in your research community? For your comparison with your experimental colleagues the saying about how the grass is always greener on the other side comes to mind, but sure, there's always the reality that some topics and approaches are hotter than others. – Anyon Jul 11 at 12:56
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"I love computational materials science." End of discussion.

If you can do what you love you can have a marvelous life. If you can't do what you love you will have a harder time.

But, with time, hard work, and experience you will likely improve. There will always be people better than you at whatever you do. Don't worry about it. Don't envy them. But try to form collaborative relationships that might, in time, let you work with some of the superstars.

As to your colleagues who seem to have an easier time: they may feel quite differently.

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Well, in my opinion, there is an element of chance to getting awards, grants, and recognition. Even citations have a bit of chance to them. Every now and then, a researcher will hit a lottery paper early in their career. They are working on the right problem at the right time. On the other hand, the field you work in might catch fire. Those researchers working on neural networks prior to 2010 were largely making contributions in a relatively thankless field. How that has changed.

I had a mentor put it to me very succinctly- Any given decent paper has a chance of being noticed by the wider community. Do enough decent work and you will be noticed.

But from personal experience-

I know the field I work in is the field for me because I gain a large amount of satisfaction from it. I enjoy writing papers and submitting them to journals. I enjoy reviewing manuscripts from those journals. I enjoy going to conferences and talking with other researchers in the field. I enjoy thinking about problems in my field. I enjoy talking with practitioners and policy makers about those problems and possible solutions as well.

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