The growing years in school (by school I mean the Indian terminology of school, inclusive of years one through 12) entailed mugging up the ubiquitous line in a Biology textbook - 'Cells are the building blocks of life.'
Little did I know then that I would understand the real meaning of 'building blocks' many years later, sitting in a peptide synthesis facility, manually building the blocks towards the generation of a PEPTIDE - a short sequence of amino acids (structures made of atoms containing C, N, O and a few other atoms), which is a tiny part of a PROTEIN, which is one of the million tiny molecules present inside this so called 'building block of life', the CELL.
Wow, I just made endless nights of sitting and carrying out this synthesis seem as tiny as a millionth of the size of a single molecule dilution sample! Or in other words, insignificant. Well, if you want to be scientifically correct, I might actually be synthesizing the cure to the deadliest disease in the world, or in my realistic case, the reason to figure out how bacteria divide. But this escapade of 3 days and 2 nights of slogging and making sure every reagent is added in the right sequence, will ultimately be hardly mentioned in one tiny line in the supplementary methods figure legend of an insignificant paper!
And to top it up, when you are successfully able to synthesize a few supposedly difficult peptide sequences following days of literature survey, brainwaves and trials, feel like you have achieved something, and think you love synthesizing peptides and start feeling like you are one step closer to calling yourself an expert at it, a Harvard professor throws your sentiments into the nearest trash dump by saying - "but machines can do that too!!". Which, in a nutshell would describe how you would feel after converting 6-7 years of slogging into a 6-7 chapter thesis which no one would read, and proudly call yourself 'Dr. XYZ - a Robot with a PhD'!
Sigh...such is the sinusoidal state of mind of a poor grad student. Poor literally AND figuratively! But I guess at the end of the day, when I see the degree certificate of a senior grad student awarded the Doctor of Philosophy title, something pushes me from within and says - go on...you truly are synthesizing the building blocks of life, of YOUR life...