|There's always the gutter|
The issue I run into concerns the impact this work has on society. I consider basic research very important (certainly I'm bias, but there's an unbias argument for it), but I have difficulty motivating my myself to action when I feel the questions I'm asking and answering have grown increasingly confined to a narrow slice of scientific inquiry. Furthermore, I have increasingly wondered about the relative importance of uncovering new knowledge to solve problems, versus applying existing knowledge. For researchers purely in basic science, the point is to find something new and understand what's not currently understood. I've discovered knowledge for the sake of knowledge quickly grows unsatisfying. Without the context of having it somehow assist society, as altruistic as that sounds, I'm left to wonder what's the point? Attempting to apply this knowledge to make money strikes me as an even less interesting pursuit, although succeeding in this regard certainly has its fringe benefits.
So that's where I am, walking a path I have difficulty finding internal motivation to continue down, with the typical career trajectories of academia or industry not providing external motivation. Not exactly the most hopeful of situations, but not entirely bleak. For starters, I am highly educated (some would say overly so) and that education has largely focused on problem solving. Sure, the topics actually had names like Thermodynamics, Kinetics and Heat Transfer, but the concepts apply to essentially any situation: indentify and isolate the problem, consider the resources and information available, determine the best approach based on the desired criteria. Furthermore, I have proven capable of working with a variety of people and teams, leading groups (still learning!) and independently generating ideas. Thus it would appear that the key to my future is finding the right thing on which to focus my efforts and stop holding myself back.