December 19, 2010

Explaining nature to those who don't study it intensely.

An increasingly urgent and new job of practicing scientists (and not just our representatives who are journalists or the PR department of a university or professional society) is to explain our work to people in the general public who's money we use to further human knowledge. 

I can speak to the fact that it's hard when I get asked by family/friends "how are the plants?"...that's such a broad question and I struggle to explain how my research is going without getting the blank stare back. I understand this to some extent, they're not molecular biologists, don't tend to think of biological organisms as machines that are capable or adaptation and interact in a very dynamic way with their environment like us researchers do. I can also say it's the wrong question to ask- "What have you been doing?" strikes me as a better question to ask a scientist. Asked that way, I feel I can better explain some of the experiments I'm doing in terms that might be more understandable- though it does get complicated when explaining some of the tools I use in my work too.
But I guess when I get asked "how are the plants?" I'll do my best to explain what I've been up to in the lab (and perhaps tell some other stories from the literature that I  find fascinating). It's something we as scientists are going to have to get better at- our work is important- maybe not immediately, but in the long run, innovation and invention drive the economy and provide us with all the great products we enjoy in modern life.

December 12, 2010

Experimental failures.

I know that science is riddled with failed experiments, many of which are actually informative (and some great discoveries were made through "mistakes"), though mostly unpublishable. I take most experiments that don't seem to work out actually pretty hard- especially ones where it's hard to conclude much from except that I've messed up somehow. The pressure to make progress and get results is intense, not to mention the expensive nature of many experiments these days and the focus on the short term grant cycle vs. long term arcs that larger scientific stories and progress tend to take. I'm not sure how to deal with all of this very well. I can go back and try an experiment again of course, I can not be a hyper-perfectionist, and I am really working on trying to enjoy the process of science and rise above the stress of it all. All easier said than done, of course. I know science is of vital importance, but the practice of it is often highly psychologically stressful.

November 30, 2010


I just got back from Thanksgiving weekend at my parents. I spent 15 hours in a car on the way back and have been kind of out of it so far this week. I keep finding that it's hard to focus on lots of things at once, which is sort of required to work in a lab, but isn't good for my efficiency- I prefer one thing at a time that requires my full attention. I have been slowly getting organized and am generating things I need to do experiments, but the lab is a distracting environment to be in just now. Going to try and take a deep breath and plunge along. 

November 22, 2010

A few weeks later....

OK, so I've neglected my blog...cardinal rule 1 of blogging I hear is to keep posting consistently/changing content/keeping it interesting..let's see if I can make a habit of that. 

My last post was how I'm feeling about science as an industry in 2010 and the thoughts about it still cause me a great deal of stress. I have made some slow progress in my actual research after dealing with a setback of an insect infestation where we as a department had to throw out a lot of plants....but some progress, some good experiments designed at least, hopefully I can carry them out soon. So I guess I'm forging ahead despite the seemingly grim realities. I know a few experiments that are to come, but still have no idea about my longer future. 
Here's a short "This I believe" essay by Anthony Fauci (it has a lot of the reasons I like science in it), one of those "rock star" scientists- I find what he wrote interesting..especially that part about striving for excellence and having constant low grade anxiety (to be sure, mine seems ratcheted up more than his):

OK, signing off from postdoc street. Til next time.

October 6, 2010

modern science.

I've been thinking a lot lately about science, what it is and how it's practiced and whether I am a good fit for it or not. I feel like this generation of postdocs and grad students are in a tough situation where jobs in academia are hard to come by in a system that's saturated and jobs outside the academy don't immediately appeal to academics who've been wanting to do science since they were kids (at least that's the case with me). Most of the news I've seen about these topics is depressing, so it's hard to feel optimistic about the future which makes it harder to be motivated in the present. I'm slowly learning to broaden my perspective about my career, but it hasn't come easily. I still love science and by many measures, it's a great time for science, but it seems like it's harder and harder to be a scientist.

September 26, 2010

Blogging Experiment

My intention for this blog is as an experiment to document my experiences as a postdoc as well as some commentary on what it's like being a scientist in 2010. I'm hoping to have some fun with this as well as use it as an exercise in writing. So without further ado, I declare Postdoc St. open to traffic.