June 19, 2011

No guts, no glory.

I give my first college level lecture tomorrow. I'm going to try and put into practice a lot of the teaching/communication techniques and ideas (active learning, personalizing communication with the audience, etc. etc.). I spent some time on the lecture and going through the slides and hopefully I'm not going to be guilty of Powerpoint abuse. I'll do some things on the white board, I'll get participation from the students and hopefully engage them. Of course, I need to make sure I can maintain and make eye contact. I hope it'll come naturally as I just feel confident in what I'm saying and doing. Not looking people in the eye is a bad habit I've been trying to break for a very long time. While I'm going for it in class, I'm trying to do a similar thing in lab and with my career. At least I'm not as inhibited as I have been in the past. So no guts, no glory. Let's go.

June 10, 2011

I don't know.

I don't know how to program a computer. I don't know math as well as I should. I don't speak another language. I don't know a lot. I apparently lack everything needed to succeed in the 21st century in science according to several prominent scientists I've heard speak over the last few years as well as read in various articles/blogs. I suppose, like most people, I'm going to work hard and do my best to get by. It's a little discouraging to keep hearing "molecular biology is over", "only do applied science", "model organisms? Those won't be funded any more", "If you're not doing systems biology, you can't succeed" etc. I know the world's full of these challenges and I'm trying to stay positive about my prospects. At the same time, I've been delaying any sort of gratification- sacrificing a fair bit (life, for instance- what's a weekend? I am not familiar with the concept) to do science. The one good argument for keeping the tenure system around is that scientists have toiled so long and hard, dealt with rejection after rejection after rejection with few positives (when achievements come, it's like they don't matter, you're onto the next thing already and can't take a moment to appreciate them) that when tenure is achieved (seems like a virtual impossibility for me right now), we've earned a break. That doesn't mean I'd get lazy exactly, but certainly things need to get less intense at some point. I know I've said it before but I'll say it again. Science is amazing. The business of science is BRUTAL. I've stopped beating myself up so much for the times I screw up in the lab (everyone does), I am relaxing a bit more and I think it's keeping me more motivated to keep working. But I am still not sure what direction my career is going to take and that's scary to me right now. It's hard for me to see a direction or goal I'm working toward. I guess the best thing I can do is keep learning, trying and never stop exploring. But I don't know.

June 5, 2011

What they think.

One theme I read a few things about today is about what other people will think. This has been a constant struggle for me in my life. It is almost certainly an outgrowth of perfectionism, a trait I think I share with many scientists. I read Anna Quindlen's 1999 commencement speech about putting down the bag of bricks that is trying to live up to what everyone else expects of you. That is a good message for me to hear and it's a change in perspective I am trying to bring to my life. I still care, but I care less about what abstract people who I don't even know might think. So far, the world hasn't ended and I seem to be freer to pursue things that want to because they're people, issues and work I care about. I'm not perfect, but I'm doing the best I can and finally trying to be an actual human being in all my complexity.

June 1, 2011

Basic science doing good.

I saw this article from the Huffington Post posted on lifehacker today and though the content is really interesting and good; Who doesn't want to reduce stress at work? I could definitely stand to stop my stress loops in their tracks more often. I'm a lot better at it than I used to be, but it's still a challenge. Another thing that struck me was just how much basic science went into informing this story. The questions that had to be asked, and answered about human evolution, how the body responds to stress, where we feel stress, that there's a specific part of the brain in charge of the fear/anxiety response and many more. I'm sure it took years to build up that knowledge base, and yet more years to understand the detrimental effects of chronic stress on our bodies and minds- something we didn't necessarily evolve to deal with. None of these questions on their own form a complete picture, but taken together they bring a more complete picture into focus. I'm sure most of the scientists had a vague notion about how their work would help complete the picture of what it is to be human, but probably didn't have Mr. Robinson's complete argument in mind- they just knew stress seemed like it could be a problem and one with interesting biology behind it. My point is that basic (or foundational) research with seemingly no point, starting as a drop of water, can turn into a river when combined with other drops. That's why exploring seemingly arcane hypotheses that are narrowly focused is important for progress in any field. All those basic research discoveries in chemistry, physics and computer science are what's allowing me to type this post in fact. Don't get me wrong, applied research is great too, but only doing applied research is limiting, as is only doing foundational research.