Monday, June 15, 2009

change of heart

Very recently I made a decision about my future. For quite some time I have been seriously planning on leaving the bench upon completion of the phd and seeking a job as an editor. I do, afterall, love to edit. However I came to the conclusion that I am not ready to leave experimental research, because I suddenly remembered why it was I started to do research in the first place.

When I first embarked on the journey of becoming a scientist I was driven by vague notions of brining dinosaurs back to life and making photosynthetic people (giving people the ability to make food from sunlight, like plants). However I became disillusioned by the petty things: competitiveness, secrecy, false or inaccurate data in publications, incomplete methods, waste and seeming pointessness, because one scientist can only do so much. And yet science moves forward in leaps and bounds. Cooperation and collaboration are widespread, sought out, incouraged and generally productive. I was blinded to all that by some setbacks I had in my own research.

What changed? I went to see the Star Trek movie. Let me backtrak here and say thay Star Trek TNG was one of the first tv shows I watched (and was able to understand) in the US. I was instantly in love with it. Exploring the vast unknowns in space: what could be better? I particularly like the concept of discovering something noone else has seen or experienced before. I was therefore drawn to science, biology in partcular becuase there is so much yet to be learned; it seemed certain that I would be the first to discover something. My expectations were high, I don't know what I wanted to discover, but something BIG, and as years passed I didn't see that happening. What I completely missed was that scientists make new discoveries all the time. They are often very small, tiny bits of the puzzle and often puzzling themselves, but they are completely new nonetheless. Over time the smal bits accumulate to reveal a whole picture. I missed that at first and really didn't see the wonder of what I do anymore. Seeing the Star Trek movie made me realize that what I do everyday, most people mght regard as science fiction. Cloning genes, making fish cells glow, manipulating enzymes in test tubes to cut and paste pieces of DNA together in exactly the way I predict based on sequence I see on a computer is amazing. I am a trained biologist, I can do and have done a great many interesting and new things. Sure I haven't made the BIG discovery, but if I leave research I never will. I will not give up now, not after I have come so far. I will continue on the path of a research scientist and see where it leads me. In the foreseeable future it is leading me to Japan. I am embaking on a postdoc search in Tokyo. This is exciting and scary. WIll I be able to function as a scientst when I don't speak the languge? Will they even reply to my emails? Only one way to find out. Full speed ahead.

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