Friday, July 27, 2007


Lunch today was... odd.

Approximately weekly, I go out to lunch with a few of the postdocs in my lab (other days I have lunch alone or with undergrads). Usually it's a rollicking good time, and the conversations are interesting to say the least. My understanding of French is getting much better listening to Eric and Damien talk. I think I might even try to speak myself sometime; but that may or may not be the best idea. Eric thinks I don't understand the French, so often he'll explain it to me again in English. It was amusing when he was arguing with the second Damien about whether or not he had been where he said he would be when they were supposed to run an experiment together. The argument basically went; "I was there!" "No, I was there!" "No, I was there!" back and forth. Except in French.

In any case, a couple things were brought up today at lunch that got me thinking. The first is a meeting that several of my labmates recently had with an editor of Nature Immunology. The woman spends all of her time reading manuscripts and talking to people about what awesome science they are doing. That sounds like an amazing job. I would love to do that, if I couldn't (or don't want to) spend my time doing science myself. I'm sure that there are days when you just have too much to do and you have to bring it home, I'm sure there are manuscripts that are so awful you can't get through them, and I'm positive there are times when all the words run together because you're so tired, but reading and reviewing scientific manuscripts in a topic I enjoy would be an awesome job. So even if I don't make it in the research track, maybe I can look into that. Before today I hadn't even really thought about that as a job, but of course we need people to do that.

(A diversion: "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts" is playing on Roger's computer. This song unfailingly reminds me of Peter Russo and Richard Schnieder (sp? I always confuse the order of is and es in German names) spinning on stools -- the studs on stools, as they called themselves. Which reminds me of Peter doing so in Ms. Dyas' Linear Algebra class. Ms. Dyas was wonderful in her dubious amazement.

If anyone reading this actually understands that (except Mango), well, I'd be surprised.

Anyway, the song ended. Now "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps" is playing. Which is less distracting. But Kristy says it's the theme song for Coupling, which I guess would be distracting if I watched that T.V. show.)

Back to the original point, another thing that was brought up a couple times was how important people skills are even in science. For example, the more editors of the more journals you know, the easier it is for your papers to get a serious look. Of course, editors are always accepting things from people they don't personally know, but if they know you they will probably look more closely at the paper. And on the other end, the reputation and quality of a journal depends directly on how many people know it and like it and read it -- which is sort of a tautology but implies that if you can get people to submit manuscripts to your journal because of a personal relationship, the journal does better. Of course a journal can't just publish the work of the friends of the editors, but those connections are still important. Anyone wanting to go into science to avoid politics will spend the rest of their lives closeted in a basement room calculating physical constants or something else boring; the exciting projects are done (and published) by people who are friendly and connected enough to find out about them and get them. Well, within a couple standard deviations.

I guess politics is slightly less important in science than it is in, say, the music industry, and there is a degree to which the data speaks for itself - if you do good work you get some rewards. But "Does good work but is a pain to be around" isn't really a stirring reccommendation, and even Francis Crick was in graduate school until something like his thirties because he couldn't get along with an advisor long enough to get out.

(It's all Cake all the time on the computer across the lab. It's kind of fun and kind of distracting.)

Finally, and maybe most interesting, is a thought that I had today based on a (very small) sampling of MD PhD prospectives. I had assumed, naively, that MD PhD folks were people who liked lab work and liked clinical work -- who wanted to do research in a lab and see patients as well, or who just wanted to do research in a lab, but thought that an MD would help them understand the bigger picture, understand the system better, or something.

I think maybe that I am wrong. I think that MD PhD people are, by and large, not actually interested in benchwork so much as they want to do clinical studies. And if they get caught in a real biology lab (as in really biology instead of medicine or something -- which isn't to say that medicine isn't real biology. Then again, maybe medicine is fake biology. You only care about part of the story) rather than a doctor's office or a drug testing lab or something, well, they aren't as happy.

Of course, my sample size is about two, so I can't draw any real conclusions from it, but Karen confirmed my suspicions that MD PhD folks aren't really into research as such, so that's something.

And if that was way too much stream-of-consciousness ramble for you, well, I understand.

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