Saturday, August 1, 2009


A few days ago I was thinking about my lack of productivity this week, largely attributable to attending cool science talks but also failed controls in experiments and meetings with Guru and collaborators (why the hell can't a meeting take less than 2 hrs in this friggin' place?).

After some reflection, though, I realized that it was a very productive week-just not the sort of productivity that generates data... and probably not the sort that Guru particularly cares about... but the sort that is important to me, that provides perspective, affirmation, and evidence that I'm growing as a scientist, not just a lab rat. Following are some examples of what I mean.
When not training the minion or figuring out why his stuff isn't working, a good chunk of my summer has been spent with my head down, nose to the grindstone, trying to crank out data (a) to demonstrate that project 1 is indeed viable and interesting and (b) to have what is hopefully sufficient preliminary data for the fall/winter fellowship proposal season. Being summer, there have been very few seminars to provide even an hour reprieve from my intense focus. So the time that I took last weekend and 1.5 days during the week to listen to some truly fantastic talks about really interesting science was the perfect opportunity to come up for some air and be reinvigorated about science. There was some serious endorphin release, which was just what I needed.
I took the initiative and connected with a PI whose lab is developing reagents with application to my project. It took a little time to build up my courage, but two years ago, I never would have done it.
A conversation I had with a senior investigator at the conference did cause me to reevaluate my vision of where I see myself in a few years. Don't get the wrong impression: The only way I will not have an independent research career/lab is if you pry it out of my cold, dead hands. (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I think it adequately portrays my level of passion and commitment to this goal). However, I have been single-mindedly focused on establishing that career at an R1 university. I had never considered non-industry, non-academic research settings, like Janelia Farms, NIH, or Cold Spring Harbor. I realized over the past few years that I am not particularly committed or passionate about teaching. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, but I prefer the thrills of discovery (even small ones) to the 'joy' of teaching. I haven't even taught a lab section since my last year of my BS, and I haven't particularly missed it*. By comparison to academe, there are fewer positions available by virtue of the size and number of these types of non-profit research institutes. Yet it opens up another possible avenue for my future career.

* This is solely a personal feeling and is not intended to reflect a general attitude toward teaching. If it weren't for great profs at the undergraduate and graduate level, I would not be where I am, doing what I'm doing, striving toward my goal.

1 comment:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

If classroom teaching doesn't excite you, faculty positions in medical schools are also much lighter on the classroom teaching than in Arts & Sciences departments.