Tuesday, September 06, 2005

An Old Topic

So a while back we had a ferocious discussion going here about whether we do our best work while we're young.

I'm going to say again, yes I think so.

And this is in part in response to a comment from someone who agreed that it's pretty sad that I mostly only want to do actual work for about 2 hours a day lately. There are plenty of work and career-related things that eat up my time during the day and technically count as part of my job, like answering questions for people, finding and reading papers in my field, emailing with collaborators, sending out application packages, etc. But actually working on my grant, for example, I'm better at the long view. I tend to do large projects in little bits over months, rather than in a huge crunch the 2 weeks before it's due. So 2 hours a day is about all I can muster. That is the experimentally measured length of my attention span (without coffee... haven't really tested it in the presence of coffee).

But I felt vindicated because I saw a couple of friends at this meeting recently. We all went to grad school together and we were all very hard workers. They were the first people I've met who said that, much as we all like bench work, we're ~ 30 years old and we're tired of it. We've had some technical help recently and have come to appreciate that it's just as fun, or even more fun, to supervise someone than to do it ourselves.

So does that mean our contributions to science are over? Who knows. But we won't be creative in the same ways, I'm sure. Since my most recent student left, I realized that for the stuff I'm doing now, I tend to change my mind a lot as I go along. As I'm pipetting out the samples, I often think of extra controls or fun little side things I could throw in, for not that much extra work. If I stay at my desk and someone else does the pipetting, will I ever think of those things?

But I'd still rather be directing research than working at the bench. I'm tired of hunting for things since our lab moved. I realized today that I've worked in 5 different lab spaces in the last 5 years, and no wonder I'm so tired of hunting for things! I love to daydream about my fictional lab space in the sky, where I will have ordered everything and put it all away myself. At least at the beginning when I actually will be doing some bench work myself, I will know exactly where everything is. Assuming I can remember where I put it.

2 Comments:

At 10:10 AM, Blogger utenzi said...

Good topic. I think your youthful creativity is better utilized in supervising and writing than doing wetwork. This is where you really make a difference to science. However you're quite correct in realizing that as soon as you move away from the bench you'll lose some perspective. Best of luck!

 
At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Suzanne E. Franks said...

It may be true that you do your best bench research when you are young...but that doesn't mean you do your best of any other type of work when you are young. I have been around for (a little) while, long enough to have done several different things...and I have done each of them extremely well, contributed something important in each role (if I do say so myself). You don't know what paths your career will take you down...how your career will evolve. Research may not always be the primary way in which you contribute to science and to mentoring young scientists. There are many, many other ways. And, many other kinds of things to do with your career and yourself!

 

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