Saturday, April 15, 2006

Got something off my desk!

Whoo hoo! I actually finished something on my long list of stressful things I needed to get done.

One down, at least two big ones to go. I've always been a sucker for checking things off the to-do list.

To the asshole who wrote me most recently to say that I should leave because Science Will Go On Without Me,

You said I'm not Einstein so who cares if I leave? One of the benefits of anonymity is that you don't know anything about my research. I find it interesting that you assume I'm replaceable. What if I'm not?

I was talking with someone recently about innovation. We were saying it's too bad there isn't an easy way to search Pubmed or Google to see how many projects got dropped because the funding ran out, somebody died, the project exceeded the currently technology, or somebody just quit and no one followed up on it. How many times have you read a paper from say, five or ten years ago, and looked to see what happened next? Only to find that nobody has published anything on it since?

What if nobody publishes anything else on it in your lifetime? Do you go do that research yourself? Or does the lack of that information push your research in another direction?

There are plenty of examples of stories in science that got dropped for say, 30 years, and then picked back up again. Or 100 years.

One of the only things that keeps me in science is knowing- not wondering in the slightest, actually- that my project is something that I can do now, and that science will be better off than if I left.

Here's an interesting story: They found Darwin's copy of the journal that Mendel's original pea-pod paper was published in. Guess which ones Darwin had read? All but Mendel's. Now guess how much farther along science would have been if he had. About 50 years. If the right person isn't there to make the connection, the idea doesn't go away, it just waits. Eventually, if it's the truth, the data will lead back to it.

What you don't realize is, I don't think I'm all that unusual. I'm just more vocal. Who knows what contributions my friends would have made if they had enjoyed the day-to-day of being scientists, if all the sexism and money stress were not factors in their lives?

The world will never know.

I write this blog because I believe everybody has something to contribute. I'm not saying you should care about me. I'm just trying to get you to THINK. About all those people out there, toiling away with little compensation. Most non-scientists have no idea what we do all day.

Unfortunately we don't have the funding to support everyone, so from time to time I make controversial suggestions about what we could do to get the system unclogged. And from time to time, like everyone who reads this blog, I think about quitting. Not because I think what I'm doing is pointless in the grand scheme of things. That was never an issue. I worry about real-life issues like owning a house someday, and I worry whether anybody alive today actually reads the papers I publish (besides the reviewers who trash them). I don't want to be an Emily Dickinson or a Gregor Mendel if I can help it! Everybody in science worries about these things.... don't they? If not, maybe they should.

Einstein was unusually lucky to receive kudos for his work during his lifetime. I'm neither as pithy as Einstein, nor as mathematically inclined. But from what I can tell, neither are you.

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At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo YFS ...

All great scientific advancements have occured because a lot of hard work by many others produced a crumb trail which allowed somebody to piece together things in a way that wasn't obvious before.

Sir Isaac Newton said it best, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants."

So my work might not be Einstein's, Mendel's, Newton's, or Darwin's ... that isn't the point anyway -- I don't do this to be famous. My work might one day be bless by public perception ... but in the meantime I'm content to know that I'm providing quality crumbs on which the progress of science feeds.

As another 30 something female postdoc in the biomedical sciences, I have enjoyed your posts, related to many of your situations, and understood (even if not always agreed) with your perspective.

Keep up the good work!

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. You are fucking lame, just like most science graduate students. Obviously you do not like what you do anymore, but are "stuck" in your current situation because it's all you know (academics). Maybe you have also come to the realization that most, but certainly not all, PhD scientists are labor and nothing more in this system. And they deserve to be nothing more than labor because they have such narrow intellects. Most of them avoid thinking about anything that can't be proved with a laboratory experiment. And you seem to romanticize this pathetic life thru a website or blog or whatever it's called. Try to think of something entreprenorial to do, do it, and quit bitching. And by the way, there is something called cost/benefit analysis which means that not all scientific research is justifed, because sometimes the money could be put to better use.

-- I'm a PhD Organic Chemist who should have stopped at a Master's and went to law school because the last 3 years of grad school were 90% labor and 10% learning. And furthermore, it seems like the PhD with a 110 IQ will always be hired before the M.S. with a 145 IQ because of the weird science culture, so we end up staying in school to long . Science is almost like as cult to some of these weirdos, and they shun those who do not conform. They also seem to think that looking different makes them nonconformists, but in reality they are just "part of the herd of independent thinkers", as I suppose you are.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Dr. Shellie said...

I used to think that I should stay in science because there aren't many women in my field. By staying, I could be a role model for others. Well, I no longer see it in terms of this (or any other) obligation. You do not owe it to science to contribute your knowledge. You owe it to yourself to choose a path that you are satisfied with-- this could mean continuing the path that you are on, or looking for something you would find more satisfying (whether intellectually, or in terms of money, status, prestige... whatever you value most).

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a graduating senior contemplating graduate school in the biological sciences after a year or two off, I feel blessed to have wandered across this blog. Keep writing. Everybody.

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can there be "research that is not justified?" And what is "better use?" Does this imply that as scientists, our natural drive to understand the natural world is guided solely by where the money comes from? Isn't science just a formal way to ask questions about reality? Clearly research is guided by funding, but this does not meant that you can look at only what was in the proposal.

Anon (the first one), you clearly have some animosity towards the field. Sure, organic chemistry is not a high paying field, and it is hard to make a name for yourself in it. Since you feel you should have bailed with a masters, you surely understand this. In all honesty though, what did you expect? You only have yourself to blame for your situation.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all, thanks for making this blog.

second of all, I think you are *very* delusional if you think: 1) you can't be replaced 2) your research is that important, it stands above a lot of other research.

If your research was *so* important, you'd publish in high impact factor journals. And, if you were remarkable scientist, you'd be hired in tenure-track by now...

so remind me again why you are not replaceable?

At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Anon. #3

First, I am quite happy with my situation. I didn't mean to imply I was not. I was simply stating some realites that scientists are afraid to discuss or even admit to themselves. And as I read my first post I understand that it seems a bit angry, but what I was really trying to get thru to the author of this blog and others like her that this childish whining is stupid.
Now about reseach not being justified.
This topic has a lot to do with probability. There are ways to identify which reseach is more LIKELY to bring fruitful results even if the specific aim is not accomplished. A lot of this has to do with who is doing the reseach (and that is a whole other topic). The point is that intellegent resource allocation must take place, and you seem to have conviently missed this point so you can talk about rhetorical questions and let everybody know what a fruitcake you are.

At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Dr. Shellie said...

To Anonymous: why are you so critical of scientists? And why do you assume that the writer of this blog is not a successful scientist? You mentioned "high-impact journals," but have you seen her CV? Do you know enough about her field to know what the "normal" length of a postdoc is?

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Here's an interesting story..."

This story is almost certainly apocryphal. The smallest amount of online research - Google Darwin and Mendel together - reveals the unlikelihood of the anecdote (eg,

Besides that, Darwin may not have made anything out of Mendel's results. Just because the connections are clear in retrospect now that their results are dogma doesn't mean it would have been apparent to Darwin.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Author of the blog, why do you say you don't want kids? Are you hetrosexual? I bet if you had a good sex life this blog would be much different. You need to loosen up and not take life so seriously !

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YFS, I enjoy your blog eventhough I frequently disagree with your views. Keep it going!!

My question: Why is it that scientists are so egotistical that they believe that they are irreplaceable and no one else can do their research? I recently applied for faculty positions at multiple schools. Almost invariably, each position had more than 80 applicants. So by stating, "I'm irreplaceable" you are implying that you are ideas, technical skills, and project exection are orders of magnitude better than your peers. Am I right? That statement seems ludicrous and sould only apply to scientists whose ideas revolutionize SCIENCE like Newton, Darwin, Einstein.

Come on scientists. We know you are smart but you cannot ALL be Einstein smart. Deal with it.

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I agree. However, the fork and spoon debate needs to expored further. I propose that they are unrelated, at least not in the same family, or phylum or whatever you people call it. The spoon is related to the cup and bowl. The fork comes from a rigid pointy stick. They evolved thru completely independent pathways and from totally differnt ancestors.

At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You and Your Research -- Richard Hamming, Talk at Bellcore, 7 March 1986

Long, but worth reading, and certainly relevant to the post and some of the comments.

Here's a quote from near the beginning:

"I have to get you to drop modesty and say to yourself, ``Yes, I would like to do first-class work.'' Our society frowns on people who set out to do really good work. You're not supposed to; luck is supposed to descend on you and you do great things by chance. Well, that's a kind of dumb thing to say. I say, why shouldn't you set out to do something significant. You don't have to tell other people, but shouldn't you say to yourself, ``Yes, I would like to do something significant.''"

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Joolya said...

Wow, Anonymous Numero Uno is a very bitter person. So is the Anon who responded to that Anon.

Everyone is "replaceable" and everyone is a unique snowflake ... some are just more useful snowflakes than others. You know how whenever someone writes a breakthrough paper, it just so happens that another group on the other side of the world is in the process of writing a very similar paper? That's just life: if you have thought of something, based on the knowledge available to the world at the time, chances are that someone else thought of it, too.

But so what? If we got all tragedy of the commons (someone else is going to do this experiment, so there's no point in me doing it) nothing would ever get done. Or it would get done by a very small number of people and would take ages to confirm because there weren't six other labs all doing similar experiments.

Finally, I'd like to put out a call to the bitter, snarky Anons out there who diss people from their cloaks of anonymity. Have the balls to troll with an identity, or shut the hell up and stop being annoying.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't posted yet, but this last comment, about "having the balls to troll with an identity"... is just laughable..

please.. as if anyone who uses a nickname has bigger balls than those who don't... you're still anonymous you flake!!

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Mia said...

I have never heard of someone who has so much time in their hand that they have to go to other people's blog and say things that are both mean and stupid. I am not going to debate your point with you, because obviously, lots of other people already tried to do so, and it just couldn't get through your thick head. If you want to discuss something constructively, let me just give you a hint, this is not the way to do it. No wonder why you can't succeed as a scientist. You can't understand, you can't discuss, and you have no idea what to do with your time. My pity, indeed.

At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Mia said...

Just to clarify, the comment above is for the idiotic Anonymous who came to this journal and said the numerous idiotic things above. Keep writing, YFS! Your concerns are valid, and need to be voiced.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger IrrationalPoint said...

Well said, YFS. Do keep writing -- the issues you discuss here, and the concerns you express are ones I recognise with as a woman in science myself, and ones that I recognise from discussions with other women scientists. These issues are important, and I'm glad you're blogging them. Keep up the science and the writing!


At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ummm... why are people assuming that anonymous is just one person?

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Joolya said...

ummmm... because the anonymi do not give themselves nicknames to distinguish themselves? (unlike the rest of us pseudonymous-yet-self-identified commentors.)
let's just ignore the trolls, ball-less and otherwise. no point letting them hijack the discussion.

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About last sentence, probability can be wild thing.


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