Friday, May 26, 2006

Response to a couple of new comments

After a long sojourn from blogging due to too much actual science going on (!), I'm feeling lazy about work this afternoon and wanted to respond to a couple of questions:

"At 9:12 PM, Anonymous said...
I read this frequently and find it quite entertaining. I can only infer that you are a biologist. My question for you and people who respond is, Are you a scientist or a technologist? What I mean is do you study science or do you use science to produce technology. So many people in my department are what I would call technologists. They do something which I call "applied science." And they spend their time chasing grant money and writing grant proposals promising that they can develop so and so to treat this or that. And they get the money. Technology is great, and the people who do it have tremendous talents. BUT the reason for the workaholic culture and so many other negatives in our field comes from this invasion of technology into our basic science departments. Or maybe I am just jealous.

Dr. Why not How"

I'm a scientist. I don't claim to develop technology, it's really not my thing. I do end up developing techniques as I need them to answer questions, but I'm a basic scientist, not an applied scientist. I agree though, that grants where you promise to develop treatments or technology seem to have higher funding rates. I think basic science is going the way of the dodo, unfortunately.

"At 10:57 PM, Anonymous said...
Why is the cure cancer goal so popular. Cancer is a disease which MOSTLY affects old people, and they are going to die soon anyway. Is it not smarter to try to treat and cure diseases that affect mostly young people, so they have a chance to live life and then get old and drop dead from cancer. Think about it


Actually it was the pediatric cases in my building that really got me inspired to study cancer when I first started out. But that's just me.

I'm not going to go into why my research is relevant to cancer, you'll just have to take my word for it. But I'm interested in other diseases, too.... I'm so specialized now (aren't most postdocs?) that I'm more interested in diseases as they relate to my favorite proteins/pathways rather than being interested in a particular disease that's totally unrelated to my expertise. It's horrible but it's true- it's really hard to switch fields at this point, so I'm trying to play to my strengths and work in areas where I think I can make a difference.

If anything I think cancer funding is going down, since the number of cancer deaths is actually going down, because we're better at detection now. Scientifically, though, I think it's a really interesting disease, since cancer cells are in some ways more evolved, more 'fit', than 'normal' cells. And lots of things change as a cell progresses from being normal to having this enormous advantage. And it affects people of all ages (although, as you point out, not all age groups are affected equally).

If anything, as I get older I know more people who have cancer or are related to someone who has cancer (or died from it). In some ways that makes me feel better about what I do. Other days I'm frustrated there's so much we still don't know.

Friday, May 12, 2006

One More Day

Been listening to a song with these lyrics for weeks, and then I finally got some good news: I might be getting some funding. Now, it's not enough funding, so I'm trying to negotiate to get some additional help so I can figure out what I'm going to do with my life for the next year or so. But hey, some maybe-good news. It's quite possible that I won't be unemployed this summer after all.

In other news, I'm happy to say that the number of harrassing comments here has dropped since I started moderating the comments, but I'm sorry it takes me so long to remember to check to see if anyone commented and put the good ones through. Things have been busy, hence the delays.

Been reading about Janelia Farm since I saw the article about it in the latest issue of Cell. Comments, anyone? In some ways I think it sounds great, but as some of you know, I'm evangelically in favor of hypothesis-driven research, and Gerry Rubin says some stuff in his article that made me wonder if he understands why we scientists like hypotheses so much. Um, yeah.

Monday, May 08, 2006

All about the Luck

I recently went to a couple of talks that ended up being interesting. One was a candidate interviewing for jobs, who said success these days is pretty arbitrary and depends a lot on luck.

The other talk I went to was by a young professor who is supposed to be a hotshot but who gave what I thought was a pretty bad talk- way too much information presented way too fast, and without much definition of all the jargon and abbreviations. So, precisely what my graduate school would not let me get away with doing. So I'm left wondering how this person is considered a hotshot, and why some people get away with being good at one thing or another, while other people are left feeling inadequate if we don't kick ass in all areas, all the time.

Then I talked to an old friend who recently got word that his grant is going to be awarded for twice as long as he expected. This friend works hard, loves science, and never asks big hard questions. Baby steps all the time, but very productive, cranks out lots of papers in respected but not high-profile journals. He works on stuff that I find incredibly boring, but I think that's part of the secret to his success: he's not threatening to anyone.

And I was a sports spectator this weekend. It was one of those things where the game was tied and nothing had happened for a long time, and my friend wanted desperately to go to the restroom. So just as we're getting up, somebody scores while our backs are turned and the game is over.

So, to sum up, I have bad luck, and what is considered good enough for other people doesn't work for me (just work hard, you don't have to excel at everything, and your stuff doesn't even have to be interesting).

I'm seriously thinking about looking into some voodoo hex-removing devices. Somebody gave me some sage to burn and wave around my house to get rid of the bad spirits, but I never did it. But I'm not sure my house is the source of my bad luck- it started a long time before I moved there.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Start the day right

Got up this morning and was reading Jane magazine, where I had to laugh at the following:

1. This month's is The Quit Your Job Issue

2. In their 30 under 30 list (which I'm officially too old for!) they include one female scientist (do the math, 1:30 represents how we factor into the public consciousness, girls). She's a biophysicist from Minnesota who lives in St. Thomas (I've never heard of her, but I'm tempted to look her up and ask how the hell she got her photo in Jane).

The others were mostly actresses, tattoo artists, a couple of nurses (who looked over 30, btw), and women holding a variety of fashion-related jobs. You know, traditional female careers.

3. Flip a few more pages in, and at the bottom right-hand corner, they interviewed women about how often they think about quitting their jobs. The first three had jobs more like the ones I just listed, and gave the standard three bears answers.

And the fourth bear said:"I just quit my job in cancer research."

And they all rolled over and the little one said: I'm crowded.

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