Monday, April 28, 2008

My Life As A Science Geek



Being a science geek is a very strange thing indeed.

First of all, and this is especially true in the field of 'Life Sciences' these days, it is one of the last bastions of indentured servitude/apprenticeship.

But to become a real expert in something as arcane as, say, 'the role of mechanical signal transduction in alveolar morphogenesis' it pretty much has to be that way.

All told, my apprenticeship took about 15 years, and along the way I studied with a lot of very smart people.

The last four years of which were spent as a post-doctoral fellow working for the smartest person I've every met in the People's Republic Of Berkeley.

Interestingly enough, those four years were more like seven years in actual work time.

Because I was working 70-80 hour weeks.

Week in and week out.

And I loved every minute of it.

So much so that it wasn't really work at all.

After all, when you're in the hothouse of a really top-notch lab I imagine it's like any other absolutely intense creative experience wherein you live for every single discovery big or, much more often, small.

And you live even more for the sharing of those little discoveries backed with the back-and-forth, bare-knuckled bashing about of ideas that goes into the planning of the next day's experiment which, when it is designed perfectly will generate data that will either support or refute any new prediction you've made about what you think will happen next.*

My old Boss in Berkeley used to call those rare events 'champagne' experiments.

And when they hit, that day's coffee break was always converted to cork popping out on the lab's back deck which a redwood tree-laden hillside.



This weekend my old Boss came to Lotusland to give the big plenary talk at a conference in a fancy black glass-windowed hotel on the eastern edge of the West End.

She's pretty famous now, both inside, and even outside, pure science geek circles. As a result, she was innundated by all manner of requests to make appearances and attend various and sundry gatherings.

So much so that we had very little time to go off in a corner and bash new ideas back and forth based on stuff going on in both our labs.

But we did use the short time we had together very, very well indeed.

And I hardly said a word.

Instead, I sat back and let the apprentices who work with me these days have a go with her instead.

And after they showed off their data they stood their ground and gave as good as they got.

Heckfire, I was proud.

Best of all, in the end they came up with a whole slew of new experiments which are sure to cost me at least one bottle of bubbly.

Maybe two.

Or even better, three.

Can't wait to spend the money!

*This is the thing about using the scientific method rigorously.....When you do so, you can't 'prove' anything. In fact, the best experiment is often the one that irrevocably disproves an hypothesis, which is nothing more than a prediction, because then you have to come up with a new and better one that best fits all the available data. Crazy that, eh?


No comments: