James Watson became interested in science because of bird migration. He was six years old. Many years later he was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA. What happened in between? Martin Chalfie was studying the genes required for touch sensitivity in C. elegans. And then he was awarded a Nobel Prize for developing GFP as a biomarker. How did he come up with that idea?
When I sat down to write this essay I intended to describe how bad graduate student stipends are, how overworked we are, and how graduate school is slowly killing our love for science. We often joke, at least in my department, that our stipends are so small that we effectively live below the poverty line (we are actually ~200% above the poverty line). The financial struggles of graduate students may be more pronounced in some cities than others but it is not the whole story. We graduate students knew what we would earn when we signed up for this gig, and I would guess that if we had to do it all over again, we would.
It used to make sense to paste data into a lab notebook. Western blots were exposed on film, DNA gel images were printed off, acrylamide gels were dried, and protocols were written by hand. However, with the increase in electronic data, lab notebooks are beginning to look like a cut-and-paste art project, with digital data printed out and taped into a physical notebook, and little (if any!) hand-written information.
The current funding environment is proving to be a very difficult hurdle for many. Although the grant situation at the moment is dire for nationals here in the US, it is and has always been a difficult task to get funding as an international student or postdoc. The lack of NIH opportunities for international students/postdocs decreases the chances of getting other grants, and some international graduate students and postdocs have a hard time joining labs because many PIs are looking to hire people with actual, rather than practically non-existent, funding potential.
After two years of being a postdoc at NIH, Obama still refuses to respond to my lunch invitations and I have yet to see Francis Collins play an acoustic set at a local pub. So not all of my expectations have come to fruition, though the experiences I have had have been a mixture of positive and negative.
When I took the MBL Physiology course in Woods Hole, MA, in 2008, I couldn't have anticipated how powerfully it would stoke my passion for science. It was an unforgettable experience; techniques, frameworks, and values from the course continue to shape my scientific identity today.
When you look at elementary school students, do you see the next generation of scientists, or tiny terrors to shoo away from lab equipment? Trepidation aside, bringing kids into the lab can be a great means of community outreach. It could not only inspire future researchers; it also shows the nonscientific community (both children and parents) what labs and scientists are really like.
I conducted my first experiment in my parents' kitchen when I was eight years old. It involved an apple, a bunch of different spices, and an incubator in the form of the dark, slightly warm environment otherwise known as "under the sink." I had just learned in school about famous world explorers scouring the globe in search of spices and gold. Some spices, like salt, were desirable not only for flavor but also for preservation of food, so I thought: What an idea! Spices can preserve food? What if I cut up an apple and put different spices on each piece? And so, a scientific pursuit ensued.
With the Annual Meeting behind us, thousands of ASCB posters are now floating around the world. If my colleagues are representative, most of those posters are now either in a recycling bin somewhere or keeping scientists toasty at a "lab bonfire." But what if they could be used for something more interesting? Here are some ideas for giving your posters a second life.
Working with faceless beings hidden inside my computer for more than six months was surprisingly easy and productive. Yeah, at the beginning I wondered, what does she or he sound or look like? Then, over time, their Google images became their faces. Which is really weird, I have to admit, since some of them have flowers or random non-human photos as their images. But those are the mental images I learned to associate with my fellow COMPASS members. So when I walked into the COMPASS get-together at the ASCB Annual Meeting, I was excited, yet a little nervous, to finally meet my COMPASS colleagues in person.