Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Avoid boring people

James Watson just came out with a new memoir entitled "Avoid boring people: lessons from a life in science". I have just been itching for a good biography of a scientist, I need the inspiration right now. So I might just pick this one up. From this excerpt, it sounds like it is a goldmine of scientist gossip, and the content and writing style remind me of Joel's writing on the bayblab (I wish we could get more of it). It also seems sprinkled with opinions about science such as this funny quote:

"Only belatedly did Harvard try to enter the Genome Age by committing itself, as the 21st century began, to becoming strong in systems biology, a discipline so sprawling and unwieldy as to merit comparison to Enron in its limitless expansions before the collapse into nothingness."

Way to undermine an entire field! Actually I partially agree, system biology to me seems like the marriage of high-throughput molecular techniques to physiology. It reminds me of an incident at a cocktail party, where I managed to get the president of Genome Canada to admit that genomics wasn't a field at all, but a tool that is applied to cell biology, or genetics.... Genomics in itself isn't hypothesis driven.

Anyways the reason I need inspiration is that doing a PhD sucks the dreams out of you. I think this is a common phenomenon in anyone who is knee deep in a PhD. At first it's the honeymoon, chances are if you are committing to a PhD it's because you love science. And when you start out there is so much to learn, so many possibilities that it fills your head with dreams about discoveries, publications, fame. And little by little those dreams get crushed. First you find out that your smarts wont save you this time around. No, smarts have little to do with it. What you need is 50% intense hard work, and 50% sheer luck. The hard work, especially at the beginning tends to be in vain. Experiments don't work out, or worse, results are negative. Here you have a choice: keep hammering at it or find a new path. The former may get you stuck, while the latter leaves you unfocused. And there is nothing worst than doing experiments in order to find what question you should be asking. Then there is the stress. The stress that you won't be able to graduate, the stress that your paper will never get published, and the stress that at the end you won't be able to compete with the elite who have top tier publication and ivy league backgrounds. But ultimately you stick to it, because you'd rather be doing science than anything else and you hope the 50% luck will kick in at some point. Ah, the life of a grad student!


8 comments:

Anonymous Coward said...

Does he mean we should avoid people that are boring, or that we should be careful not to bore people?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Wow, that was the straight goods.

And little by little those dreams get crushed.

Reminds me of Eric Cartman:

"I swear - they pop your balls like little grapes!"

Is the fog of disillusionment finally upon you too?

*Gasp*

The most boring people I've ever met in grad school have quickly become postdocs with a slew of high impact publications.

We'll never win.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

*crazed laughter like Riddick from Pitch Black*

Kevin Z said...

Oh my God, I thought I would never hear a Pitch Black reference as long as I lived...

"Anyways the reason I need inspiration is that doing a PhD sucks the dreams out of you."
For me it somewhat cyclic, for a month or two I'll be in a slump and then for a weeks or a month I'll be super-productive then back again to nothingness.

My stress is that I can't figure out to analyze the data in the damn programs even though I know exactly what test needs to be done, but the stupid programs are retarded and I hate them and I want to kill my computer but its not my computers fault its the stupid stats program and I can't program because they don't teach that as a biology major and i don't have the time to learn programming in R because I'm too busy being unproductive by blogging about how I don't work on my PhD work because analysis sucks. (deep breath)

mugwump said...

You guys are ninjas. I felt like this for my undergrad, which is why I became a corporate drone instead of grad school.

In the end, you guys win, my life sucks and I'm just waiting to die. Fight the good fight...

Alfred Russel Wallace said...

If you're only knee-deep in your PhD then I guess that 50% of intense work only comes to mid-shin....

Anonymous Coward said...

Yeah but now, I only stick a toe in and I loose my will to dive-in.

PLL said...

You're either swim or drown. Take your pick.

iserve pharmacy said...

In Avoid Boring People, Watson lays down a life’s wisdom for getting ahead in a competitive world. Witty and uncompromisingly honest, he shares his thoughts on how young scientists should choose the projects that will shape their careers, the supreme importance of collegiality, and dealing with competitors within the same institution