Combining three of my favorite topics (science, philosophy and healthy irreverence) into a single post, Alex Palazzo over at the daily transcript compares graduate students and post-docs to chess pawns in a discussion with a labmate (over beers of course). To give you the gist:
German Nihilist Postdoc: You know what we are?
Me (Palazzo): No, what?
Me: What's that?
GNP: A serf, you know like in the middle ages.
Me: You mean XXX is our lord and we follow his commands?
GNP: Yup. Or a pawn, yes that is what we are.
So does chess strategy offer any insights as to how to succeed in the "competitive" world of research as a graduate student/post-doc? Let's see what wisdom Google has to offer:
"The Pawn's only movement is forward, except for capturing."
- Chess Basics
"a player may end up with two pawns on the same file, called doubled pawns. Doubled pawns are substantially weaker than pawns which are side by side, because they can't defend each other, and the front pawn blocks the advance of the back one."
"pawns gain strength as they advance because they pose the threat of queening...however, an overadvanced pawn is then often a liability."
"A passed pawn...is considered more valuable - especially if it is protected with other pawns."
"A pawn which has no friendly pawns in adjacent files is an isolated pawn. The square in front of an isolated pawn may become an enduring weakness. Any piece placed directly in front not only blocks the advance of that pawn, but can't be driven away by other pawns."
"1. Connecting Pawns = good 2. Isolated Pawns = bad 3. Doubled Pawns = even worse"
- Devilant's Kung Fu Chess Strategy Guide
Hmmmm...Well, I'll just leave the chess stuff at that. Anyway, all this brings me to my actual point. One comment of his in particular -
"If we are not protected or backed up by the other pawns",
reminded me of a post topic I've been wishing to explore. Actually I haven't had time to come up with anything interesting yet, but here are the questions I'd like to look at before I forget:
- How do perceptions of "success" and how to go about getting it vary amongst grad students/post-docs (GS/PDs) ?
- How do these perceptions guide them to develop different strategies to attain that "success"?
- What is the impact (if any) of the execution of each possible strategy on:
- The GS/PDs own stress levels and overall health.
- How s/he interacts with labmates (particularly one's peers, ie other GS/PDs).
- Lab-wide social dynamics amongst peers.
- The stress levels and overall health of their peers (GS/PDs).
- The general lab culture, environment and morale etc.
- Scientific "productivity".
So maybe we can do this one in true web 2.0 style instead and everyone else can offer the opinions and answers. Anyone??
In the mean time, check out the post and comments and have a laugh.
(PS - While one might indeed find similarities between lab oligarchies and chess, I personally find GO a lot more appealing...). Maybe that's because I'm a pawn. Power to the peasants!