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Who Discovers and Why

The Next Science

Blogging time is sparse tonight, since I’m (finally) starting off Tax Season here at Rapacious Pharma Manor. But I wanted to point people to a longish post by William Tozier at Notional Slurry, on how he became a scientist – and on what sort of scientist he found himself becoming, and what to do about it. His section, midway through, of snapshots of his graduate school days made me shudder with recognition:
But instead I learned over the next few years that I’m merely a bad molecular biologist, botanical or otherwise. In practice, at least. In theory, I rocked. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately (for reasons I hope will become clear nearer the end of this vast wordy spume), but for brevity let me portray this period as a series of portentous snapshots:
* In a lab notebook I stumbled across the other day is a photograph of the results from my thirteenth (13th) extraction of plastid DNA from Hosta sieboldiana. I can’t recall right now whether the gel is blank, or a flame-shaped smear of random molecular fragments of size ranging from eensy to weensy. Doesn’t matter. Neither result is good, though both appear with about equal frequency in each of the 13 attempts I made over 8 months. I think on this one we decided “Restriction enzyme buffers too old; need to make new ones. Use Frank’s as control?” . . .

2 comments on “The Next Science”

  1. jsinger says:

    Well, if you’re a unmistakeable genius, there will be opportunities for you to be a generalist of the sort he describes. Unfortunately, given the attractiveness of thinking about lots of fun things and moving on to something else when the going gets sticky, grad schools tend not to routinely support 22 year olds when they show up offering to become the next Isaac Newton.

    Unfortunately, the days of Natural Philosophy are long past — I’d love to be one, also.

  2. NoFreeLunchMD says:

    Boy, does THAT ring a bell. I spent half my Masters trying to clone a gene into a plasmid only to find that in ten out of ten lanes, the gene had either inserted backward into the plasmid… or simply hadn’t inserted at all. Finally it was graduation time and my advisor was kind enough to release me from cloning what was, apparently, a gene so toxic to the bacteria that even though we had it shut off, it still killed them. I E-mailed him a month later asking him what had come of the project and he said “I cloned the gene into the plasmid.” Apparently he got it on the first try.

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