Archive for May, 2013

Briefly on Curiosity

May 22, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s pretty obvious that there isn’t enough time in the day.

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Conferences tend to leave you with more questions than answers, and that’s science. With every answer, you have ten more questions. But there just isn’t enough time to investigate everything you want to know. Weird and inexplicable things happen all the time in science. Sometimes curiosity can get the best of you, and drive you on a tangent to delve deeper and deeper into a story with no apparent end. And that’s the best part.

Sadly, science funding is now in a place where curiosity is rarely funded, and translational biomedical science has the upper hand. However, curiosity is what got us here. Exhibit A: Leeuwenhoek wanted to look at little things, and with his crude hand-crafted microscopes, he did just that.

Books and their facts rarely give you an idea of what is still left to discover. Just think that each sentence in your book is the summary of a scientist’s contributions throughout his entire life. Most scientists rarely make breakthrough discoveries, and  barely contribute a sentence to your book. However, their curiosity at least gives them a chance, and each mechanism that is seemingly understood just raises more questions about how or why.

But curiosity must have direction. For example, I wanted to clone a gene in a specific orientation, and without going into detail, the gel above shows 9 plasmids with incorrect orientation, and 1 correct. It is interesting that I have a 10% success given that the gene I want to clone can be inserted in only two directions, giving me a 50/50 chance of the correct orientation. This discrepancy in orientation could be due to a variety of effects, but I simply don’t have time to investigate this phenomenon, especially when all I really want is my clone.

The questions in science are the best part, and we take them for granted. Sure, you study an important protein, that when defective causes Alzheimer’s. But keep in mind the big picture. Your protein is encoded by DNA, regulated transcriptionally and translationally, and has interacting partners within the cell. All these processes, so little time. Focus, and good luck.


The MCAT is Wrong.

The current model for education is flawed.

1. There are too many people in college, who should not be in college.

This is obvious. The system has become far too saturated. Every prestigious position expects their employees to have college degrees. Every high school kid expects a prestigious position. The employment circle jerk needs to end. Students must realize that they will not succeed. The odds that you are actually better than the millions of other people are extremely slim. Employers must also realize that you need bottom workers. Without the lesser achieving, you have no day laborers, nobody to clean your shit. Discourage them, because then the ones who really want to be there will stand out.

Of course there are times when you tell them, “hey, you did a decent job, keep it up.” But we cannot sit idly and enable crappy work to continue.

2. Bulimic Education

We shove all this information into our student’s throats, and expect them to vomit it back up during their tests. We’re testing them on their ability to recite. This is wrong. The MCAT is wrong. Is the best broker/trader the guy who can tell you Apple’s earnings in the past 10 years, or the guy who can extrapolate where Apple is headed from the information given?

Our methods of teaching are wrong. We enable positive reinforcement. We tell our students, “good job, you tried and failed, but you’ll do better next time.” No. They won’t do better next time either because they mentally/physically can’t or because the effort just isn’t there. If they realize they are actually competing with their peers for their futures, they might just pick up the slack.

3. Ignorance.

Ignorance (TWIV link) I tell my students that we don’t know everything. There is no way to know everything, but the real trick is to know how to find the answers. Especially with the advent of the internet. The facts are not what are important, it’s the questions. I’ve likely written about this before, but I have to say it again. If you don’t need science, you should not be in science.

Graduate school is saturated, post-doc positions are saturated. There’s not enough faculty positions because there’s not enough funding in science. So something has to give.

A) Make graduate school more selective. Don’t just let in anybody with credentials. People are building their CV just to build a CV, not because they actually want to investigate science. They want the accolades, they wan’t to be acknowledged. Science is not about acknowledgement, it’s about the discovery. 

B) Give science more funding. These years have been the harshest on science. Budget cuts and sequestration have lead to ZERO growth of science funding, while returns on scientific exploration are predicted to be the highest ever. Lobbying benefits companies that can already afford to spend billions of dollars lobbying; this is completely backwards.

Thanks for listening.