17 September 2014

Selfish science

I was out on South Padre Island yesterday, making my regular collecting trip for my long term Lepidopa study. I had been worried, because we’ve had a lot of rain lately, and the forecast was for isolated thundershowers. But the day turned out to be flawless.

It wasn’t just the nice weather; I got some useful scientific data, too. I found the first “young of the year” for my sand crabs, arriving as if on cue:

As I was digging and taking in how pleasant it was, I wondered, “Why don’t I have grad students lining up to do this work?” I sometimes get a little down that I have had very few inquiries from students about working with me.

But then, I flipped it. If I had grad students, they would probably be out collecting data instead of me! And I thought that would be a loss for me. I would have missed the satisfaction of getting the data, and the enjoyment of a beautiful day on the beach.

This made me wonder how many other scientists have jobs that they could leave to students or technicians, but keep for themselves, because they enjoy the experience so much.

Maybe this seems selfish, but I think it’s very important that I continue collecting my own data. A lot of mid-career scientists seem to be are chained to a desk, writing manuscripts and grants.It’s too easy to get disconnected from the stuff that drew you into to science in the first place.

P.S.—Not every collecting trip is anywhere near as physically pleasant as yesterday. Extreme heat, sudden cloudbursts, beach littered with Portuguese men-o-war... somedays, the rose loses its bloom.


Bjoern Brembs said...

I fight tooth and nail to keep one experimental setup in my lab for myself. The day I give up doing my own experiments, I probably might as well quit altogether.

Bill Hooker said...

"The day I give up doing my own experiments, I probably might as well quit altogether."

Contrast this attitude with the owners of megalabs with 40 postdocs etc. My own view is with Bjoern. Not only would I hate to be cut off from the bench, I'm far from convinced the megalabs do good, let alone better, science than small and mid-sized operations.