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Dear Dr Douglas Prasher, You are my Hero

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A friend of mine who is a scientist shared with me about Douglas Prasher’s story. When I was a little kid, I consider the following careers very cool / glamorous / glorious : pilot, adventurers (e.g. Columbus, Everest), scientists, astronauts, … and many others.

However, my friend said that being scientists is not all glorious, there is no guarantee that one can meet one’s basic survival needs (according to the Maslow’s hierarchy) of food, clothes, shelter / home, even after one has done high quality work that deserves Nobel Prize like what happened to Douglas Prasher.

In brief, the Nobel Prize I am referring to is for the discovery and engineering of fluorescent proteins – molecules that can glow in the dark. Sound so fun!

The fluorescent proteins are powerful research tools and have become the foundation of a multimillion-dollar industry.

Prasher was not included among the Nobel laureates, as only 3 individuals can share a single Nobel Prize. “The glow of the GFP gene may have illuminated biology, but Prasher has remained in the shadows.” The humble ^ Laureate Martin Chalfie credited Prasher’s contribution:
“(Douglas Prasher’s) work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab. They could’ve easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out.”

^ To share the best of the best to you dearest readers, I have carefully studied Nobel Laureates and summarize their strengths that worth emulating.

My friend J, who is also a scientist and used to work 7 days a week from 9 am to 11 pm daily, shared with me that there are sadly numerous unacknowledged contributions in science. She told me that a lady called Rosalind Franklin also deserves a Nobel Prize but she died too early. J told me that she cried reading the story of Prasher.

To quote discovermagazine, the vanishing act of Douglas Prasher “provides a glimpse into what it takes to flourish in modern-day science, where mentorship, networking, and the ability to secure funding can be as important as talent and intelligence.”

Dear aspiring scientists (especially graduate students), I hope that my sharing provide you with additional perspective. One of a leader of a science research institute sadly told me (in a chance encounter in a public transport) that in the past only the rich can do scientific research because they do not have to trade their time to earn a living. These people were for example the landlord who receive passive income ; they have the time (one of the most priceless commodity in the universe), the brain energy & physical energy to carry out scientific experiments.

He also shared with me about his personal experience, he was previously trained as a medical doctor (a career that may guarantee a better earning), but later switched to become a scientist. Few years down the road after he has children, he woke up in the middle of night sweating and worrying on how to finance his mortgage. The good news is his children are now grown-up.

Dear aspiring scientists, your professors and successful scientists you meet would rarely tell you such stories because they need workers. Graduate students are very cheap to the extent that they are free to the professors. You will rarely meet unsuccessful scientists because they are no longer around in the labs / meetings / conferences to warn you / to be naysayers for you who will eventually become successful scientists. Do not give up on your chosen career easily. After all, scientists will meet countless failures (positive people prefer to refer a failure as a learning experience) because they are at the frontier of discovery and innovation. You really need perseverance in the pursuit of science, science needs you, our world need you ; but one must not neglect what is entrusted to him by the Universe / the Creator / God, e.g. young children to feed, nurture, take care.

Dear aspiring scientists, do not be disheartened by what I share here because if you are really passionate about science, you want and you should give it your best, until you really meet dead ends. You can be like Douglas Prasher, to be humble and willing to take other kinds of jobs, including being a bus driver at $8.50 an hour. I respect bus drivers, they provide essential service to many people, and I personally rely on them often. I view them as my everyday heroes who courier me safely from a place to another. But to be honest, one who had worked as a scientist must have to endure the words of their past colleagues on becoming a bus driver. If you master the art of endurance, are willing to work hard and have integrity in life, no matter what you do / your career / job, you will have inner happiness, which is much more important than prestige (e.g. awards) / glamor. If you want to be successful in a particular career, perseverance * and resourcefulness ^ are essential.

* “Doug doesn’t have the ‘Goddammit, you’re not going to stop me’ attitude,” Ward says.”
^ “It was the kind of resourcefulness that Prasher seemed to lack.”

After all, there are many things that Prasher can be happy and grateful about: his supportive wife, his children, his home-grown vegetables & finally a return to science.

Dear my readers, all careers are similar in the chance of success; they just vary in the steepness of the climb. My kind friend shared that the climbing field for being successful scientists started relatively easy for students who have done well academically / with exceptional scholastic ability, but become very very steep toward the higher place(s).

Final reflection:
Let the (use) value that we bring to ourselves and others through our work / pursuit / career / vocation shine itself.
Do not pursue recognition / award as a goal because it is beyond our control.
Even one of the most deserving Nobel Prize winner – Gandhi, never receive it.

Dear Dr Douglas Prasher, thank you very much! You are my Hero!


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Tips: scientists / scholars

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Written, oral and presentation skills.
The only way to get ahead!
Includes: email, discussions, interviews, Q&A at conferences and seminars
It is only a skill – you can learn it!
Polish it up!
Train your neural networks from constant reading

Believe in yourself and what you have done
However, learn to convince your reviewers tactfully!
The art of suggestion is important here
The ability to handle hostile reviewers/audience/fellow scientists is critical to progress in your career
If you cannot beat them, join them ; collaborate instead of confront

Make a roadmap of where you want to be:
3 years from now
5 years from now
Longer term….
Plan and organize your life:
Most quests can be “projects”

Deliver your results on time!
Critical, essential, routine are useful labels
Review these regularly
Make the time: after it all Einstein said that it is relative and can be stretched

Be a pioneer!
Try novel approaches
Be curious
Discover new paths (algorithms), new maps (workflows), new places (new data/associations),….
When you get there, there is always another mountain to climb…

(1) mentor SR of mentor VT

Written by blueroselady

June 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

A struggling scientist: Plan B

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God will plan the best path.

How is about becoming a patent lawyer?
Polar Bear said this is a pretty boring job. Meet the scientists or researchers, re-write their research in legal wordings.

Although 49 per cent of respondents to the 30,000 questionnaires — given to researchers, engineers, technicians affiliated to hospitals, and school science teachers — say they are satisfied with their jobs, more than half are opposed to their children becoming scientific researchers.
About 32 per cent of S&T workers have a lower salary than the national average and eight per cent work more than 70 hours per week.

Tips on How Academic Scientists Can Make the Career Switch to Industry
Don Rule 2/25/10

Scientists have a lot to consider if they want to leave the world of academia for a job in industry. I picked up a lot of good insights yesterday at a meeting of people with experience in making that transition.

This event was hosted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, organized by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, and sponsored by Allen Austin, an executive search firm. I figured it was valuable enough material that it was worth submitting to Xconomy so that more people in the Seattle innovation community could benefit from what was said.

The panel included Ulrich Mueller, the vice president for tech transfer at the Hutch; Jonathan Drachman, a vice president at Seattle Genetics; Ken Ferguson, the CEO of Imvaxyn; Richard Mitchell, the director of business development at the Hutch; and Mark Mendel, an invention development manager at Intellectual Ventures.

Here are the key points I took down from the panel:

—Academic positions in science are largely solitary whereas positions in industry tend to be more collaborative across a broader field of disciplines. Where the currency of academia is publishing your own intellectual output, companies must marshal a broad spectrum of talents (bench science, regulatory, communications, financial, business development, etc.) toward a common goal. Several panelists were attracted to the team orientation of the companies they worked at “everyone was trying to contribute to good decisions.”

—Industrial positions are generally better equipped than academia. A company built around solving specific problems is more likely to invest in core facilities and equipment that would be difficult to replicate with grant funding.

—The breadth and diversity of experience is greater in industry because you need to collaborate with marketing, legal, finance, and customers to get a product into the market.

—While industry offers more pay and broader opportunities there is somewhat less freedom to follow individual interests. While the best funded companies allow you to spend up to 20 percent of your time on exploratory “science” you are hired in industry to fulfill more narrowly defined tasks that must fit into the company’s purpose.

—There is no tenure in industry. The business of biotech is tenuous and subject to business cycles so if you look for a job in biotech you have to have the appropriate expectations. Sometimes funding collapses at the moment of maximum promise.

—Your need to justify the science by financial imperatives is similar to the need to justify a grant.

—Because of the need to collaborate, people skills are much more important in industry. Mangers put a higher premium on people that can communicate and cooperate than on simple brilliance.

From: Science magazine

College teaching isn’t the only teaching scientists can do; somebody has to teach science to our children, so it may as well be people who know the subject well.

These days, most new science teachers are career changers; thanks to a growing demand in much of the world, midcareer professionals–especially those with training in science, mathematics, technology, computer science, and engineering–are finding professional fulfillment teaching schoolchildren, inside and outside the classroom. When scientists leave the bench to become schoolteachers, they usually bring a deep knowledge of a scientific discipline, a love of science, and insight into how real people do science. Their experience means more maturity than most beginners, and that makes them better teachers.

That’s all very well for the students, and for the society whose future those students hold in their hands. But what’s in it for the teachers? There’s satisfaction, for one. Most people say teaching–teaching well, at any rate–is a hard job. But the opportunity to affect children’s lives for the better is a major perk. Teachers perform a service to society by inspiring and training the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, engineers–and teachers. And teachers often affect children in other, even more important ways as coaches, mentors, and role models.

And then there’s the fact that, although teaching salaries are not especially high, they’re usually higher than the typical postdoc stipend. Experts say that potentially permanent jobs are readily available–something you can’t say about tenure-track faculty positions. Here’s the clincher: Most schoolteachers get their summers off.

Written by blueroselady

November 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Posted in career

Tagged with ,

Scientists are dangerous …

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Guardian article (June 24th, 2010):
Survey suggests half of EU citizens believe scientists are ‘dangerous’

According to a Eurobarometer survey, a majority of people don’t trust scientists. The only way to reverse this trend is for academics to step up their efforts to communicate with the public, writes Eoin Lettice

Despite World Cup and Wimbledon fever, a survey published this week suggests that more Europeans are interested in scientific discoveries and technological developments than are interested in sport. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey for the European Commission, 80% are interested in science and technology whereas 65% are interested in sport.

However, the same survey found that 57% think scientists should be doing more to communicate their work to the general public and 66% believe governments should do more to interest young people in scientific issues.

Europeans overwhelmingly recognise the benefits of science, but many also express fears about risks from new technologies and the power that knowledge gives to scientists.

An alarming 58% of respondents across the European Union agreed that:

“We can no longer trust scientists to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry.”

The figure falls to 49% for UK respondents. Given the tough news delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the budget on Wednesday and likely cuts in R&D funding to be announced in the autumn spending review, industry might well be expected to step into the breach and provide more cash.

This raises the question: will the British and wider European public be happy about more money from big business paying for scientific research? This survey suggests the answer is no, but at the same time the public is hardly likely to demand higher taxes to pay for purely government-sponsored science.

Worrying too is the finding that 53% of European respondents (46% of UK respondents) agree with the statement that, because of their knowledge, scientists “have a power that makes them dangerous”. Not potentially dangerous, notice, but dangerous. When you take into account the 23% who didn’t know or who neither agreed or disagreed, the survey suggests that just 24% of EU citizens believe that scientists are not dangerous.

Some consolation can be taken from the fact that in the equivalent Eurobarometer survey in 2005, 59% of EU respondents (58% in the UK) thought scientists were dangerous.

According to the latest survey, a majority believe that scientists do not put enough effort into informing the public about new developments in science and technology (57% of EU respondents and 56% of UK respondents).

The majority of EU citizens (63% of respondents) feel that scientists working in university or government laboratories are best qualified to explain scientific and technological developments. Just 32% believe that scientists working in industry are best placed and a mere 16% of respondents (14% in the UK) that newspaper journalists are best equipped to discuss such developments.

Compared with 2005, there has been a noticeable shift towards trusting scientists in academia or the public services to explain science and technology (up 19 percentage points in the UK) and away from newspaper journalists (down 9 percentage points in the UK).

Commenting on the findings, EU research, innovation and science commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said:

“The success of the Europe 2020 strategy depends on cutting-edge science to keep Europe competitive. In turn, that means ordinary Europeans need to back science and keep the pressure up on government and on industry to invest in it. These results show a very high awareness of the importance of science. But they also show that both politicians – like me – and scientists themselves need to explain better what we are doing and why.”

Overall, the survey shows that European citizens are optimistic about the benefits of science and technology for the economy. Some 75% of respondents agree or tend to agree that thanks to science and technology there will be more opportunities for future generations.

However, there has been a shift towards greater scepticism about science’s impact on people’s lives compared with the 2005 survey. For example, when presented with the statement “Science and technology make our lives healthier, easier and more comfortable”, 78% of EU respondents agreed in 2005, whereas 66% agreed in 2010.

On the evidence of this survey, this scepticism can only be reduced if more scientists, in particular those in academia, make a greater effort to communicate their work to the general public.

As Peter Fiske wrote in Nature earlier this year:

“Scientists must communicate about their work – to other scientists, sponsors of their research and the general public … searching for opportunities to give talks and lectures – and seeking audiences that are outside one’s immediate sphere of scientific influence.

“Many scientists are incredulous at how little the general public knows about science and technology, but scientists do little to address the gap in understanding. Most think that their successes in the lab are manifestly evident, making education about the value of their work unnecessary. Few ever communicate with their elected officials. With the public footing most of the bill, this misguided belief seems naive and undermines those who campaign for more funding.

“Excellent work is a prerequisite for career progress, but is not sufficient by itself. Broadcasting one’s accomplishments and exercising the ‘active voice’ in all aspects of one’s work is the best way to earn notice, gain recognition and make the public at large aware of the value of the scientific enterprise.

Eoin Lettice is a lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at University College Cork, Ireland. He also writes the Communicate Science blog where the original version of this article appears

Written by blueroselady

June 29, 2010 at 12:14 am

Happy photographing, learning, and shopping

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This noon, I went to the V.D. lab to take photos of 2.8 million pounds microscope. The microscope has a camera that can capture a shot in 200 ms – and my humble camera was trying to capture this super high-tech camera hidden at the bottom of the microscope. V.D. explained to me their research. I could learn from V.D. to use simple terms and avoid jargons when explaining to others not from our fields. V.D.’s lab is clean and bright, not big, but sufficiently equipped with tissue culture room and benches – it made me missed the days when I was working in a biochemistry lab under the guidance of my honours sup.
V.D. is very kind, gave me a 2-hour to work at lab, really grateful. Then, I had lunch at 2.30pm at Cafe Carrington, when I realized how hungry I was. Next, I went to the Past Times shop to see if there is any cheap things I can buy, since it put big signs of sales. I got this Mucha 2009 diary, happy! Mucha, a 20th century artist, is my favorite artworks in Prague visit.  I will write happy things that happen in days in 2009 in it. I also saw many Teddy Bear with my uni name but they are so expensive! In future I will request a production of mini T-shirts / sweaters to be worn by my dearest Bear L, my dog, and mini-me. Talking about mini-me, I saw Gap kids got many sales, yeah my future progenies, Darling, and I will wear the same / similar fashion but different sizes or masculine/feminine gradient.

Written by blueroselady

January 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm