Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Accentuate the Positives

Wow, so I totally didn't write about the upside of being scooped immediately after the downside. Thanks for being forgiving, Internets.

There have been many upsides to getting scooped; most notably, it was a much-needed kick in the pants. I now realize that there is some urgency in doing and publishing science, even if you're not curing cancer so it seems like no one cares. There are other people out there studying the same model system and similar questions (see post on Science Inbreeding below) and it's unreasonable to think we'll never overlap. Whether it's accidental or not, overlap happens and there is only one person on top. My dissertation will not win any Nobel Prizes. That does not mean what I'm doing is not important or being dutifully studied by anyone else in the world. I think that in science, a balance between collaboration and competition is necessary. I think I have a little too much of the former, and not enough of the latter.

The tangible manifestation of this urgency is that I am analyzing my data in earnest, and actually writing. I am making figures! FIGURES! I can still publish my data thanks to some bells and whistles I have that the published study didn't have, but they probably have an expiration date. It is possible that this other group has my bells and whistles waiting in the wings, poised to publish.

Another upside of all this is that my results were validated. This is probably the most difficult of all upsides for me to be happy about, honestly. I think as a scientist, I should be happiest about this one, because what I was looking at was real! My results are reproducible! But... imagine the elation of going on a treasure hunt and finding something rare or valuable, something you can claim as yours. Imagine carrying it around in your pocket for a few months, getting more and more attached to it. You get excited about showing it to someone, and you finally reveal your prize only to find out your friend has one just like it. In fact, they're pretty common in these parts. Joe down the street has a collection, you can sell that to him for fifty cents! The conclusions and insights I drew from my data became precious to me; to see them in someone else's paper made them feel commonplace, like just another Fact brought to you by Science. But this is supposed to be about upsides. It is an upside that my data was validated because now I can present my study with a firmer foundation than it had before.

Lastly... getting scooped does make a cool story. Especially when I tell the version with pirates.

Totally a scientist.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Write Right Now

I must not be managing my time well.

Clearly, other scientists out there have time to be Good Scientists and blog on a regular basis. I can barely remember to put pants on. I need to cut my fingernails and take out the recycling. I'm lucky if I do last night's dishes the next morning instead of three days later when every dish I own is dirty, even the ugly ones I don't like to use. Am I bad at managing my time or do I actually not have enough of it? If I spend some time watching TV with my husband instead of working should I feel like that time was wasted? I keep thinking that to become a writer, I have to write more while I'm still a graduate student! But how will I ever find time to write while being a good graduate student?? This turns into a vicious circle of not having time to write until I'm only a writer, not becoming a writer until I've written more, etc. There's just so much good writing out there, and I wish I were the one writing it.

I have been reading beautiful posts by folks like Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong and I'm falling a little bit in love. Their prose seems to come so seamlessly and in large, regular quantities. I think they are full-time writers, but I'm not so naive to think that a writer sits at home all day constructing flawless sentences about whatever they fancy. I'm pretty sure they have to do research, chase leads, pimp their stories, read the competition and market themselves, among other things. Although I dream about becoming a writer full-time, I am trying to keep in mind that even if I make it, I will still not have all the time in the world to write.

So the question is: how do they do it? Is there a magical system I don't know about that works for everyone, like how authors will write several books in a row but space out the publications? I often wonder how long it takes them to write something like a blog post, which is full of references and backstories, not to mention hooks and flows to keep the non-science geeks reading. How they craft multiple pieces like this every day is beyond me.

I'll keep reading in the hopes that something is sinking in.