31 July 2012


What a funny thing it is to be a scientist these days.

We spend much of our time drilling down deep into problems. Many days of research are committed to finding answers to very specific questions. These answers are nuanced with the caveats of our study systems and experiments as we attempt to control nearly insurmountable variables. We describe transcriptional regulation of certain genes under particular environmental conditions given a single genetic background. We explain the effects of rainfall on a single species of amphibian in a restricted environment. The rigors of the academia then press us to focus intensely during the workday in order to produce efficiently designed experiments, gracefully worded grant proposals, and convincing scientific publications. Specific focus to our research, accomplished while focusing intently on a task.

It's interesting to work in a synthesis center (NESCent), where the focus is inherently broadened to include new approaches, novel methods, and disparate data. Before drilling down into the same sort of problem, we're encouraged to think about different ways to approach that problem, and to change the focus of our research. It's also interesting to go back into a classroom, and explain to fledgling scientists how such focused research can contribute to broader knowledge about the world around us. Students' eyes glaze over upon hearing the minutia of an experiment, but they can get excited about the context for the experiment, implications for results,  and future work.

So much focus, in our research, daily lives, and brains. My brain is much happier thinking on a larger scale, and constantly attempts to unite concepts and ideas in unique ways. I love big ideas and broad focus. What is the cliche about our best work being done in the shower, or while driving to work? It's no wonder to me why my epiphanies occur while walking outside or vacuuming. At those times, I loosen up the reins on my thoughts and let my mind go back to those big thoughts. I blur the focus a bit, regroup, and then proceed to fulfill the needs of modern science.

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