In the June/July 2006 issue of Scientific Computing World, there is an interesting article about Andre Geim, director of the Manchester Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology. Do you remember the levitating frog? It’s him (he even got an Ig Nobel prize for it). Do you remember the “gecko tape” ? It’s also his actual group!
So, in this article, they wrote about Prof. Andre Geim story, from his early school days near the Black Sea and in Moscow to the various labs he visited and worked with in the past few years. Although he works in nanotechnology, some of his quotes can easily be applied to biological sciences (where I am not doing “mainstream” experiments like stem cells, genomics, fMRI, etc.) …
Many of the things I learned [at University] I never used in my professional life, but I guess it helped develop some of my axial lobes. I used those lobes to replace the lobes I lost due to the amount of alcohol we needed to wipe out after the exams.
I am so glad I am not doing astrophysics or particle physics, because what it actually means is that there are so many people involved in any experiment you are just a tooth in the wheel and, if you end up at the top of the food chain, it is more by luck than your abilities. Those at the top could just as well be journalists or politicians.
Many people chose a subject for their PhD and then continue the same subject until they retire. I despise this approach. I have changed my subject five times before I got my first tenured position and that helped me to learn different subjects.
Gecko tape was a sideline. I simply cannot keep to the same track in my research. It is very difficult to get research money for something new. You have to ask for money to continue something that is old, but I believe you should use some of the money to try something new.
When you have a thousand people researching one subject, they start acting like a single organism that acts by its own rules.