Monday, October 13, 2014

The big picture

I'm a big picture person.  I like to know why what I'm doing is important and what impact it may have someday.  I think this is ultimately why I chose course 20 as a major.  I like the idea of designing new biological systems so that in the end society benefits.

Unfortunately, I've found that this makes me mostly uninterested in pursuing research as a career.  Often times the result of what I'm working on is too obscure to have scientific significance for another century.  This summer I was working in a neuro-differentiation lab in Brussels.  My project was to design biological probes to mark a newly discovered type of progenitor cell in mammalian spinal cords.  After months of sitting in the lab waiting for centrifuges to finish, PCRs to go to completion and making slides in the cryostat, I had my probes.  I could look in the microscope and see the little spots where my probes had landed and marked our target.

It should have felt successful, should have been rewarding.  I had made something new that no one else had tried to produce. I help to advance the study of spinal cord development.  But in the end, it really didn't make much of an impact.  The cells we were studying aren't well classified.  It will be at least a decade before we really understand their function.  After that, it will be much much longer before the research actually makes an impact on health.

In 20.109, I'm conflicted about the projects.  I liked looking into how to make an EGFP homologous recombination assay because of it's potential for screening in the future.  It's interesting to learn how current biological assays actually can make a difference in health and how we study disease.  Looking forward, I imagine I'll be significantly less invested in the bacterial photography module.  While it's kind of fun, it's hard for me to imagine a practical use.  If I can't see the big picture at the end, somehow the details don't seem to matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.