Monday, November 22, 2010

Ailing Curiosity
bibeebeeBEEP.......bibeebeeBEEP..........bibeebeeBEEP..... hmmmmm.... guud morning...... what time is it?...... nearly seven... no biking today.... mmmmmm.... let's sleep in.... zzzz.... maybe not.... If Jawahar Bhaiyya wakes up... it'll be an hour before I can use the bathroom. Alright! Let's leave my island bed and cross the Great Barrier Reef of Clutter to get to the bathroom...

And so started my Sunday morning.

People are astounded by how/why I wake up early on Sunday. Frankly, I have nothing better to do. The world averages eight hours of sleep a day, a third of its lifetime. What a waste! I wish we could do away with it entirely. But what would I much rather be doing? Something worthwhile perhaps. I would workout or go biking maybe, but it's not happening today. The other worthwhile thing would be to get some work done. ....yeaaahhhh..... Work! I need this experiment done. It'd be cool to see the phenotype. And based on where that takes me, we could do this... and that and oh yes, that too. Wouldn't it be sweet if I saw this... Yooohooo.... (strange echoes eerily like boss's voice) *Don&Jay... You're not sleeping, so stop dreaming. Quit slacking an get back to work*

Although, it would be cool if I can find out how Bre1controls stem cells, while its other as yet unestablished partners in crime have such different affects. But wait... I need to make this DNA and that fly, put horns on this protein and a tail on that... yada yada yada. The cloud of slithering lists of experiments hides the sunshine of joy.

Somewhere around the afternoon I take a break. It's been like this well before the qualifying exam: Long days and longer nights spent in lab, fretting over slippery steps to the big experiments. I've been doing this project for a long while now, and quite frankly, I've stopped asking questions. I don't feel very curious any more. The course of my project was wisely mapped out very early on, chiefly by the Boss. I'm following it, and veering slightly when I have to. It's a very efficient plan, well thought out and structured, almost corporate in its design. That's how people who have gotten anywhere, function: systematically and disciplined. One needs the right tools to do the right experiment. I'm in the arduous process of making them. 'Arduous' only begins to describe how it feels. At times the disappointment of failed attempts is suffocating. To add insult to injury, I did everything right. So I do everything right, again, and hope it works this time.

Well, on my break I run into Brent. He's a well built guy of 28 (I think). His eyes make him look fifty, his teeth, sixty. He's in lab most of his wakeful hours. His boss has framed covers of several top tier journals in his office, all baring data from the lab. Brent himself has his name on a couple of them. I've seen his talks. They are packed with findings (data). He is a brilliant researcher and will probably do really well. I ask him how he is. He says "if I can just finish this western (blot) I might do something with my Sunday."
At this point a good clean result gives me as much joy as gossip to gossip mongers and sighting one of five survivors of a species to birdwatchers. So a Sunday spent in lab is like preparing for a hopefully pleasurable date. You never know what it'll turn out to be like.
I'm a graduate student, in the business of finding things out. We're supposed to be lean mean meme machines. It takes an innate urge to uncover and connect nature's dots. That urge is ailing in me right now. Curiosity is really truly suffocating within. When one has to troubleshoot every single experiment the light of the end of the tunnel seems to fade. Einstein's famous saying "Subtle is the lord but not malicious" seems like such a load of BS. It's like being stuck in limbo. I tell myself to keep at it. But then, when your boss sits you down and says "We have to make progress... if that means spending less time in the lab, so be it." Your PI telling you that feels like watching vultures circle above you, when you're still not dead.

But then, when things start to work, little by little, one feels encouraged. Getting a single reagent ready for which you have struggled for months feels like progress. It's at least one step closer to that experiment which'll give me a peek under nature's "subtle" shroud.

Honestly, I didn't finish this post in one sitting. I think I'm getting there. The emotional reinforcement of each successful experiment (I need so many of them right now) is twice as strong as each setback of a failed experiment. I really really like what I do and hope to be able to keep doing it. I can't let that curiosity and sense of amazement at new finding die. Data God please smile upon me. Give me a reason to live and nurture curiosity.