Scientists Can Save the World

Today’s my last day at Biophysics 2014, and I’m embarrassed to say that I missed almost all the career seminars I wanted to attend. Science and socializing sort of got in the way. However, I did gain some career insights this year. Here’s my top three:

1. When you go into industry, having more than one post-doc position under your belt is not necessarily a benefit. I heard this tidbit during the post-doc breakfast, and it made me wonder if academia is the same. I’d always thought that I would do at least 2, maybe 3 post-docs before moving on to “the real world.” Then again, post-doc positions are getting longer nowadays, and I admit that spending 10 to 15 years as a post-doc sounds not unlike the fourth circle of hell.

2. Scientific collaboration is like dating – you should fall in love with the science first, and the mutual benefit could create a long-lasting partnership. I heard this during the CPOW luncheon, and the simile is apt. It makes sense now why I’ve always found collaboration to be an intimidating prospect. It’s not something that can be created by sheer will – there has to be some sort of magic there. And it requires combing your hair once in a while (metaphorically speaking of course).

3. Scientists can help save the world. This wasn’t explicitly stated during Steven Chu’s entertaining talk, but it’s the message I certainly left with. It’s appalling to me that the people responsible for legislation and regulation can be so easily duped by industry experts. His story about how cable companies fooled Congress into accepting energy efficiency standards that are far less than what is capable really got to me. If they only knew as much as Steven Chu, they would have been able to push back and force the industry to make cable boxes run with a fraction of the energy costs, just with the addition of a simple sleep circuit. And don’t even get me started on climate change.

So, despite missing the formal career sessions, I did hear some valuable words. It’s clear to me that I want to continue adding knowledge to this world – and not just get paid to produce. I’d like to educate the public, but beyond that, help shape the policies that can effect real, measurable change. After all, we are getting paid by the public to follow our curiosities. In exchange, we should give back to the public by taking a more active role in governing. We can’t all be as cool as Steven Chu, but we can try.

–Rheanna Sand

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