Stories 3. Science or Library Work: what is more rewarding?

20 04 2009

2267526122_f4376fc6bfAmy Tenderich of Diabetesmine, will celebrate her birthday at the very same day as she hosts the next Grand Round. She has therefore chosen a very appropriate theme (see announcement):

I’m favoring any and all posts having to do with birthdays and special occasions – or anything that smacks of serendipity, perks, or gifts related to the work you all do.

First of all I would like to congratulate Amy on her birthday.

I have been hesitating whether I should contribute to this round. It is not an easy subject and a bit out of scope. However, thinking about it, many ideas came up and it even became difficult to choose one. But here it is. It is even the first post in a series: STORIES, a selection of personal stories.

Most of you will know that I’m a medical librarian by profession, but a medical biologist by education. Many years I worked as a scientist, with mice, patients, cells, DNA and proteins.3419163183_91968b96d6

I was an avid scientist. My motivation was to unravel mechanisms and understand life. I liked to ask questions: “why is this? why do I find that? how does it work?” The greatest reward you can get is: looking for explanations and finding the answer to a question. Thinking about it and discussing it with others is exciting.The more difficult a question is, the more rewarding it is to find the answer. The gift that science gives you is science itself.

In those twenty years I did have my little successes. I had a press conference at a congress (1) (because it was the only subject that was understandable for the public) and I had two papers that were frequently cited (2).

The finding that gave rise to those two publications was very serendipitous. We found a very tiny band in B cells that were used as a negative (!) control for follicular lymphoma in a PCR for the t(14;18) chromosomal translocation. This translocation is considered the hallmark of this type of B-cell cancer. If this was true, it would mean that the lymphoma-associated t(14;18) involving the BCL2 oncogene could also occur outside the context of malignancy. My task was to prove that this was true. This was not an easy task, because we had to exclude that the tiny bands in the tonsils were due to contamination with exponentially amplified tumor DNA. A lot of tricks were needed to enable direct sequencing of the tonsil DNA to show that each chromosomal breakpoint was unique. To be honest, there were quite some moments of despair and most of the time I believed I was hunting ghosts. Certainly when the first band I sequenced was from a contaminating tumor. But finally we succeeded.

And although science can be very rewarding:

  • Most ideas aren’t that new.
  • There are many dead leads and negative results (see cartoon).
  • Experiments can fail.
  • There is a lot of competition
  • It takes very long before you get results (depending on the type of experiment)
  • It takes even longer before you get enough results to publish
  • It takes still longer before you have written down the first version of the paper
  • … and to wait for the first comments of the co-authors (see cartoon)
  • … and to rewrite the paper and to wait …
  • … and to submit to the journal and wait..
  • … to get the first rejection, because your paper didn’t get a high enough priority
  • and to rewrite, wait for the comments of the co-authors, adapt and submit
  • to be rejected for the second time by referees that don’t understand a bit of your subject or are competitors
  • to rewrite etcetera, till it is accepted…and published
  • to wait till somebody other than you or your co-authors find the paper relevant enough to cite.
  • but most importantly even with very good results that make you feel very happy and content:
    • each answer raises more questions
    • most research, whatever brilliant, is just a drop in the ocean or worse:
    • it gets invalidated

I loved to do research and I loved to be a researcher. However, it is difficult for post-doc to keep finding a job and wait for the contract renewals each year. So almost 4 years ago, just before another renewal of the contract, I was happy to get the opportunity to become a medical librarian at a place not far from where I lived. In fact, after all these years it is my first permanent job.

And it is a far more rewarding job than I ever had before, although perhaps not as challenging as research.

  • Results are more immediate.
  • Answers are clearcut (well mostly)
  • People (doctors, nurses, students) are very happy when you learn them how to search (well generally)
  • they are also happy when you do the search for them
  • or when you help them doing it
  • It is very rewarding to develop courses, to teach, to educate
  • the job has many facets

The rewards can vary from a happy smile, a hand shake and “a thank you” to acknowledgments and even co-authorships in papers. Sometimes I even get tangible presents, like chocolates, cookies, wine or gift tokens.

Last week a patron suddenly said when seeing the presents gathered: “Is it your birthday?”
Presumably it is about time to drink the wine I got.Cheers!

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20 04 2011
A Library without Librarians? The Opinion of a PhD-Librarian on the Jeffrey Trzeciak Controversy « Laika's MedLibLog

[...] I switched to a library job, for positive reasons. I was looking for a permanent job too, but as stated elsewhere I find the librarian job far more rewarding. I love it and I think I am good at it (just like my non-PhD colleagues by the [...]

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