Friday, December 09, 2005

Life is good

There are lot of reasons to be pessimistic at work nowadays. My department is in danger of having five faculty not make tenure over the next three years. That's a lot, which will make us look really bad and probably lead to a fall from favor with the administration. The department chair is thinking of retiring in a year or so, but Big State U. here doesn't have the money to recruit a new chair. We may well end up with a current member of the department as the new chair. The problem with that is that the people who would be good at the job don't want it, while the ones that want it would be disasters. On top of that the US government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to cut back on science funding at the NIH and NSF. This is not so much in the form of cuts, but rather increases so low that just maintaining current commitments chews up almost the entire budgets of the two institutions. (I won't go into a discussion of the wisdom of cutting programs that benefit society at this point in time.) This level of funding has lead to extremely low success rates for people submitting grants. Single digit success rates. And it looks like this will continue for a few years. That means even less chance for our struggling five faculty to obtain tenure. Also less chance that the rest of us will be able to renew our current funding, leading to some labs struggling to stay afloat. And less money for the department (and Big State U.), leading to increased financial problems...

And yet, life is good. I remain curiously optimistic. In part this is fueled by the fact that my own laboratory is pushing ahead and being very productive. In part it's fueled by the peculiar euphoria that comes only from discovery. This euphoria is, I believe, unique to those who pursue discovery, such as scientists. My current euphoric state has come about because I think I know the answer to a big part of the major problem I'm studying. Don't get me wrong, I haven't proven anything (yet), and I'm not about to go out and buy an expensive bottle champagne for when the Nobel committee calls. I have a long, and no doubt hard, road ahead of me, but I think I know where that road leads. I study protein structure, and in particular how proteins adopt their various structures. This is important because protein structure leads to protein function, and protein function leads to life (DNA isn't all it's made out to be). I don't know how proteins get to their various structures (we call that folding). I do however think I know where they start (unfolded proteins). I think I know what unfolded proteins look like. That won't mean much to most people, but I think it's pretty damn cool. I'm excited and will continue to be until I manage to prove myself wrong, I can demonstrate to everyone else that I'm right, or someone else beats me to either of those outcomes. Now I must off to the lab to work out the crucial experiments...



But first, another cup of coffee.

2 comments:

Milo said...

so, if we elect someone that funds research instead of bombing brown people, then perhaps there'll be a little space for some of your friends in your department in the next few years... :o)

Odyssey said...

Oh we'll have the space. Whether we'll have the money to hire new people is anyones guess...