I'm a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department. In a college of medicine. And I'm funded by the NSF. Not too sure my dean likes that... I'm here to blather on about things that interest me and to raise the average age of the bloggers here by at least 1.2567 years. And I'm Australian.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
The other day as I was walking to work, as is my want I was listening to a podcast. This particular one was from Science magazine. In this particular episode one part was about some recent work in quantum physics. In quantum physics there's this strange phenomenon called nonlocalilty. My very limited understanding of this is that you can have two separated objects that are somehow linked such that changing the quantum state of one instantaneously causes a change in the other. Einstein famously referred to this as "spooky action at a distance." Well, apparently some physicists have managed to come up with an explanation for this using Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. If you want to read about it, the article can be found here (you'll probably need a subscription...).
The point of this post however is not to make my head explode trying to understand such things, but rather is more to do with how these physicists supposedly came to link nonlocality with the uncertainty principle. In the podcast they were interviewing one of the authors of the Science paper who commented that they made this connection not by thinking like quantum physicists, but rather by trying to think like information scientists. This resonated with me. Not that I try to think like an information scientist (although I did once solve a research problem by thinking in terms of information rather than molecules). Rather, it resonated because my most creative periods as a scientist have come when I have either been surrounded by people from different disciplines who brought different ways of thinking about a problem, or I have tackled a research problem that is outside my area of expertise.
My first real experience of this was as a postdoc. At one point I was one of four postdocs in the lab. We had been trained in physical chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology respectively. At first glance you might think these are rather closely related disciplines. In some ways they are, but in my experience practitioners of each of these disciplines think somewhat differently. This was certainly the case here. These colleagues each approached the problems we were working on in different ways. I have come to believe it was my interactions with them and attempts to understand how they thought about problems that led to a particularly productive period in my tenure as a postdoc.
This has happened in other ways. While on tenure track through necessity I changed research directions, and more drastically approaches, to encompass areas I had zero training or background in. Again, this led to a spike in productivity. I was forced to think differently.
More recently I have, this time more through choice, changed research directions in a somewhat drastic manner. Once again productivity is on its way up. Not that I wasn't being productive before. Apparently thinking differently works for me.
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I couldn't agree with you more, I generally thrive when there are other people to bounce ideas off of. It's amazing how differently people can see the same problem or task.
I'll have to check out that podcast it sounds really interesting.
I completely agree too. In fact, one of my fav things about work is that each member of the team approaches things differently, w totally different perspectives, and when you get them all in a room, you can really get the best of each and come up w a beautiful solution.
And like Jane, I too must listen to this podcast :)
I'm this way, too. In order to foster this, I am always on the lookout for post-docs to join my lab who have expertise in novel areas for us.
This what I love and admire about a large chunk of the scientific community....you challenge yourselves and others, accept critical thinking and analysis and actively embrace new ideas and concepts.
The rest of us could stand to learn a thing or two in that area alone.
I try to follow the same process in my work but the bruise on my head (from the brick walls!!) never seems to heal......
I also agree. one of the things I like best about my new place is that there are so many different perspectives. It really does expand how you think about your own science.
Yes. This is, I believe, the best way to build a productive lab.
@Lordmagna - You make an excellent point. I shall keep that in mind.
My very favorite thing about my postdoc is the incredible diversity of talent that revolves through the door. Collaboration gives me more breadth than anything else. Glad it's still working for you.
If it stopped working I suspect my research program would be in deep trouble...
That was a great lab, Dude. I think I learned more there than at any other time, although it didn't show in immediate productivity - it came later. The diversity in that lab and the experience as a whole laid a wonderful foundation for me.
And, related to that podccast, you must read The Age of Entanglement, When Quantum Physics was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. I picked it up last year around this time. It's a fascinating read into just the phenomenon you were listening to in the podcast. Really, really cool stuff.
Hey dude! Long time no see/hear/type. Yes, that was something of a golden age for us both I think.
Couldn't agree more. Taking time to readjust those neurons has yielded a solution of many of my scientific problems. I've been mulling over a post related to this. Maybe you've just inspired me to write it!