The Genomic Repairman is currently a Ph.D. student who escaped from the deep south, and studies DNA damage and repair through biochemical and genetic approaches. He intends to use pine away about his scientific interests and rant about the things (and there are lots of them) that annoy him.
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So awhile back I accepted an invitation to talk to some high school students about science and why I got into science. I penciled the date in and didn't think much of it and now its quickly creeping up on me and I've got to come up with some stuff to talk to them about. As far as scientific content that isn't hard at all as I always have a layman's talk in my back pocket for us, but as for advice and why I got into science that is going to take some work. They'll definitely be getting the edited for TV version (for length but primarily content) for my path to science. As for giving these kids advice, its sort of stupid to tell them anything other than to keep an open mind, follow your passion, and that what you set out to do might not be what you end up doing. But as far as what really drew me to science was my grandmother. While growing up I remember that in middle school she was diagnosed with breast cancer which she recovered from however it was found in the other breast while I was in high school. Before her second bout with cancer if you would have asked me what cancer was, I would have shrugged and said, "Fuck if I know." I was dead set on going to college to study finance or economics (which I sort of did, still only a few classes shy of an econ degree).
But after the news that her cancer was back, I delved into learning biology and I mean learn. At that time, my total concept of biology was that two people fuck and it might make a person or two (if you are lucky). After school a couple of days a week, I would take her to her chemotherapy appointments and at night would search on Alta-Vista (this is a period appropriate search engine, fuck off) what chemotherapy even was and how it worked. In fact my grandmother's cancer is what led me to attend college closer to where I lived versus heading to the other side of the state. I would still help take her to chemotherapy treatments until it got too bad. I remembered sitting vigil by her bedsite during her last days with a biology book in hand studying for exams. I remember the pain pills that she would sometimes take when it was too much for her to bear. I remember the loss of cognition and dignity. But I wasn't there to remember her last breath because I had to go take my biology exam. And I remember her body being returned to the loam from which it was created from. What I remember the most was the slow decline and loss of a person that I know and love. Some of us got into science by tinkering around, building stuff, or were inspired by their high school chemistry teacher. That's not me. I was inspired by someone that took care of me and raised me to be a better person every day. This is what keeps me from throwing down my pipet and saying fuck it after something has not worked for the tenth time today. This is what drives me to get out of bed and make the long drive to work at some ungodly hour in the morning and return back home sometime after the sun has set. This is what keeps me up at night. This is my passion. And its all because of a woman named Sue.
Somehow I have to convey this to a room full of high schoolers. Let me ask you a question, what drew you to science?
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Sorry I was up late last night pondering and writing this...
I had a similar story. My favorite aunt (i.e. the one that bought me lego instead of dolls) died of brain cancer when I was 4. My grandmother had double mastectomies in the 60's. My grandfather, who died years before me, started coughing up blood on a thursday, and was dead on Sunday. My mother is the queen of autoimmune disease. But no one in my family even bothered to find out anything about any of these things. So, it's curiosity, I guess
My grandfather died of cancer when I was wrapping up my PhD. Fortunately my advisor gave me permission to spend time with him and I took a month off to stay at his side until he died. I remember what the cancer did to him and how he was addicted to his Percocet towards the end there ... just staring at the clock until he could take his next pill. And then, when the percocet didn't cut it any longer (the last week of his life), the doctors gave him sublingual morphine to dull the pain.
Fucking sucked. I hope I grow up to be half the man my grandfather was, and damn how I miss him even all these years later.
As for what interested me in science ... originally medicine ... the fact/hope that there would always be a job and a paycheck for me.
I spent a lot of time in hospital as a kid and saw lots of kids go through cancer treatments and some died. I was fascinated by all the potions and how our bodies work. The chance of being able to work on these puzzles was amazing.
I guess my inspiration also comes down to curiosity.
I like fixing things, making them work better. To do that you have to understand the blocks they are made of. That's what keeps me learning. The desire to figure it out, and make it all better.
Great post GR.
That's a remarkable story.
I've got nothing. I've always wanted to be a scientist (or similar). I think I would be bad at that talk as I had no particular inspiration, it's just more or less my personality.
GR- I was really touched by your story and how it changed the direction of your life. Her legacy lives with you every day in everything you do. What a wonderful gift she gave you.
I wasn't influenced by any particular event like this. It was more innate. Given a choice to play with dolls or look under the microscope, I preferred to collect water from mud puddles and stare at them under the weak light reflected by a magnifying glass under the lens of the microscope, hoping to see a paramecium swim by.
And since I wanted to end all the suffering in the world, Mother Theresa style, I thought finding cures was the best way.
(Especially in the area of viruses and bacteria where death seemed to be out of one's control because it was caused by something outside yourself. How the fuck did these tiny little one-celled beings cause some much damage?? Plus Mother Theresa was always taking care of lepers and typhoid patients and people with really horrid infections, so that was particularly fascinating. How come she never caught anything?)
What kept me going when I wanted to quit was the possibility that maybe someone else's life might be better because of me.
Whatever gets you on the path, I guess.
(Autoimmune diseases also especially fascinate me. If I could, I'd work for free in a lab studying MS.)
hmm..science is my religion? I still wonder what the purpose of life is? So curiosity for sure..
Amazing story GR.
*Why* got me into science. I always asked why. I always wanted to know. And here was a place where people didn't find that annoying, but thought it was a good thing.
But really, to know that what I accomplish by the end of my career might somehow make someone's life better, that they might find some treatment, some hope, is what keeps me going when stuff goes wrong for "the tenth time today." To know I might even play a tiny role in advancing medicine: it still makes me stop and wonder - how lucky I am to be paid to do something I'd do for free...
AT the time I saw this post, I happened to be writing a keynote speech for First Lego League about almost this topic. You can read it at http://bit.ly/gsjlBF
Even though I'm a member...just forgot my password and probably my sign in. I belong to way too many things that require passwords. :)
I liked science as a kid, and had a microscope that I loved experimenting with. What pushed me into biomedical science was the fact that my mom, grandmother and great-grandmother all had breast cancer. I originally was interested in being an oncologist for this reason, then cancer research when I realized I didn't want to deal with patients. After a couple of rotations as a grad student, I became much more interested in the little microbial bugs that cause disease rather than our own cells...possibly that childhood microscope time coming back to haunt me.