Welcome to my new blog, thanks for stopping by. The nice folks at Scientopia were kind enough to ask me to join them and I have, obviously, accepted. Given what so many of my fellow Scientopians (gotta get used to that!) believe is the prima fascia for their blogging, it made sense for me to move here with this blog.
The first incarnation of A Meandering Scholar came into existence in May 2008 over at Nature Network. I wrote there until August 2010, and the subtitle of the blog was "The Continuing Evolution of the Postdoctoral Scholar". I don't know what specific motives lead me to stop, but in the long run I guess they don't matter. Anyone who followed the drama at the time knows, anyone who's curious can dig it out, and if you're not bothered, neither am I. Suffice-it-to-say, here find ourselves.
So, who am I? Well, the labels are easy: "scientist", "biologist", "ex-postdoc", "blogger" and so forth, but I think a more instructive glimspe to who I am, and what I hope this blog will evolve into is to quote somewhat extensively from the opening passage of the original Meandering Post...
*...cue wavy dream-like special effects sequence...*
My personal evolution as a scientist began a decade or so ago, in a musty lecture hall at The University of Leicester, UK. Having failed spectacularly to get into medical school I was facing an uncertain future as a reluctant biologist. All that changed one afternoon during a lecture on excitatory amino acids. These are, as their name suggests, simple amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Glutamate is one of these and it also happens to be the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system.
Glutamate receptors at the nerve endings in your brain (synapses) come in two main flavours; either NMDA type receptors, or AMPA type receptors. It doesn’t matter what those two abbreviations stand for, but suffice it to say between the fast acting AMPA receptors and their slower cousins, the NMDA receptors, we have the entire neural basis for our ability to learn. The up- and down-regulation of these receptors by use dependent feedback causes a long term modulation of the current flowing across the neurons in your brain. Essentially...this is a memory forming.
As the undergraduate lecture continued I learned about RNA editing (RNA is the message from your DNA, the step before a protein is made), and how a certain part in one certain AMPA-type receptor subunit must be “edited” at least 99% of the time, or else you die from epileptic style seizures not long after birth.
“But, how does it know when and how to be edited?” I asked.
“No one knows…Yet.” was the answer and that was that.
That was the day I fell in love with science.
The post goes on to explain how I got where I am...or was, I suppose given that this was 2008. At that time I was well into my second postdoc and still hoping to make it to the tenure track, to become a faculty member with my own lab and the chance to ask my own questions. There's an element of hope in the post that makes it painful to re-read.
Things didn't pan out that way.
In very late 2009 I walked away from the lab bench and took up an internship as a Project Manager in a Clinical & Translational Science Institute. This was a 180 degree shift from what I'd been doing, what I'd been trained to do, and what I had foreseen myself doing since I was 18 years old. It rates, in retrospect, as one of the the most painful and yet most important decisions I've ever made.
This blog will tell you about that journey and its continuing evolution because so many postdocs and grad students around the world will face a similar crossroads. According to the National Science Foundation "Science & Engineering Indicators", in 2008 there there were an estimated 75,000 postdocs, of which only about 20% will make it to a R1 tenure track position. Most of them, us, will need to explore 'alternative' careers. But we're a bloody-minded and obstinate bunch. And the numbers are getting "worse" (depending on your perspective, of course!).
I'll offer my thoughts on the journey, share the advice that helped (and sometimes hindered me). I'll re-post occasional pieces from the original blog, a well stuff I wrote elsewhere under my pseudonym.
I hope you enjoy the journey, and because this is a blog, I hope you enjoy the stories too. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments or via email.