Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Warning, steep learning curve ahead

Drew Endy kindly allowed me to attend his lab meeting, so I attended my first "scientific lab" meeting today. Most of it was taken up by a couple of the members of his lab reporting on the talks that they'd found interesting at the "New Phage Biology" conference they'd just attended [a phage is a virus that infects bacteria].

The Bad: "I can understand the individual words coming out of your mouth, but I have no idea what you just said" pretty much sums up some of it for me. In other words, though I was familiar at a high level with what was being talked about, I had a hard time fully understanding what people were saying -- if I'd had a few minutes to try to parse the title of each talk, pore over each slide and been able to pause, rewind and replay what people were saying, it would have been much easier. Made me wish I had "Tivo for real-time interactions". As it was, I think I understood about 60-70% at a surface level, but the deeper implications pretty much totally escaped me. Pretty humbling and frustrating after being used to having a really good handle on what people were saying, seeing the implications and being able to ask thoughtful questions.

The Good: At least I understood most of what was being said, and as the meeting went on, I actually started thinking of questions myself [which I didn't voice] some of which other people then proceeded to ask. Given that my education in the actual details of molecular biology basically started at the beginning of this year and has consisted of me reading textbooks on my own, I was pretty happy to not be totally lost and be able to come up with questions demonstrating at least some understanding.

Key takeaway: I need to do a lot of reading on phage and bacterial biology in order to fully grok what's going on in Drew's lab, be able to contribute effectively and nod sagely in agreement when I hear things like "And of course, that's a departure from the classical model of phage development in which the booglepopper interacts with the snarflefozzer to cause rackbackergy and thus induces the rotorooter to strategorize with the archbooble." That's a verbatim quote. No, really, it is.

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