2009年1月22日 星期四

(轉)All my life, I never wanted to be a biologist.

Sönke Johnsen

All my life, I never wanted to be a biologist. After choosing a college solely on the fact that a family friend's hardware store was in the same town, I began a major in Physics. An Algebra professor who danced and told funny stories about pathological geniuses convinced me to change my major to Mathematics. I added a major in art, mostly abortive because I refused to take art history, and left college disenchanted with education.

I then worked as a daycare provider and kindergarten teacher for Quakers, a freelance carpenter, and a dance teacher for three year olds. It was during this last job that I met Sarah, the daughter of Scott Gilbert, who wrote the developmental biology textbook used by most colleges. After hitch-hiking across the Pacific Northwest, I decided that I needed more education. A friend and I went through the alphabet. Deciding that a career in art was likely to be a raw deal, settled on Biology and met with Scott Gilbert and Rachel Merz. Rachel suggested good places to go to graduate school and Scott got me a job with a friend of his, Stuart Kauffman.

Luckily, the job with Stu required no knowledge of biology and several graduate schools admitted me despite the same lack. I went to UNC, and after a year of reading and drawing picture of bugs on the lawn, I decided that biology was "okay". With little knowledge but high enthusiasm, I chose a high-risk, low-benefit project that I left behind the moment I handed in my thesis. My advisor, Bill Kier, pointed me to oceanic zooplankton, we both thought about transparency, and I applied to two oceanographic institutions, both of which turned me down. I cleaned fish tanks for a year, applied again, and both now accepted me. I went on my first research cruise to the Gulf of Maine with Edie Widder. It was stormy, the ship smelled, and I was seasick. It was the best time of my life. Nine years later, I have yet to look back.


我後來幫 Quakers (一個自由木匠) 當保母和幼稚園老師,還教三歲小孩跳舞。在這個工作中我認識 Sarah (寫發育生物學教科書被很多大學使用的那個 Scott Gilbert的女兒)。在遊歷過了西北太平洋之後,我決定我需要進一步的教育。我和我的朋友細數從頭 (譯按:went through the alphabet 不清楚原意),覺得搞藝術這條路沒啥搞頭。最後決定是生物學,並與 Scott Gilbert 和 Rachel Merz 碰面談了一談。Rachel 建議我一個唸研究所的好地方,而 Scott 幫我在他朋友 Stuart Kauffman那邊找到一個工作。

很幸運地,在 Stuart 那邊工作不需要生物學上的知識,而且儘管是這樣還有幾個研究所錄取我。我後來選擇去 UNC,並且過了一年在草皮上看蟲與畫蟲的生活,我那時認為生物學還不錯嘛。由於沒有什麼生物學方面的知識,我用我的高度熱誠去選擇高風險,低回報的計畫,論文連個影子都見不到。我的指導老師 Bill Kier指引我去做海洋浮游動物,我們都在想透明的東西。我申請了兩個海洋研究院,但是兩個都沒有下文。我在清了一年的魚缸之後再次申請,後來兩間都接受了我。我第一年和 Edie Widder 巡遊在緬因灣。那裡風浪很大,船晃得兇,而我一直暈船。


Advice for potential graduate students

We currently have room in the lab for more graduate students. Before you apply to this lab or any other, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, be realistic about graduate school. Graduate school in biology is not a sure path to success. Many students assume that they will eventually get a job just like their advisor's. However, the average professor at a research university has three students at a time for about 5 years each. So, over a career of 30 years, this professor has about 18 students. Since the total number of positions has been pretty constant, these 18 people are competing for one spot. So go to grad school assuming that you might not end up at a research university, but instead a teaching college, or a government or industry job. All of these are great jobs, but it's important to think of all this before you go to school.

Second, choose your advisor wisely. Not only does this person potentially have total control over your graduate career for five or more years, but he/she will also be writing recommendation letters for you for another 5-10 years after that. Also, your advisor will shadow you for the rest of your life. People will always think of you as so-and-so's student and assume that you two are somewhat alike. Finally, in many ways you will turn into your advisor. Advisors teach very little, but instead provide a role model. Consciously and unconsciously, you will imitate your advisor. You may find this hard to believe now, but fifteen years from now, when you find yourself lining up the tools in your lab cabinets just like your advisor did, you'll see. My student Alison once said that choosing an advisor is like choosing a spouse after one date. Find out all you can on this date.

Finally, have your fun now. Five years is a long time when you are 23 years old. By the end of graduate school, you will be older, slower, and possibly married and/or a parent. So if you always wanted to walk across Nepal, do it now. Also, do not go to a high-powered lab that you hate assuming that this will promise you long-term happiness. Deferred gratification has its limits. Do something that you have passion for, work in a lab you like, in a place you like, before life starts throwing its many curve balls. Your career will mostly take care of itself, but you can't get your youth back.

If, after reading this, you want to apply to this lab, we would love to hear from you.