Daily Archives: April 22, 2014

Stumbling over greatness – fiction affecting world view

Growing up every adult warned me about alcohol and drugs. “They will ruin your life. You will loose yourself in the lure of narcotics. They will be the center of your life and nothing else fits in there.” Well they forgot to warn about books. Sure there are boring books like some classics, but then there are brilliantly addicting works of art too.

The books that most influenced me between ages 12 and 17 were apparently like drugs. I stayed up to finish reading until 4 am. Which had an effect on my school work starting at 8 am. I resorted to rote learning to pass exams easily, and more importantly, to devote more time for reading fiction. I limited my social interactions as books were more interesting. I did not eat properly as it would have interfered with reading. Just like drug users, I tried to stop from time to time. Unlike with drugs, there are no 12-step-programs. And book clubs are just like drug dens instead of support groups.



¬†First real immersion into literature came in the form of a massive tome: Sinuhe The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. It started as a way to prove myself. I deemed myself mature enough at age of 12 to go through a long book about a fictional person living in the times of pharaohs. At the time I was really into Egyptology in all of its forms and it seemed like a great idea and a very Adult Thing to do. Talk about a portal drug. I read this book a second time when I was 17. I realized some of the themes and topics brought up in the book were completely inappropriate for a 12-year-old. Descriptions of brothels, murders, questionable morale of the main character, and deep depression are not traditionally considered to make up great reading material for children. Luckily I must have done some selective reading on this one, as I remembered it as a great adventure book…

Artwork for Terry Pratchett's Reaper man by Josh Kirby http://www.joshkirbyart.com/docs/dailypost.html

Artwork for Terry Pratchett’s Reaper man by Josh Kirby http://www.joshkirbyart.com/docs/dailypost.html

At the local library in search of the next installment of a fantasy trilogy, I miss spelled the authors name to the librarian. This started a fall through a deep and entertaining rabbit hole. I ended up getting a book by Terry Pratchett. It was called Mort. The tale of a young hapless boy being apprentice to the Reaper touches on themes like work ethics, employment problems, and value of a life and its purpose. Not to mention it makes one giggle hysterically on occasions. I was never the same afterwards. The satirical depiction of Terry Patchett’s imaginary Discworld and people inhabiting it offered a platform to ponder on modern day politics and social issues without boring practicalities clouding the process. And offered a sound source of humor. Later interest in social issues can be traced to Terry Pratchett’s books. They offered a fun-house mirror to reflect the current world on



By far the most addicting body of literature has been Robin Hobb’s Far See’er series. It almost caused me to fail a history exam, made me sleep through lectures, and return low quality homework in high school. And the habit just keeps going. I have read the main books over twice. It is the guilty pleasure of one more page, one more chapter, and one more sleepless night. The book series follows a royal bastard through his life of servitude to the crown and royal family. The tale of loyalty, loss, and struggle gets the reader invested via the flawed, real feeling, characters. And Robin Hobb is not afraid of punishing the characters and being cruel to them. This book series has affected my views of real loneliness, duty, mentoring, and friendship.

As fantasy books have this strong effect on readers, why do schools still force the so called classics on everyone? Some of them are actually good. Measured by literature enthusiasts standards. But worst case scenario: classics make literature something boring for kids, who are not captivated by them. This has heavy effects on their development as readers. Why not give the kids wide variety of books to choose from? The purpose of literature classes should not be getting familiar with few select classics, but to spark interest in literature as a whole.

Are PhDs prepared to run their own labs?

One reason why I chose Virginia Tech to do my PhD is the transformative graduate education program. It provides extra preparation to ones future career after graduation. It is not perfect yet, but what really is?

In the fields of biological sciences faculty has to run a laboratory efficiently. But the standard PhD education does not necessarily address how a primary investigator (PI) does it. Are we expected to absorb information on day-to-day lab managing skills from the stuffy air of our offices? And students are really busy with research, to the point of sacrificing sleep and human contact. Some labs have technicians running parts of the lab. Most primary investigators don’t involve students in the management side of things unless the student brings in their own grant.

There are consulting companies, like hfp, giving courses on how to manage a lab. Commonly these sorts of courses are offered for fresh primary investigators. But how can a graduate student really understand what they are getting into as they embark on a career path leading to a tenured primary investigator. I think these courses should be available to graduate students for them to make informed decisions about their future.

Leonid Schneider's comic in http://leadershipsculptor.com/putting-embo-lab-management-picture/

Leonid Schneider’s comic in http://leadershipsculptor.com/putting-embo-lab-management-picture/

A resource to alleviate the lack of these kinds of courses is produced by Howard Hughes Medical Institute in their resources for early career scientists. The “Making the Right Moves” manual offers advice for all levels and layers of starting as a primary investigator starting from applying the position, to hiring staff, and managing the projects you might have. I found this document to have a lot of useful information about a post graduation career for PhDs. I don’t want to be blindsided when I have to fire staff, balance a budget, and hire new people suddenly.

To help graduate students make career decisions I think courses and discussions involving everyday lab management issues. The life of a primary investigator is different from a laboratory work intensive graduate students life. And we really don’t want to buy a “pig in a bag” for a career.


  • Laursen, Lucas (2014) Learning to Lead a Lab, Science Careers.¬†http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2014_02_21/caredit.a1400048
  • Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty, (2006) by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Accessed 4/22/2014 at http://www.hhmi.org/sites/default/files/Educational%20Materials/Lab%20Management/Making%20the%20Right%20Moves/moves2.pdf