Recently a friend lent me Craig Venter's autobiography "A Life Decoded". The first few chapters have been pretty interesting, particularly the part about his time in VietNam. Knowing quite a few people that have struggled to get into and out of medical school, its amazing to think of all the people that, like Venter, were conducting major life saving operations without the benefit of even an undergraduate education - talk about learning by doing... In relation to my last post, I found some solace in the fact that he apparently often feels very much the same way I do about the relationship between his visions and their ultimate reality:
"The sweetest moment of any project is not when it is finished but when the end is in sight [...] Today, ... I still find that the final version often falls short of the one glimpsed in my head during construction."That being said, the chapters describing his early scientific career are positively humbling - it seems that he went quite a ways before he really guessed wrong. One aspect of his career that he highlights is that, aside from his own drive and cleverness, he always had the benefit of being surrounded be truly world class mentors and collaborators - he lists one nobel prize winning colleague after another and he's barely out of grad school..
J.C Venter (2007) "A Life Decoded" page 14
Another aspect of the book that is a bit jealousy inducing (as most of the book is likely to be for any scientifically motivated person) is the very clear, step by step progress of his brand of science (currently biochemistry). It reminds me of one of Duncan Hull's best remarks
"Nobody is going to win a Nobel prize for creating a standard schema, ontology or whatever".This might be the essence of the bioinformatician's lament. Though we know intuitively that the work we are doing is important, many of us feel that it is just plain not as scientific an endeavor as establishing the reasons why a certain drug has a certain effect on a certain kind of cell. Despite knowing that our work is vital - the human genome project would certainly never have been possible without people like us working in the basement somewhere - the general absence of those hard and fast facts associated with real, tangible pieces of reality can be very trying sometimes. This is likely why you will see many of us get so excited about things like gardening and building fences in our backyards (even though such labor tends to damage are soft, uncallused hands).