When my mind wanders during a conference talk, I often find that short sentences summarising how I feel about work come into my head. Here’s what I scribbled in my notepad during the ComBio meeting this week:
Information relevant to me is communal, not owned by individuals
I wrote that down when thinking about how biologists interact (or not) at meetings. As a computational biologist, most of my day-to-day problems are programming and software issues. If I need information, I go straight to the Web. However, wet-lab biologists seem to get much more of their information by talking to other biologists. If you’re interested in an organism, a model system, a laboratory technique or if you just want to get your hands on a plasmid, you talk to someone who works on it. It strikes me that a lot of wet-lab group leaders claim some sort of ownership over the information that their lab generates, resulting in the “so-and-so is the world expert in system X, you should talk to him” mentality. On the other hand, the idea of schmoozing with “the Perl expert” is a tad silly.
That, at least, is my excuse for not networking much at biological conferences ;)
Bioinformaticians need to be free
We (or at least, I) are happiest when working on a range of problems. A main project and a bunch of fun, side projects with plenty of variety is the key to a happy bioinformatician. Conversely, getting bogged down for months or years on a single project, particularly one on which you work largely alone with little external input makes for a sad bioinformatician.
Much has been written about Google’s 20% time, where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on projects that they think are fun, cool and interesting. I think this would be a great policy to implement for bioinformaticians, computational biologists and other researchers in academia.