The Priority Pie

Just as I want people to feel connected to the science being done, the scientist has to feel connected to things around them. That being said, have you really sat down and thought about what your priorities are? Lab, family, friends, TV shows starring McDreamy, YouTube? I know what you might say to people, I mean, you’re supposed to say lab right? Graduate school/Postdocing is my number one priority, I am fully devoted to science (that sounded a lot more sarcastic using the robot voice in my head). One thing is for sure, if you don’t know what your priority list looks like, you can get into a lot of trouble. Usually with people who thought they were higher on your list.

Truth is, things change a lot over time. That’s the problem with making lists, they just aren’t that flexible. Priorities are really more like…a pie, a French silk pie. Why French silk pie? Because I am writing and I get to say what kind of pie it gets to be. Anyway, deadlines come in lab and you need to get that experiment done at all cost. That first anniversary is tomorrow and you need to go celebrate and get a gift (yes even on a grad school salary and postdoc ones aren’t that much better). Your best friend just had a horrible break up and calls you to talk them through it. In the end, it comes down to the percentage of time you allot to each, and everyone wants the biggest chunk. It’s up to you to dish out the slices.

However you slice it, be truthful. Don’t tell your significant other that you would drop everything for them at any point, and then show up late to your anniversary dinner. Conversely, don’t tell your boss on Friday that you will have an experiment done by Monday, but take the weekend to go to the beach with friends. It comes down to expectations; what you promise has to equate with what you deliver.

How does your pie look? You have to make the first cut and decide who gets the biggest piece. Everyone involved won’t always like the size of their piece but it is your pie to slice. They don’t have to like the size of their piece to eat it. But don’t lead them to believe they are getting half the pie when you only have a sliver left to offer.  That is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your PI. It is one of the biggest mistakes you can make to those who are supporting you through grad school.  And, when it comes down to it, getting the first piece can be more important than getting the biggest piece.

I know what my pie looks like and it tastes delicious…and now you want pie.


It started with a Facebook post

My name is Dr. Michael D. L. Johnson. I have a B.A. from Duke University in music (yes music but that story will come later), and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Biophysics from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (yes the rival and that story will also come later). This is my science blog. Details of who I am will come later, but for now I will leave you with how this started.

I just want people to feel connected to the science that is being done. Feel proud, not afraid. So I posted something on Facebook and got some good dialog. Here it is, for better or for worse (hopefully for better).

“Yesterday I saw a talk from a prominent virologist. There was a bit of doomsday gloom with “what could happen” and it made me think of the way people think about scientific funding. People look at cancer, infectious diseases, and other illness’s and they get scared of what could be. So they say, we need to fund this project because I’m scared of the consequences if we don’t. That philosophy is clearly not working as many funding pipelines are drying up and it seems like fewer care as more begin to distrust. I acknowledge that there is fear of what scientist can do, or are capable of but please, reach out to us and have an open mind when we reach out to you. As we would believe you in how you do your job, have faith in how we do ours. Support us. Not out of fear, or even out of necessity. Support science out of pride, support science to be part of a solution, support science so that the latter will be greater. Yes, I know what it is that I am referencing there, how are we supposed to be put to work and take care of things that we don’t understand or worse yet, chose not to understand. Support us by trying to understand what it is we really do in laboratories because we like so many others are often not portrayed well on the TV screen. Support science to help mankind. Please understand that our discoveries are your discoveries, our cures are your cures, our triumphs are your triumphs.”

One great comment was “The increasing reports of misconduct and sloppy, irreproducible results is not helping science’s case unfortunately” to which I replied

What do we do then? No system is perfect; there will always be bad apples. Is there behavior excusable? Certainly not. Should we hide the results? Not at all. But by virtue of those who call out the research, colleagues calling out colleagues, or better stated, those who are qualified to call out each other, we are trying to balance ourselves. In truth, those reports should make individuals untrustworthy while making the community stronger; highlighting the strengths of the scientific method and peer review systems. We as a community are actively checking ourselves. The system isn’t perfect, misconduct will always happen and it makes a much better story that a kinase that you have never heard about (no offence to the kinase people, I’m sure it is a very important protein), but this is precisely the reason we need the support because there are so many obstacles to overcome. There is so much good to be done, call it naive but it does not make the statement untrue. That is the call to arms, that is what people need to take pride in, that is the battle.”

Then one of my dearest friends suggested I start a blog to get to my audience. Well…game on!!!