Comments from the April 2012 issue of ASBMB Today
A tribute to midlevel scientists
Dr. (Lynn) Zechiedrich’s essay is on target, but the emphasis was geared toward scientists who are stuck in a midlevel position or toward scientists who chose not to progress to the next level. I would like to add another choice: to step down. I marched up the ladder, tenured with external grants and my own lab, but with a heavy teaching load and no (teaching assistants). While those of us who gravitated toward (primarily undergraduate institutions) due to the emphasis on teaching, the odd aspect of working at a PUI is that the institutions expect the same level of funding and research productivity as Research I institutions. I found no time to be in the lab, to think of new ideas, to enjoy science. Instead of being stuck in a midlevel job, I was stuck in being a professor. The choice was to leave the life of a professor. I am back in the lab, pipetting and also writing more. Thus, rather than a fall-back position, I chose to move down, a rewarding change. Thank you for shedding light on midlevel scientists.
Maureen Shuh, Ochsner Clinic Foundation
Since the location of the Gala Dinner of the 1973 (International Union for Biochemistry) Congress in Stockholm had to be changed at the last minute, table sizes and protocol seating arrangements were modified as well, and I found myself, as a young postdoc, seated by mistake at the right side of congress president and Nobel prize winner Hugo Theorell. I was understandably thrilled and nervous, even more so due to the fact that Theorell had been a mentor of my mentor, Britton Chance, who gave with him the name to an enzymatic mechanism, the Theorell–Chance kinetic mechanism. And desperately wishing to ask a “clever” question I said: “What has been decisive for you, Professor Theorell, to receive the Nobel prize?” Humbly, Hugo Theorell answered: Years ago, a sergeant had planned an exercise with 100 soldiers outside the city. While he was instructing his men, a lady came, weeping. Minutes before, in that field where the exercise was planned, she had lost a ring of great personal value to her. Moved by the tears (but possibly also by the beauty) of the young woman, the sergeant decided the exercise of the day: Each soldier had to explore one meter of ground for the entire length of the field; before sunset, the ring had to be found. And, indeed, the ring was found! A soldier picked it up from the grass and brought it to the sergeant who, on his turn, brought it to the lady. Full of joy, she asked to meet the soldier who had made her so happy; shaking his hand, she thanked him very warmly and asked what she could do for him. The soldier bashfully answered: “I have no personal merit, madam; without the other 99 soldiers that have explored the field as carefully as I did, the ring could not have been found.” Nurturing a culture of respect and esteem for those who are not always in the limelight will pay justice to science, which requires many more than 100 solders to allow one of them to go to the podium.
Angelo Azzi, Tufts University
Words well chosen and expressed. The National Institutes of Health runs on the talent of the middle. Unfortunately, not all senior scientists are as egalitarian as you about giving credit where credit is due.
Very well written! A sincere acknowledgement to the many scientists who work with deep enthusiasm.
Donatella Tombaccini, University of Florence
Are we doing a good job of teaching the groundbreaking research of our predecessors?
I have a poster of H.A. Krebs in my office (actually it is a poster of the Warburg bath I used every day of my graduate work with HAK). Students often ask who it is, and some are very surprised to hear that HAK was a real person! I wonder if all the cancer researchers who have rediscovered the Warburg effect also realize that he was a person.
Malcolm Watford, Rutgers University