Introducing Menorca Chaturvedi, one of the London Naturejobs Career Expo journalism competition runners-up.
Menorca grew up in Calcutta, India, also known as the ‘City of Joy’. She is completing her masters degree in life science informatics at University of Bonn, Germany, and is also involved in EEG data analysis at University Hospital Basel. She loves to read, travel and blog, and has been involved in writing for different newsletters and blogs over the past few years. She also hopes to become a better photographer and tries her hand at editing pictures occasionally. You can follow her on Twitter at @MenorcaC
Oliver Smithies was proud of the osmometer he built in 1951 whilst studying for his PhD at Oxford University, UK. His ideas and efforts had given way to great results and the subsequent research paper was published in Biochemical Journal in 1953. But aside from the publication, there were no other signs of success. His research was never quoted, nor was his method ever used by anyone else. “So I ask the question: what was the point of it?” Smithies, who became a Nobel laureate Physiology or Medicine in 2007, put this to an audience of young researchers at the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, 2014. “The answer is that I enjoyed doing it, and I learnt to do good science.”
Watching Smithie’s talk online filled me with enthusiasm and inspiration, especially as I am about to complete my masters and have been thinking about what to do next. His main focus point was that if you’re not enjoying your research, you should talk to your supervisor about it and change your project. “And if your advisor won’t or can’t give you another problem, then change your advisor,” he said, as the audience burst into laughter.
His talk made me think about what is important for a scientist to be able to enjoy working in science, and I feel that to reach that stage a number of factors, on top of a good problem and a good supervisor, apply.
The shaping and sharing of ideas
Ideas can come to us at different times: while having a discussion with a friend, taking a walk, bonding with family or even exercising. Reading scientific literature also has a part to play as it broadens our knowledge and can help formulate meticulous research plans. However, there is no point in keeping your ideas and questions to yourself. Working in an environment where ideas are shared and independent thinking is encouraged is certainly an advantage.
Interaction at all levels
Discussing those ideas (and any problems) with lab members can lead to interesting conversations, solutions and a better understanding of the issue at hand. When working with colleagues, you get to challenge each other and come up with innovative solutions by thinking critically. Working and talking with those in more senior positions can also bring a fresh perspective to your ideas and issues. Besides, communicating your research is an important aspect of working in science, and interacting with colleagues with various backgrounds and experiences will definitely hone your communication skills and boost your confidence.
The gift of guidance
It is important that the supervisors are easy to approach when you have a problem or wish to discuss an idea, as a lack of communication with them could be detrimental to the project. Regular meetings between a supervisor and their students are a good way of discussing work and tracking the progress of projects. When a group meeting is not suitable for detailed individual discussions or if it is irregular, it should be fairly easy to schedule an appointment with your supervisor and sort out the problems.
A positive space
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and science journalist, states in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, that employees feel more encouraged when positive goals and dreams are discussed at their workplace. This also applies to a scientific workplace. If students and supervisors only focus on the negative aspects of research it can only lead to frustration and anxiety. Keeping to deadlines, funding applications and publishing will always be important, but so is a work-life balance.
For me, the ideal environment for a scientist to work in would be one that fosters personal growth by encouraging independent thinking, critical reasoning and strong communication skills, facilitates exchange of ideas between the scientists and recognizes the efforts of each group member.