Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thinking about changing the world...

Well, howdy all. Above this is one of the first pictures of epithelial nuclei that I obtained about a month ago. As you can see, it is much better than the confocal images I took prior to that. Some times low(er) tech is the way to go.
As of now, I'm sitting in the library trying to think of a good way to change the world with my Ph.D. dissertation. It's an NSF exercise, basically,...that if I got lucky enough would fund me at $30,000 + tuition and $8000 for research for the next three years. The money isn't the big goal though, receiving one of these NSF GRFP fellowships basically means that you can do postdoctoral work wherever you want and, more, ensures that you're likely to get more NSF money in the future. The National Science Foundation really likes keeping their money for people they like, so they support people throughout their scientific career. This would be nice, while they don't dish out quite as much dough as the National Institutes of Health, they do provide researchers with hefty grants nonetheless. Money like this is essential to doing really big projects and getting tenure at a major research university.
So that leads me to my project proposal....
I have no idea what I'm going to suggest. The problem is, they want to see transformative ideas that will go a ways toward revolutionizing a field. NSF loves this kind of stuff, and wants to see this along with what they call "Broader Impacts". Essentially, this means that my work has to be distributed to the public in some form of outreach. They want to see that I'm going to go out and disseminate all of the knowledge I gain through their money.
Unfortunately, most of the people that I'm competing with have spent the last five years in Kenya teaching science to crippled children while rebuilding medical facilities and searching for an AIDS cure.  Competition is steep...and if you don't have a transformative idea, you're dead in the water. Since I didn't quite get to the grad schools I pitched my transformative ideas to, I need to start again. And in a hurry.

At present, I'm twiddling with a few things that could be done. Most of them, however, hinge on having more genomic data about our snails in the Neiman lab. I've got to say...that just sucks. I'd also like to test our assumptions about Polyploidy or Asexuality, but there are way too many variables in this system to pin down just one! At this moment, I'm thinking about looking at how snails become triploid or tetraploid. I've got an interesting idea to look at the process...I just need to spend a few more hours on PubMed to see if it's even feasible. But then, I've got to relate it to the bigger picture and suggest how it will change the world. I think it might, I just have to solidify the connection!

Maurine returns from her European journeys this week. I've not gotten as much lab work done while she has been gone as I expected to. That's okay, though, since I really feel like I've spent a lot of time thinking and learning lately. Alas, back to work!


Haley Monley said...

Try it backward: think of big-picture results you'd like to see, then trace them back to what you're doing. You'll hit deadends, but it would be interesting.

Bruce Stallsmith said...

Do snails with larger genomes have higher observed fitness? A larger genome can be a burden and slow down growth because leading into mitosis it takes longer to copy a larger genome. Any observed fitness benefit would have to be large to overcome that mechanistic limitation.