by Venu Thatikonda
I generate a number of beautiful figures in a day and look at them like a mother looks at her newborn baby.
Every day at 9am, I enter the lab without wearing an apron. I do experiments without holding a pipette. All I do is sit in front of a computer and write words that a computer can understand. My life looks pretty boring for an outsider, because I’m just glaring into a monitor. I generate a number of beautiful figures in a day and look at them like a mother looks at her newborn baby. I try to understand what they are conveying. More often than not, I get what my baby wants to say but when I don’t, I feel stressed.
I drink coffee, the love of my life, to keep my cool and stare again at this figure to interpret the underlying message. I put on my headphones, try to connect all the dots and build a void context in my brain around the message the figure is conveying. I get into the zone. Meanwhile, a collaborator enters the lab and asks, “can you quickly adjust the color of the top right corner of this figure you generated?”. Sorry, I can’t do it quickly. I have to recall where the script I wrote to generate this figure is stored. Even if I find it immediately, it is highly likely that I do not recollect how I wrote and what each variable in the script mean. Even if I understand everything properly, it won’t be possible what you are asking for. Sorry, my keyboard doesn’t have a key for the figure you have in your mind.
The fun fact is, I do “real science”
I don’t use the regular tools that come to your mind when you hear the word “scientist”.
Once in a while there comes an old school researcher to make fun of me, saying that I don’t do real science, that I just sit in front of a computer. Sorry to break your bubble “real scientist”, even the two lines of code I write contributes to the solution for the problem we are working on.
Have you ever wondered how tough it is to translate computer terminology to the one you understand easily? No, because you’ve never really thought about what’s on the other side of the coin. Do not just declare that I don’t know anything – we are together in science. One can’t solve the problem without the other.
Experiencing all of this, I leave the lab at 8pm looking forward to the next day. I don’t use the regular tools that come to your mind when you hear the word “scientist”. My tool set is completely different than yours. Yes, I’m a real scientist, a cancer researcher. We may possess different skill sets but what is common between you and me is, we both are trying to make someone’s life better. Let’s work together to root out the monster.
About the author
Venu Thatikonda is a second year PhD student at German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg. He is currently working on identifying genetic and epigenetic aberrations of pediatric brain tumors using high throughput sequencing technologies. He blogs at https://itsvenu.github.io/ and tweets @itsvenu_.