Thursday, September 07, 2006

Changes in attitude

(The above can be clicked for easier reading)
This was what I wrote at the lab the other day. I have this ongoing battle with the world of synthetic biology. I love the research and find it to be stimulating, fascinating and inspiring. Yet, the people in synthbio are brilliant. It's a young field, and there aren't very many people who have been inspired to spend their lives attempting to create circular strands of DNA that will change the way cells behave. It's a growing field, one with an extraordinary amount of attention at this point, but for the moment, it's the intellectual elite who are controlling the field.

I am not one of those people. I'm a smart girl, there's no doubt of that. I've lived with myself for long enough to know that I have a hefty dose of intelligence in my DNA. However, I'm also smart enough to know that I'm definately not among the higher echelon. I can solve differential equations, I can design genetic circuits, I can hold moderately intelligent conversation about many of the scientific issues facing this world we call home. But I'm not a genius. I'm not one of the intellectual elite. Yet I work with them, everyday.

It's hard to be reminded that I'm limited. We'd like to believe that we are just as capable as everyone else. Americans have this can-do attitude, where we truly think if we work hard enough, put in enough time, we can do anything. This week, I felt as if that just wasn't true. I was defeated, by two Ph.D. candidates who made me feel stupid. ATP, Chemostat, LuxR, LuxI; these terms were bandied about in ways that made my head spin. I know this wasn't their intention, but their wealths of knowledge on the topic intimidated me into feeling as if I'd never be able to hack it in this lab.

That was Tuesday. But then Wednesday happened. We had a lab meeting, that was heavily steeped in complex differential equations. Now, I know many people don't know what those are. They are complex calculus problems, that are not so easy to solve. In fact, the vast majority of D.E. cannot be solved without using tricks and shortcuts. I sat there, following everything that Mukund, the head of our lab, was doing. This is what I spent the past 3 years doing, writing equations that have the same symbols as Brad's Greek translations, but vastly different meanings.

Mukund then came to the most beautiful equations in all of mathematics. Richard Feynman named it as one of his favorite equations. It is paradoxical, it is strange, it is profound. And it is something that I hold very dear to me.Euler's identity, which brings together 5 of the most important concepts in mathematics in a fantastic dance. This shouldn't hold true; I mean, look at it.

Well, this little equation has brought my ego up again. The two Ph.D. students had never seen this before, and couldn't make tail end of it. They are both molecular biologists, and have therefore not had high levels of mathematics or physics. Their lack of understanding helped me to understand. It's not that I'm stupid, it's that I'm undereducated for the world that I'm working in. I've had, at most, one year of college level biology, and that was 7 years ago. I'm a bit rusty. The biology that I studied was general, not molecular, so there is a vast amount of knowlege for me to learn.

Having come to this conclusion, I've made it a goal of mine to work through a few molbio textbooks at the library. Biology has the benefit of being self-teachable. And with a bevy of biologists there to back me up, I'm sure that I'll be flinging those acronyms around in no time.

8 comments:

Mom said...

Be truthful in the assessment of your knowledge. Be humble in the assessment of your accomplishments Be optimistic in the assessment of your ability. The worth of your contribution will be invaluable

Penelope said...

Everyone possesses some genius. I was getting a bit piffed at you for thinking you were not as good as those other people, but was happily pleased at you revelation regarding your genius. Now I will try to leave this comment without logging into an account...as I do not have one. Lets see if it works. It seems it will. Yippy!

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

Thanks, momma. Did you write that yourself, or are you quoting someone?

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

Miss Penelope! I'm sure you've been through this in your field...just so damned hard sometimes...

Mom (Bannon) said...

Elizabeth, I have always heard that 'men tend to marry women like their moms'...and when I consider your level of intelligence...I have to think "Brad, what WERE you thinking!" tho I have heard him give me credit for 'common sense'..it is his dad who possesses the 'genius' passed on to Brad...so maybe he married one who 'reminds him of his dad'..lol Whatever he was thinking, he chose a good one :), and I am comfortable with the level of God-given intelligence I possess...and I, too, like Brad, was smart enough to 'marry well' :) love your "other mother"

vortexshedding said...

I know how you feel. Grad school was a very humbling experience for me.

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

Well, other mother, I think that you are absolutely responsible for Brad's "genius"...you were the one who patiently answered all his questions and helped him develop his thirst for knowledge...

mom said said...

I write from my heart to you.