Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ugh, biology...I was duped.

Before the many biologist bloggers get offended, I don't hate biology, and I don't plan to rant against the subject. This is a complaint about an interdisciplinary relationship gone awry. I (a physicist) was my advisor's first grad student hire. My advisor's background is in physics, and when I joined the lab he had already hired a research assistant prof from a bioscience. The plan, as I understood it, was to balance the lab between the biological and physical sciences. And that seemed to be the case, at first. After me came another physical science grad student, then one from the bio side -- a perfectly balanced lab. But then came the MD/Phd from biosci, then a technician with a BSN, then another technician from biosci, and then another full time biosci grad student. And always in the background has been a continual assortment of undergrads and graduate rotators, you guessed it, all from the biosciences. Now one might say, well, at least you have the one physical science grad to buddy around with. Um, wrong. My phys-sci buddy keeps pretty much entirely to himself, showing no interest even in talking science with me (or anyone else other than our advisor).

Of course, this wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the bioscience grad students actually showed any interest in the physical science side of the lab, but they don't. When I give presentations at group meetings, I get at best feigned interest from maybe half the lab. If I dare to put an equation up on a powerpoint slide, just a single equation, they all start getting twitchy. A couple of years ago I suggested to my advisor that we start giving 5 minute updates during lab meeting. My hope was that in each talking a little about our research each week it might foster conversation across the disciplines. But here is how 5 minute presentations usually go (taken from today's meeting):

Me: 6 minutes (only my advisor commented)
Phys Grad #2: 5 minutes (only spoke to advisor, only advisor commented)
Bio Grad #1: 10 minutes (advisor, tech and research asst prof commented)
Bio Grad #2: 25 minutes (advisor, tech and RAS commented)
Tech #1: 10 minutes (advisor and bio grad #1 commented)
Tech #2: 15 minutes (advior, bio grad #1, myself, RAS commented)

That totals 1 hour of bio science talk and 11 minutes of phys science talk. And two bio people were absent today.

Again, I don't dislike bio. If I did, I wouldn't have gone into biophysics. But I do regret that I have no one in my lab to talk to about the particulars of my projects (save my advisor). That means no one to bounce ideas off of, no one to dialog with during meetings/presentations, even no one to laugh at silly physics jokes with. It has truly been the most disappointing part of my graduate career.

4 comments:

Joseph Smidt said...

Yeah, I'm sure that can stink. My group strictly cosmology so I don't get as much of and interdisciplinary perspective.

microbiologist xx said...

Well that sounds like a bummer. I am currently the only microbiologist in a sea of biochemists and while our fields are more closely related than physics and biology, it is still difficult to find common interests some times. And no, they don't really get my micro nerd jokes either.
Are there other biophysics grad students you can present your data too and make all important biophysics jokes with? If there are enough of you, maybe you guys could have a regular seminar where you can present your data to each other. The students in my last department did this and it was very informal and usually helpful. :)

Interdisciplinary Introspective said...

That's a good idea. I may look into it. Thanks!

PUI prof said...

My hubby (originally a physicist) was a founding jr. scientist of an advanced studies institute with the sole purpose of bringing physicists and neuroscientists together. They rarely interacted and dreaded going to the seminars of the "other".