Sunday, December 28, 2003


Six years has passed since my graduation from Berkeley's MCB Department. One year was spent learning what it would feel like to earn money. Two years was spent in post-doctoral training. Three years was spent learning about Quality practices in biotechnology.

While on the road, I was talking to the SO's sister who is also a research scientist at UCSF. She's doing cutting edge research, which is something that I thought was going to be my life when I graduated from Berkeley. One of the choices then was to do a post-doctoral fellowship in Alabama or in Chicago. In one of those twist of fates, I decided not to pursue a continuation of my research in cancer biology. Instead, I decided that I needed to get a job and stay in California.

That was also the time when I met the SO. After chasing some women who had massive personality problems, I finally found someone who was actually tall, intelligent and good-looking. Was I going to throw it all away and leave her just when I found her? Was I going to pursue my career? The answer was NO.

Sometimes though, I wonder what I could have done with the competition when it comes to science RO-1 grants. I believe that I could have competed with the best of them. I had written some proposals in my post-doctoral years in which the main criticism was not about the grant but as to the abilities of the laboratory to be able to support the grant. That was a pretty good assessment of my skills. Even now, experiments still come easily. If being a research scientist allowed you to make tons and tons of money, I probably would still try to go at it. But why do that when you can become a millionare by making your own business?

I realize that part of the attraction is the involvement of the ego. I wrote this grant which got me a half a million dollar grant. Part of the attraction is due to the competition against other labs. I proposed these scheme of experiments which show that my idea is correct. God, I am GREAT!

But then, part of the things that I have forgotten are the fears when it is grant time and you are on pins and needles because you are not sure that you got the grant. I remember interviewing for a post-doc in a lab where everyone was so arrogant because they had grants. The questions were pretty mean and nasty during my interview talk. I got "killed" because I was very open about my assessments of my project.

But what I remember also was that a graduate student was proposing a project and she was going to use PCR to detect mutations. Specifically, she was going to use primers to determine the presence or absence of mutations. I was aghast as to the lack of knowledge with respect to the possibility of a successful project. I knew immediately that that project was dead and with it the lab.

Later on, as a post-doc in another lab, I met one of the students who was in that lab. He told me that the lab failed to obtain a RO-1 grant the next year. I knew already that a non-renewal is inevitable if a post-doc and a grad student could get to a point where they could propose an inappropriate technology to detect mutations in genes. As a result of that loss of grant, that lab laid-off two technicians and lost all of the post-docs they had. This is what you face as a principal investigator.

Sometimes, I wish I were a professor at a major university. I like the prestige. But then again, for the shit you have to suffer through, it is really worth it? Is it really worth it to kowtow and amuse people who couldn't get grants themselves? Wouldn't it just be better to just make money, take care of the family and write books of poetry, and sell photographs?

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