Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charity case = technique-based research?

There's a pharma concern here in town. They plow through materials like any Pharma/Biotech/R01, and they have a policy that the moment that said materials expire, they must be immediately removed from the premises. Lucky (?) for us, someone there calls the universities in the area to see if they want the stuff, and being the poorest of the bunch, we top the charity list. Today we received cases and cases of water filters and isolator plates. Thanks. I think that we got hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of stuff. I think (?!?) our Micro teacher or our water-sampling chemist can use it.(Can you tell I have hoarding tendencies?)

In any case, what this leads to is the designing of labs / research projects around the materials we have instead or designing labs de novo to fit the course exactly. Is that SO bad? The other option is to say no, or keep the stuff until we realize we can't use it- and end up wasting our time (scarce) and storage (plentiful) on the stuff until we throw it away ourselves.

When I was being trained as a scientist (both PhD and post-doc), I was always taught that we do HYPOTHESIS-driven research, and that technique-based research was always uninteresting and for the dull of mind. But what if your resources are scarce such that you can't set up an entire new lab "set-up" each time you get a new idea?

My analogy:
You can pick a recipe out of a book and go shopping for each of its ingredients- to hell with whether they had to be flown in from Peru for you. Strawberries in Feb? That's what the recipe calls for!

Now, more and more people are buying CSA boxes, and learning to design a meal around what is in season. The produce is extremely fresh, and the cook is stretched and must be creative in preparing a meal from the produce in the box.

Why is this such a no-no in science?

I bought more equipment in my 3 year post-doc (that isn't being used anymore) than I will buy here until I retire.Yes, the fact is that I am running a research lab in which all the students I ever have will learn two major techniques. I'll never get the equivalent of my start-up again to retool. We will march through all the simple things to be found from doing exactly what I do. So I must be creative in finding interesting questions to ask with the set-up I do have.

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