6 ways to keep up with scientific literature

So much information, so little time. Living in the digital age means information is easily available at the click of a mouse but it also means having to contend with a flood of news, views and reviews that can be overwhelming and confusing. Relevant scientific news these days not only comes in the form of journal publications but also pre-prints (see bioRxiv, pronounced bioarchives), Letters, blogs, news websites, and even God forbid, Tweets.

I’m ignoring (and secretly hating) the folks who have no problems keeping up, and whose answer to this question would probably just be to “read more”. For those like myself who have non-photographic memories and who tend to easily forget things previously read, I’ve put together a short list of pointers that would hopefully prove useful.

1. Use a citation software/web clipper

Mendeley is great for this, though I’m sure there are others. This allows you to easily download and sort your papers into folders, while enabling easy bibliographical citation. You can tag them with keywords, which adds another level of organization. A highly useful keyword search through the text of all the papers (provided you downloaded a pdf copy) is also available. It takes a while to get used to reading on a computer, but this really pays off in the long run as you don’t accumulate wads of space/tree-consuming paper that often end up unsorted and unread. A fullscreen mode on Mendeley allows you to read with a notes bar on the side that lets you highlight text and add comments.

For non-scientific articles, Evernote is great. Similar to Mendeley, you can sort web articles, photos, all kinds of media really, into folders and tag them with keywords. I love the clip from web function where a button at the top of your internet browser allows you to clip the website in simplified format. Often used when I’m surfing the net for ideas on what to blog about!

2. Create feeds/alerts

I spotted one of my Professors using HighWire for this and its a pretty nice one-stop shop for creating feeds/alerts. You can set up citation alerts that identifies journal articles containing your specified keywords/from specified authors and sends a list of their titles to your email. You can also sign up to receive an electronic table of contents from your favorite journals that allows for a more broader review of the recent literature. Recently, there have been some warnings that HighWire may be discontinued but so far these emails are still coming. I also am trying PubCrawler as a backup. eTOC alert emails can also be done directly at your favorite journal’s website.

Of course this only works if you spend the time to go through these alerts. Often what happens it is all these emails accumulate in your inbox collecting virtual dust. So best to set aside some time in a week to go through them and pick the articles of interest for more in-depth reading.

3. Get on Twitter 

Although I personally have not mastered the art of Tweeting, Twitter is an amazing resource for obtaining real-time insight into what key players in your field of study are talking and thinking about. Follow your scientific idols, and see who they follow, and follow them too. Not every scientist is on it though, but you’d be surprised sometimes at who you may find.

4. ResearchGate

I’m not a big user of ResearchGate, but they offer access to articles that you may otherwise have to pay for which is what drives many to get on it. Its a good way of seeing who has published what, who their closest collaborators are, and enables social interaction via online forums.

5. Write a blog or a literature review journal

Although reading widely is great for keeping up with literature, often it is remembering what you have read that is the challenge. A good way of cementing what you’ve read is by summarizing it and writing this down. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Often, I find myself searching and re-reading old posts to recall certain things. Writing a blog not only helps sort through your key thoughts, its a good way of collecting various sources of information into one easy-to-digest article, written in your own hand. If you’re shy about publishing it, create a private one. You’ll find yourself returning to it over and over.

6. Create a journal club

Interacting with people is naturally more memorable than reading something in private. Having a physical discussion about a paper in a coffee house or over food could help in remembering what was said, as odour memory seems to be the most resistant to forgetting. Furthermore, hearing opinions of your peers on the study also widens ones perspective. Even if the discussion is not physical, there are plenty of online forums, webchats and email threads that one can start with a group of people. In addition to the potential for generating new ideas, it’s a great way of keeping in touch!

 

 

 

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Role models in science – Dr Susan Lindquist

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It has been a month since renown researcher of protein folding, Dr Susan Lindquist, passed away to cancer at the age of 67. I remember watching her video on prion biology while working on my PhD project looking at mechanisms involved in neurodegenerative disease. She seemed pretty cool, I thought.

She grew up in Chicago to a Swedish father and Italian mother who never expected her to come so far in her career. Being a woman, their hopes for her was to marry someone decent and successful. Coming home from a party the night before New Year’s Eve and seeing their daughter hard at work on a paper, their comments were “Are you still working? When are you going to settle down?”  I’m not so sure that parental thinking has changed significantly since then…

She found inspiration in a book detailing the life of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman who obtained a medical degree in the US, and various teachers who stimulated her interest in science. Under the guidance of her microbiology professor Jan Drake, she applied successfully for a National Science Foundation scholarship to do research in his lab. With his encouragement, she applied to graduate school in Harvard, and got in, something she had never dreamed would happen. She worked in the lab of Matthew Meselsen but failed to get any data for her first project. After talking to a colleague down the hall who noted particular phenomena to heat-exposed fruitflies however, she decided to test if any similar responses would happen in cells. That was the turning point in her career, as she found and characterized the upregulation of specific proteins induced by heat, a mechanism termed the heat shock response that would be found to be highly conserved across many organisms.

She continued to work on the heat shock response during her post-doc rather independently in the lab of Hewson Smith at the University of Chicago. She characterized how the expression of these heat shock proteins were regulated via transcription, translation, splicing or degradation. Realising that these proteins were so highly conserved across different species and were being in expressed in every cell in response to stress that occurs frequently in life and disease, Lindquist was driven to find out exactly what these proteins were doing. Her research brought her into broad and vastly different fields, as it was found that these proteins played essential roles from enhancing malignancy in cancer to managing protein aggregates so often found in neurodegenerative diseases.

She had surpassed her initial dream of writing grants under the supervision of a male superior, to managing her own lab at the Whitehead Institute at MIT. She even co-founded a company – FoldRx Pharmaceuticals – which utilized her favourite model, yeast, in a high-throughput functional assay to search for drugs that could alleviate protein aggregation in protein misfolding diseases. This was later bought by Pfizer as they sought to obtain the rights to the drug Tamafidis, which was approved for the treatment of early stage transthyretin-related hereditary amyloidosis or familial amyloid polyneuropathy or FAP.

Susan Lindquist is definitely a role model to look up to, especially for women in science. There are still far lesser women compared to men in leadership positions in science and beyond. I gather this is attributable to the demands of family rearing, the discrimination that comes hand-in-hand with being a woman attempting to lead, and the internal fight women go through to overcome natural feelings of inadequacy. But Susan shows us it can be done. And I think we would probably do a better job than men sometimes as Sandi Toksvig would agree in her hilarious TED Talk.

Read and watch more about Dr Susan Lindquist here:

Fearless about Folding | The Scientist Magazine® http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view%2FarticleNo%2F44769%2Ftitle%2FFearless-about-Folding%2

Gitschier, Jane. “A Flurry of Folding Problems: An Interview with Susan Lindquist”. PLoS Genetics. 7 (5): e1002076. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002076. PMC 3093363Freely accessible. PMID 21589898.

Short video Q&A with Susan Lindquist http://www.moleclues.org/interviews/they-can-make-mess-hurry 

What to do after a Post-doc? (Getting a real job)

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It’s been awhile since I have done a career guidance post. As my post-doctoral fellowship comes to an end I am greeted with the dilemma of what to pursue next. Many other Post-docs in this world I suppose will get to this point, where they are faced with the decision – to pursue another Post-doc/find a job in industry/find a job in government/have kids and be a stay-at-home dad or mum/pursue a complete career change/get that elusive PI (Principal Investigator) position/etc.

So what do you decide? Which is the best choice? Are you even in a position to choose?

The truth is for PhD holders/Post-docs in the field of biological sciences, there is a shortage of jobs, both in academia and industry. This article sums it up nicely: STEM crisis or STEM surplus? Yes and yes.  In essence, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),  job availability differs between various fields. Although jobs are relatively easy to come by for certain STEM fields like  computer sciences, petroleum engineering, materials sciences or nuclear energy, job shortages exists in other fields such as physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology.

For academia, this is especially true and for more STEM fields in general. The first graph in the article shows this pretty well – basically all STEM fields aside from perhaps Statistics are generating more PhD graduates than the number of tenure-track positions available to absorb them. You hear about this all the time of course, though some may still be oblivious. So listen up PhD newbies, 7.6% of PhD life science graduates go on to achieve tenure-track academic positions. I don’t mean to kill your academic dreams, but would it not be prudent to realistically evaluate your chances? Another thing I am still surprised to hear from current PhD students is the impression that academic Professors earn lots of money even when compared to industrial counterparts. Please refer to the second graph in this article.

But its not all doom and gloom, the biotech industry is rapidly growing. Exciting scientific discoveries in recent times – induced pluripotent stem cells, CRISPR-gene editing, next-generation sequencing, nanotechnology etc. – herald the coming of a new biotechnological age.  And people with PhDs will be needed to drive this. A recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) saw jobs in Massachusetts grow by a record 4.9% in 2014 (the highest since 2008) with about 2000 job listings per day on average. Even in Germany, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report on the biotechnology sector indicating positive growth in employees (5.8%) and companies (1.6%) in 2014.

So how do you take advantage of this growing trend? How would one jump from being a Post-doc in academia for example to a well-paying job in industry? Here’s some key pointers that would help:

1. Stay updated – read lots!

It helps in any industry to keep updated with current trends. This not only makes you more knowledgeable and attractive to potential employers but also allows you to foresee opportunities that may affect your career decisions. Hard to find the time? I know, but hey, time is what you make of it!

2. Network

This is a tricky one. Not everyone, me included, is the kind of person to attend networking events. But networking is essential to job finding. To me, networking is defined by investing time in building relationships. Some prefer to do this at large events, others like doing it one-on-one.  Either way, doing so allows you to meet new people, form connections and provides opportunities for them to help you in your job search. LinkedIn is great for networking. Most people would not be averse to meeting up for a coffee and chat if you simply ask. Just make sure not to waste their time and pay attention to their interests – asking someone out for coffee to ask directly for a job is ill-advised. What you would want to do instead is to learn more about what they do, build good rapport, and ask for more connections that may help you in your job search.

3. Take a course

There are certain skills that are more in demand than others. Bioinformaticians for example are currently in great demand, so it would not hurt to take a course in computational methods for data analysis. If, for example, you are more interested in delving into a marketing/sales/business development/finance position, taking a course in these areas will not only allow you to learn more, it will arm you with skills that your desired job requires.

4. Try something new

You may find that research is not your cup of tea, but how do you even start to make the switch? And how will you be sure you will even like doing what you choose? The only way is to TRY IT. For example, I wanted to work in a start-up, and I was fortunate enough to find a Post-doc position in one. Of course, though I like research, I was interested in other things too like how a business is run, product development, marketing and so on. And this I volunteered to do at the company, which has turned out well so far and may lead to more opportunities down the road. But what if you are a Post-doc in academia? Well, there is a technology transfer office in every university, and several Post-docs work closely with them, some even transitioning to work in these offices. Whatever it is, finding a way to try something out gives you experience that will only help when you decide to do it seriously as a job. Sometimes you have to do it for free, sometimes you have to take a risk and quit your job to do it, either way, its better to TRY than to not have tried at all.

5. Promote yourself

This is hard to do for some, more easy for others. However, you HAVE to do it if you want that job! No one else will do it for you. Well some will do it if you ask them to e.g. friendly and helpful previous bosses and PhD supervisors. Continue to promote yourself even when you get the job, it helps you get promoted. Do not expect your boss to be aware of your great work, he’s busy with his own stuff. So highlight your achievements, mention this in your CV, enjoy the recognition, do not curse and mutter under your breath of being undervalued if you yourself are not bringing these achievements to light. A note of caution, in Germany, self-promotion can be seen negatively. So do not overdo it. In America though, everyone is self-promoting shamelessly, so be prepared to join in if you do not want to be drowned out!

Another issue, what if you are happy being a Post-doc? Can one stay a Post-doc forever? Although there are certain positions like Staff Scientist where one can enjoy the benefit of doing research without the bureaucracy of administration and grant application, these positions are hard to come by. Funding agencies find it hard to justify funding these positions if there are plenty of lower paid Post-docs willing to do the same work. Post-doc-ing long-term also means working on a contract basis, not especially stable if you want to start a family or buy a house. However you do find some places that provide good salaries and benefits for Post-docs. See a list of these top institutes here and a survey on post-doc salaries across the world in 2013 from The Scientist.

 

7 tips on writing effectively

Writing is imperative in life, and together with speech is the main thing that elevates humans as a species from the generic ape. Despite this, inefficient communication takes place on a daily basis. Think about that last lengthy WhatsApp message or email you had to scroll through twice just to clarify the point the author was trying to make. Working in science, this problem is amplified by the use of jargon; field-related terms that people enjoy using to make themselves sound smarter.

Writing is a means to get one’s point across to another person(s). You need it in all kinds of situations – selling products or oneself (advertisements, job applications), recording (history, data), informing (news), creating a following or a movement (politics, religion, environmentalism), capturing imagination (books, stories) and self-expression (blogs, Twitter, Facebook).

So are you an effective communicator? In this day and age, one is also not given much time to communicate. Since 2000, the average human attention span has dropped from 12s to 8s (which is shorter than a goldfish: 9s) . So how do you effectively capture and maintain the attention of your readers? Let me list the ways:

1. Make a visual impression

A whopping 65% of people are visual learners. This means that long paragraphs of complicated texts are prone to make your readers “zone-out”. Images and videos are often effective at capturing attention. Once you have the attention, don’t lose it by having long unending paragraphs. Space out your points into separate paragraphs and make it easily understandable. The use of bullet-points or lists are also effective means of getting points across. Stories/anecdotes are also somewhat visual as they create a scene in one’s mind and can be great hooks for capturing attention.

2. Give the reader what he/she wants

I used to struggle with blog posts, and sometimes still do! But one thing that helps me focus my content is pretending if I were the reader. What would I want to read about? This runs in parallel with writing. Writing is a form of learning. So I usually write about what I want to know more of. This forces me to research the topic of interest and formulate my own opinions. In the end, you need to cater your script to what the reader/buyer/employer wants.

3. Simplify but don’t be boring

People have different styles of writing, it’s important to keep your own style. At the same time it’s essential to be effective at getting the point across. A book that comes highly recommended is Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”. It’s a classic which teaches you the “rules” of English. The entire book contents appear available on this site.

An excerpt: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

The book also recommends writing in the active voice which I highly employ i.e “She enthusiastically juiced the orange.” versus “The orange was juiced by her with great enthusiasm.” It sounds more impactful, doesn’t it? However, its good practice to vary sentence structures so you don’t bore the readers.

4. Different cultures, different styles

Just as we respect the behavioural norms of each culture, writing also has to be molded according to the culture of the target audience. I just found an interesting method of classifying cultural behaviour – the Lewis Model. Similarly, writing style is influenced by these different cultural characteristics. I found it interesting for example that in Germany, people detest self-praise. So when applying to rent an apartment for example, it would be unthinkable to write “We are friendly and pleasant people.” Chances are, that would only arouse suspicion! Same thing goes for when applying for jobs. It may be better to take a more aggressive and direct approach when applying for a job in America than for one in the UK/Germany. Asia is somewhere in between in my opinion.

5. Using fancy words

Yup try to avoid this. Not only does it come across as trying too hard, it may also be unfamiliar to the reader, burdening him/her with the effort of looking it up. Save the fancy words for novels, poems, and other “artistic” works of self-expression.

6. Coherent flow

Just as in a presentation, it helps to start a written script with an outline of what the article will be about (after your attention-grabbing hook). Main points are highlighted in the body, and at the end it is imperative to conclude well. I must admit I am not great at this but you can find some useful tips here from Elizabeth Soumya’s blogpost. The conclusion should ideally have an element of surprise but still be coherent with the rest of the article. Good methods are using quotes, startling statements, thought-provoking questions, stories, or a link back to the beginning.

7. Ask for opinions

Your view of your own writing is probably far more idealistic that it actually is. It definitely helps to ask people for their opinions on your written piece. Oftentimes, this leads to improvement and also learning moments that help guide your future writing style. Don’t protect your ego, expose it!

So when was the last time you’ve carefully scrutinized your own writing? Try it out, you may learn a thing or two.

 

Analogies in Science

How do you carry out your scientific research? And are you doing it the right way? The typical process of scientific inquiry is to come up with a hypothesis, do experiments to prove or disprove it, replicate the results through a number of different techniques and in more than one system, and voila, publish it! The process is simple but there are a multitude of factors that influence decision-making at every step.

One of the most well-used but probably least recognized technique that influences the way we do science is the use of analogy, or the concept of finding similarities between different things. Analogies can ingrain themselves into our psyche often time subconsciously and affect they way we think about science. Laura Otis, American historian in science and Professor in English at Emory, writes in her book “Membranes” about biologist Ramon Cajal who discovered that the brain was composed of individual cellular units. She noted that the method he used to prove this (the Golgi stain) had been invented years before yet no one had used it to define borders between cells. The brain had always been thought of as a big pile of mush, no one would have imagined it was made up of discrete units. She postulates that it was only during the late 18th century, where the idea of colonialism was well-instilled and the philosophy of individual perception was gaining popularity, that people may have been inspired to conceive life in terms of independent living units.

In modern times, analogies are also persistently being used by scientists without them necessarily being aware of it. Kevin Dunbar, a current Professor in Psychology at the University of Maryland, followed four biochemistry labs in Stanford University during the 1990s to discover how scientists think. He came away with the impression that science is an extremely frustrating endeavor (and didn’t we know that already). Of all experiments conducted, 40-60% of them fail. Or to be more accurate, yielded unexpected results. Unexpected results often garner a lot of attention, and are the topic of most lab discussions.

Dunbar found that analogies were frequently used in these lab meetings. 99 analogies at 16 meetings to be exact. He found that analogies could be grouped into classes depending on the goal. Closer analogies, or analogies within the same organism (HIV to HIV) were used to “fix“ failed experiments, analogies between different organisms (HIV to Ebola) were used to formulate new  hypothesis, and analogies between very distant domains such as HIV to a pearl necklace was used when explaining scientific results to a general audience. He also found graduate students made fewer analogies as compared to post-docs or professors, likely due to their limited experience and hence “collection” of analogies.

Dunbar further raised the importance of group reasoning which he termed distributed reasoning. Discussing ideas amongst a group was necessary to learn different viewpoints and thus create analogies. However he said it was ineffective if the group had members of very similar backgrounds (hence only a singular perspective) and also ineffective if backgrounds were too diverse with very different or competing goals. One of the labs that Dunbar followed was composed of the former, a group of E. coli experts. They failed to analogize outside their domain and instead took the approach of modulating different conditions one at a time till the experiment “succeeded”. This however took a far longer time compared to another lab composed of chemists, biologists and medical students which provided more analogies and rapidly came up with a possible explanation and solution.

Interestingly when Dunbar confronted scientists on how they solved the problem, few recognized that they even used analogies! They had little memory of it and instead thought it was the result of their own reasoning that led to the solution. This is probably also why when famous scientists are asked what factors led to their success, many said it was pure luck. It is not pure luck people, it is the use of analogies. Dunbar leaves us with four pieces of advice: 1) Follow up on surprising results, but pay attention to your controls; 2) Use analogies to formulate hypothesis, use distant analogies when explaining things; 3) Go to lab meetings and take part in distributive reasoning; 4) Pay attention to your goals, avoid “confirmation bias” by ensuring your goal is not blinding you to alternate hypothesis.

What I wish I had done during my PhD

A PhD is a tremendous time investment, but admittedly helps in your scientific career. It’s been about more than 8 months since I finished mine. And looking back on the experience, I definitely would have done certain things different. So this is for those folks who are in the midst of the PhD fervor, or are just starting out (PhD babies!).

Things I should have done or was glad I did during my PhD:

1. Avoid hazy topics and don’t be overly ambitious. I think its probably the secret wish of every PhD student to find a cure for a disease or make a breakthrough discovery during their PhD. This is not a bad thing but a PhD lasts for 4 years (ideally, that’s maximally how long you want it to last) and if you are not already an expert in the field, you are going to take a few months/years groping around to find your bearing. A topic where many questions remain unanswered or controversial with little progression being made by experts in the field over years, is unlikely to yield to your single-handed efforts. So try to keep your research questions simple. Even if it is in a hazy field, tackle a question in a way that nobody has, i.e. find a different approach. Because it is unlikely to yield any novel results if you are just trying what others have already done.

2. Define your project(s) early on. Due to my mistake with point 1 i.e. having an overly ambitious project, I only started on my actual project late in year 2 of my PhD. So that is 2 years of work down the drain, nearly half the PhD! But this is a surprisingly common trend for many PhD students. It’s not always the fault of the supervisor as well, they may also be caught up with the overly ambitious project 1. But one thing is for sure, you have got to know when to quit if the project is going no where. So best way to do this, is to start with a few projects early on, and LET THE DATA GUIDE YOU.

3. Listen but don’t be waiting for instructions. A PhD project is probably the most self-indulgent time of your life. It’s all about you. Which also means you can’t be waiting for your supervisor to tell you what to do. They might try to, but hey its your project. Which is also why you are supposed to have a counsel of Professors on your advisory board. Everyone is there to give you advice, but you choose what to act on. I once even had advice from another PI to plan my figures down to the very blot before I had even begun. Note that this contradicts directly to letting the data guide you. So sure listen to all advice, but don’t get overly carried away by a particular source.

4. Plan your experiments weekly. This is something I did pretty well and was probably what allowed me to graduate on time with just enough data. Time is so precious during your PhD you have no idea. So writing down what you have to do (mostly experiments for me  but you can also set aside time for reading) every week, down to hourly chunks, not only ensures you get things done, it also records what you have already done. I found Outlook calendar to be great for this and it syncs with my phone too.

5. Record, review and secure your data. Your work is defined by your data. You need to make sure you record it in legible format. And you also need to make sure you save it and not lose it when your computer crashes. Occasionally, you ought to look through it carefully to figure out what the heck you’re doing and what more you need to do.

6. Keep up with the literature and read with a focus. Nobody works in a black hole. There are others out there working in your field and you need to know what they are up to. Make it a habit to read at least 2-3 papers a week. When you are reading, know what you are looking for. Usually the objective of the paper, how they did it, and what the results look like (don’t bother with reading through every single word). Don’t read mindlessly, hours can be lost just going from reference to reference. You need to know what you are looking for exactly, if its something you want to learn more about, try recording it/highlighting as you read so you can refer to these highlights after. Get started with your bibliography early, software like Mendeley were real time-savers for me. Also subscribing to email alerts based on search terms relevant to your field is a great way for keeping up to date with current research.

7. Talk, collaborate, go to conferences, meet your friends. I know its hard for scientists. We are a socially awkward bunch. But trust me, do not coop yourself up in the lab. Learning moments are usually when we talk to other people. Even to people in your own lab. I garnered so much advice and ideas just talking to the postdocs in my lab. I also learnt alot from other people in my field and the academic world is actually a pretty friendly place. People give you reagents for free when you ask for it and even the most famous Professors sometimes spend the time to answer an email from a pleading PhD student. Conferences are also great, a lot of intellectual stimulation plus you get to travel. The Society for Neuroscience conferences are amazing, go for one if you have the chance. Talk to your fellow PhD classmates. It helps to learn how other people approach problems and they are a great source of help and advice too. Don’t get freaked out though if their projects are going way better than yours, focus on your own! And finally, try not to work on a Friday night. Release all that scientific frustration in your own way – sport, alcohol, dance, food etc.

A PhD is a great learning experience, but the time is limited, so try to get as much out of it as you can. And don’t forget to find out where you’re going next after the PhD!

Why its great to be a Scientist today

As much as it has been said that we are producing far too many PhD graduates than we need, the current era of scientific progress I believe demands the production of far more good scientists to achieve the dream of a truly advanced techy world. Due to the lack of internet at the new apartment, we have been re-watching  Star Wars (yes true geeks we are). Perhaps the thing that made Star Wars so successful (and it honestly was not the acting) was how creatively imaginative George Lucas was at describing a world so futuristic, spacey and technological advanced at a time in history, (1977 to be exact) when such technology was so far from becoming reality.

In Munich, the Deutsche Museum houses an incredible amount of gadgets and equipment devised from the early ages till today ranging from ships, mining equipment, textile weaving machines, musical instruments, microscopes, computers, weighing instruments, radios, and much much more. The capacity for the human mind to imagine, invent and create is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We have done this for years and we will keep on doing it, because somehow man is never satisfied with the current state of affairs.

It is no different for the field of biological science, health and medicine. So you know, despite what they say, it is a great time to be a scientist. And why is now a great time? Just look around you. People are becoming more and more interconnected with the aid of mobile technology and the Internet. The ability to find, generate, store and disseminate information is easier than ever. The typical scientist can now read the latest research papers with the click of a mouse or even better, find and talk to an expert in the field. Running experiments have become much faster; consumables and reagents are delivered within the week, DNA sequencing results within 2 days. Work can be carried out on different continents with results shared instantly via email or web meetings. This is a time when ideas are so easily bounced around, which tends to generate even more ideas.

Perhaps for this reason, many big executives are leaving big pharma to start or join smaller biotech companies. Astrazeneca R&D Chief, Briggs Morrison, recently announced a sudden exit and will become CEO of a small privately-held pharmaceutical. Also this year, Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, left his senior R&D role at Pfizer to become CEO of Synlogic, a company dealing with synthetic biology. Big pharmas used to be the only ones with enough money to develop drugs but with the growing interest in healthcare by investors, it is not difficult to find money to fund your very own pharma. In fact, sometimes it is becoming a little too easy. Smaller firms have the flexibility to pursue riskier ideas which big pharma cannot afford to do, and with the technology available today, it is the age where one can do truly amazing stuff.

The next few blog posts will cover some companies that are on the cutting edge of science in arenas such as genomic testing, gene therapy, health monitoring, data processing, and synthetic biology. So the question is, what key question are you working on? And are you fully utilizing the technologies of today in your research?