Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Visit to the Home Lab

I spent Friday night with old friends (and a few new) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.  Friday evenings are generally celebrated with a beer hour to discuss science (or more often--weekend plans to hike, kayak, or ferry somewhere in the beautiful Pacific Northwest).  Each week, as different lab hosts the beer hour with a keg or two of beer and some yummy snacks.  But the highlight for each beer night is the poster that the host lab puts up to announce their intentions.  My good friend Steph in Adam Geballe's lab is the master at these posters.  My favorite is when she photoshopped Adam's head to Psy's for a Gangnam style Hutch beer hour.  But she really topped herself with a "3D poster", which was basically a bust of Adam on a "keg" pedestal.  This bust is now called the "Geballus", hopefully it will be awarded internally to other labs when they do something GREAT, like an outstanding lab halloween costume theme or spirited Christmas decorations.

It is silly fun, I know.  How could this possibly be important in the grand scheme of things?  Well, it is a morale builder.  It is a safe place to discuss the week-to-week, day-to-day trivia of life at the Hutch.  I have solved many experimental problems after discussion with other talented postdocs or faculty.  This is a place where science is the focal point of the day and night.  The Hutch is large enough to have research diversity, but small enough for most people to know one another.  Graduate students and Postdocs come and go, but they typically leave reluctantly.  Is everyone happy at the Hutch?  Probably not.  But I do not recall many people who were eager to leave the place, as it is truly an inspiring place to work.  If anything, I am one of the people who complained the most, about someone with whom I worked.  

I did not feel a similar magic when I moved to UW in 2008 or UCSD in 2009.  In fact, I met many postdocs at UCSD (2009-2013) who were far more unhappy than I was.  The competition for grants, papers, and their PI's attention seemed too great for most postdocs to remember the joy of science.  This is why I left.  This is why I took a job that on the surface does not seem to be the type of job that will help me get to my career or science goal.  (My gut still says it was the right decision.)  

The benefit of my current position is that I am close to my Postdoc "home", The Hutch.  I feel a little more centered having made a visit to the campus and spoken with the great scientists who stopped by the beer hour for a little conversation.  I am ruminating a number of things that I want to do for my current project, that I need to do for the previous project, and that I hope to do for a future project.

I it the independent spirit of the Hutch that makes it magical?  

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