It’s Official, I’m a Bitter Old Hag

Ooops! This blog post got lost in my draft box so it’s a little out of date now but I thought I’d post it anyway.

There are lots of titles I could have come up with for this post; “Enough About That Google Science Fair Kid Who Totally Didn’t Deserve to Win”, or “What’s Wrong With Kids Today (A Statement, Not a Question)”. But I figured the title I went with sums them all up pretty well.

The thing is though, while I fully admit and accept that I am a bitter old hag, I still maintain that it’s not my fault! It’s from years of dealing with bullshit annoying save-the-world Type A titwads (mostly of the med student variety – HAHA buuuuurrrrrrrn!). And for whatever reason, this Google science fair kid has totally set me off….enough that I’m going to devote a blog post to bashing some 17 year old kid (not really).

My first problem with this is that the girl obviously didn’t come up with her own project. I mean, what high schooler sits there and thinks “You know, I bet that AMP-activated protein kinase has something to do with resistance to chemotherapy treatments.”? The answer is none of them. Grad students, postdocs and PIs think things like that. Basically, this kid has a lot of drive and found an academic lab that would take her on, was given a project and had a grad student or postdoc who supervised her, who advised her on what to do next, taught her how to do Western blots, etc. But, while I’m sure the girl did the actual hands-on work herself, there’s just no way that the concept of the project was her own and it pisses me off that she won with that. Especially when there were other totally awesome projects that a high school kid totally could have thought of, like the winner of the age 13-14 category who asked what effect marinades have on the production of carcinogens in grilled chicken.

In this case the girl sent her samples off to a lab to be analyzed but the concept of the project could easily have been her own. And I think the concept is the important part that deserves rewarding because anyone can be trained to thoughtlessly carry out a bunch of experiments, but only a good scientist will think of the interesting question in the first place.

But I think what really pisses me off about this winner is in an interview about what she’d like to do in the future, she says she’d like to be an MD/PhD and cure cancer. Yes, well wouldn’t we all? But here’s the thing about that. With all this emphasis on translational research these days and many microbiology, immunology, infectious disease, etc departments preferentially hiring MD/PhDs for faculty positions, who is left to make the new discoveries??? There is this attitude that unless you are obviously curing some disease or other then your research isn’t worth doing. But if all we research is things that are obviously linked to a disease, then how will we ever discover new links to pursue? How will we ever have turnover in dogma?

I’m realizing as I write this that the thought pattern of this post is a little all over the place, but it’s a general rant against this achievement-based motivation that “kids today” seem have when they get into science. While a go-getter attitude never hurts, to be a truly successful scientist I believe that you need to be driven by an underlying curiosity about how things work. Bah! What do I know? I’m a bitter old hag….

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