Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My challenging, humbling day job

This morning, when the alarm clock went off, I yawned and groaned and wished I could stay in bed all day. And then I thought of all the people who don't have a job and don't get a pay check, so I kicked my ass out of bed and went to work.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. But I don't kid myself: scientific research is rewarding 1% of the time and hard and frustrating 99% of the time. In school you are given ideal datasets tailored to the statistics you learn in class. In real life datasets are very much imperfect: experiments don't always go as planned, they don't always get fully funded, and you end up with a small sample size or a poor study design. Textbook stats no longer apply. You have to come up with new strategies.

My job is challenging. My job is humbling. Every day I am reminded that I'm so not the smartest person on earth, that I'm very much fallible, that I have limitations. Every day I'm reminded of the millions of people that are dying of AIDS. Every day I'm reminded of how lucky my kids are.

It's good to have reminders that keep you in check and make you grateful for what you have.

So there.

Thank you hard, challenging, and humbling job.


  1. Elena, you are soooooo normal!

    The difference between what you do and what most folks do is that, despite the challenges, your HIV research will make a real difference to many people in the fullness of time.

  2. Elegant proofs don't exist in the real world, if I may be so bold as to put this conjecture, since there are no absolutes, only statistical inferences so it is only a conjecture. If things worked "perfectly", then perhaps we wouldn't be facing the consequences of human imperfections and mutating viruses. I put "perfectly" in quotes because, once again, it is impossible for one small human of limited wisdom and intelligence, to categorically define "perfection" or even to postulate its existence in this world of distributions rather than Euclidean points on a theoretical plane. Given all this, and human frailty, it sometimes is a heroic act to keep on going in your research. The longed for solution can be elusive, and I can understand why there are times when you long for respite rather than another day at the coalface. However that is why makes you and the others whose toil advances human understanding in this tragic viral illness. So please accept my thanks for going back to the lab on days when you would rather be doing anything else, even staying warm on a cold winter morning. While you may not be one of life's "sung heroes", you are heroes nonetheless.

  3. thank you Mike and Carolyn but there's really nothing heroic about what I do, I get a pay check every two weeks, I sit in a cubicle and the only hazards I may face are wrist tendonitis and back pain. There are beautiful minds who have great visions and have to fight to get their ideas approved, funded, established, those are the heroes who struggle every day. There has been yet another hurdle in our quest, I can't talk about it, but it makes me very depressed.

  4. "...another hurdle in our quest, I can't talk about it, but it makes me very depressed." Elena, I understand about that sort of thing and am so sorry to hear it. I don't need to know the details, but I do know nothing kills passion more quickly.
    Any chance you can take a day or two off? Maybe go over to Chimayo or up to Taos and breathe some fresh non-cubicle air?


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