Riding with the King

This is Science.

You try. You push, you fight, you struggle. You take tiny, baby steps, and all the time you feel like you’re running to stand still. Everyone else seems to be successful, and your plugging away only draws attention to to the void that waits where your next paper should be.

But still you try, hoping against hope, long ago going through the place where any sane person would have given up because deep in your heart you know that this is the only thing you can do; the only thing worth doing.

And maybe you look at the papers in the field and realize that the experiments that set you off on this wild goose chase were complete crap anyway, and the mechanistic interpretation, if there is one, is deeply, fundamentally flawed. You present a poster with your ideas, which, despite — or maybe because of — your lack of results, is very pretty and even enjoys a brief moment of glory on display alongside the prize-winners of this year.

Others need convincing, so you perform more experiments, and with tragic inevitability any data you generate are variable, standards don’t and negative controls aren’t. Little hints here and there suggest you might not be completely crazed, but you wonder if you’ve given your boss any reason at all to believe in you.

Then one afternoon you sit down to look at some very preliminary data: incomplete, waiting on the proper controls and still shy of the experimental nirvana that comes from n = 3; and you really don’t know what you should be doing with this program but you fight it because by God it’s not in you to give up, and you realize that you’re reading the wrong strand of the chromosome but when you finally get the numbers to match six bases SHOUT at you from the Ensemble web site and you echo the shout to the office as you realize that here, indeed, is an Answer.

All your heartache and disappointments are forgotten in that sweetest of brief moments. You are the only person in the entire world to know what you do now.

You savour the exultation while your pulse recovers, then you grab your scribbled notes and a pencil and hotfoot it to the boss’s office, where you try to keep the shaking out of your voice while you explain what you’ve just found. His reaction stuns you, as he leaps from his chair and calls in other members of the lab who have a vested interest in this project and whose own work has just been vindicated. You have to explain the result three times while phrases like “this is the best result” and “this is so fucking cool” are bandied around carelessly. The uninitiated look on, somewhat bemused.

Then comes the inquest, the ‘whatifs’ and the ‘yeahbuts’ and you have to explain how your model appears be right, pending further investigations and appeals and peer review. It’s dark outside, it’s late and you still need to set up a PCR before you can leave.

Nonetheless, they can not take it away from you:

For a Day, you were King.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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5 Responses to Riding with the King

  1. Richard Wintle says:

    Nice post – missed this first time ’round (coming in from the Best of 2007 voting page).
    Oh, and “Ensembl”. ;)

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh, well spotted sir. Bravo.

  3. Richard Wintle says:

    It only took me three and a quarter years… ;)

  4. Richard Wintle says:

    Bugger. TWO and a quarter years, that is.

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

    I feel better now.