Wait – fire up the neurons first!

Hold on a minute with that laser! This new job comes with an incredible amount of information that needs to be absorbed/internalized/processed: 14 countries are involved, plus the German Electron Synchrotron DESY. To complicate things, the contributions by the different countries are split into financial and in-kind (i.e. hardware or ‘gadget’) contributions. There are international agreements, national agreements, and agreements between the European XFEL and the German DESY to get familiar with. And then there’s all the other stuff that comes with having a brand new job.

Sitting on the train during my new commute, it occurred to me that this level of input is triggering something – it’s as if my brain is shifting into a higher gear. Nothing like the capacity to absorb information this guy has, mind you.

But I’ve observed this increased brain activity before when I was confronted with completely new, stimulating situations. When I’m not – when things get completely routine – I feel like I get slower and ideas don’t come as easily (or those that do are dull or daft). This would make sense – are there studies on this?

I missed this kind of stimulation. While I very much enjoyed certain aspects of my stint in science publishing over the last year, I did (due to company-specific circumstances) feel as though, most of the time, I was only using certain parts of my brain (those related to language). Being faced with this new situation – the organization of an international mega project that is complicated on so many levels – almost feels like waking up from a long sleep.

It is coming back to me how much I enjoy being involved in something big and exciting and cool and sciency. Careful, this is going to hurt: the structure of a complex project like the XFEL even reminds me somewhat of the nature of complex biological systems – there are so many interdependencies … this might explain part of what I enjoy about it. Makes sense to me at least. The other part I enjoy is to be able to make stuff happen. There’s just nothing like it.

With all this stimulation, I can even finally remember the new switch code for my bank that was changed last year – granted, I’ve had to write it down a bit more often than usual in the last few weeks while filling out forms and doing the paperwork for the job and all – so that may have helped.

Now what else I could use this increased brain activity for?…

This post was first published on Nature Network, which has since been discontinued. The post has been moved to SciLogs.

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
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3 Responses to Wait – fire up the neurons first!

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hmm. Interesting. I certainly felt that way while simultaneously feeling that I was trying not to drown.

  2. Richard Wintle says:

    You really don’t believe in getting involved in small projects, do you Steffi? 😉
    Sounds very exciting. I don’t envy your dealing with the in-kinds, co-funding, and inter-institutional agreements though. We spend far too much time stickhandling that kind of thing here, too. Just make sure you keep that wide-eyed excitement with the ultra-cool laser science (that’s the technical description, I believe), and don’t, as RPG says, feel like you’re drowning in the administrative stuff.

  3. steffi suhr says:

    @rpg: So far, I still think I can swim well enough.
    @Richard W: it will certainly be a challenge to get all the administratia (is that a word?) right – but our big advantage is that, since we’re just starting, we have the chance to set many things up ‘just so’.
    (she says, hopeful)

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