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transferring labs and switching fields


Adam Levy: 00:09

Hey, I’m Adam Levy and that is Working Scientist, a Nature Careers podcast. At present, transferring labs and transferring self-discipline.

This collection is all about strikes. Whether or not that transfer is with a companion, or one which takes you to a brand new nation. Transferring labs as an instructional is usually a pivotal second.

Nicely, at present we’re what occurs when that transfer is mixed with one other, typically even bolder profession shift, transferring disciplines.

How can shifting the science you do improve or exacerbate a transfer from one lab to a different?

For neurologist Ken Kosik, of College of California, Santa Barbara, transferring the situation of his lab, in order that he’s surrounded by a variety of lecturers from different disciplines, has remodeled the way in which he does analysis.

I caught up with him and we began out by discussing how he ended up in such an interdisciplinary location.

Ken Kosik: 01:20

After I completed my neurology residency, I nonetheless was unsure what I actually wished to do. I used to be nonetheless looking out.

I spotted that whereas neurology and medication basically is quite a lot of enjoyable to study, I discovered myself rather less enthusiastic about really training it.

I believe the motivations for these fields are a bit of totally different. I actually started, towards the top of my residency, to change into interested in analysis and utilized to a laboratory to do completely analysis however remained in a medical faculty.

After being there for nicely over 20 years I got here to offer a chat at Santa Barbara. And so one other life-style, by which the buildings round me weren’t haematology, gastroenterology, neurology. They have been issues like music and structure.

That setting appealed to me immensely. To do analysis in a setting the place there’s a a lot broader range of educational disciplines. That doesn’t imply that I deserted my medical curiosity. I do quite a lot of work nonetheless associated to Alzheimer’s illness.

However I’ve simply discovered that the setting the place I’m now, which has a powerful element of different sciences, physics, laptop science, engineering, in addition to humanities, is way more conducive to my nature.

Adam Levy: 02:59

The way in which you describe it, it sounds very pure and really, very regular factor so that you can do on a private stage. Did everybody else see it that means? Or have been some folks a bit shocked by this type of determination?

Ken Kosik: 03:11

I had achieved the rank of professor at Harvard, and other people have been a bit of shocked that one would go away a tenured place like that to go elsewhere.

Adam Levy: 03:22

And by way of the precise outcomes of this, have there been advantages on your work in being surrounded by folks from what is likely to be thought-about very totally different disciplines?

Ken Kosik: 03:34

Huge advantages. I imply, the advantages that I can really doc quantitatively. My impression elements have gone up, , for what they’re price. They’re most likely not price that a lot.

However I’ve opened up collaborations with chemists, laptop scientists, physicists. That has been extraordinarily thrilling for me and actually has been the important thing to success on this setting.

Reaching throughout monumental cross disciplinary boundaries, has actually been with most attracted me and has labored out very nicely.

That’s to not say that that might work at an earlier stage in a single’s profession.

I made this transition already as a senior investigator, a senior scientist. So I used to be fairly comfy in my very own self-discipline.

Adam Levy: 04:25

And has this been welcomed on the opposite facet of the divide, because it have been? Have physicists additionally being grateful to, to have collaborations with with you on topics, which possibly they wouldnt have touched in any other case?

Ken Kosik: 04:38

It’s been extremely welcoming on the opposite facet of the divide for a number of causes. One is that as a result of I’m a neuroscientist, I believe folks in lots of fields are intrigued by neuroscience.

There’s actually an fascinating migration that’s happening by many individuals in physics, for instance, or laptop science which might be actually trying towards neuroscience to attempt to perceive deep studying, synthetic intelligence, in ways in which the mind accomplishes duties that are much like what they need to do.

Now, I’ll additionally add, although, that coming to the campus the place I did on the College of California, Santa Barbara. At the moment, there was not nice power in neuroscience.

So I believe folks wished to become involved in neuroscience. However it was a bit of tough on the opposite facet to cross over. So my arrival was very, very welcome. And I’ve simply been like, a child in a toy retailer there with the alternatives to collaborate.

Adam Levy: 05:42

My subsequent query is, I suppose, a query of identification, do you suppose this modification has shifted you from from contemplating your self a biologist? Or is that also very a lot the way you describe your self as an instructional?

Ken Kosik: 05:55

I’m nonetheless a biologist, I don’t have any illusions that the esoteric work that is happening in computation, laptop science and physics is one thing that I can do myself.

I’m nonetheless basically the cell biologist, the molecular biologist, the neuroscientist, and that’s a actuality.

Adam Levy: 06:15

Now, as optimistic as you have been, I’m very conscious that biologists and physicists and engineers, all of us converse barely totally different languages.

So how in apply, do you really start to beat this impediment and truly talk throughout these boundaries?

Ken Kosik: 06:33

Sure, I believe there’s a little bit of making an attempt to grasp what the particular person on the opposite facet of the boundary can dom what they’re enthusiastic about. And if I meet one other one who does cell biology, I assume an infinite quantity of information and shared applied sciences to strategy an issue collectively.

Whereas in turning to somebody who’s actually utterly away from these fields, somebody who’s actually not even skilled in biology, we actually must first acknowledge that they’re very good folks, and so they actually don’t want us to clarify to them simply quite a lot of the main points of biology 101. They want for us to clarify to them the sorts of issues we’re grappling with.

And that’s, I believe, the core to, to success. To pique another person’s curiosity in a website by which they will contribute.

Adam Levy: 07:35

Do you might have any ideas or, I suppose even warnings, for people who find themselves making an attempt to or hope to speak throughout these sorts of divides?

Ken Kosik: 07:45

Attempt to have a dialog and change. It’s, it’s essential that one doesn’t strategy a collaboration throughout such an excellent divide as a chance to offer another person a lecture.

It actually is a chance to search out what’s going to match inside what they do. Which implies that you should have some understanding of what an engineer or a physicist really does.

Then the following query is, nicely, is it actually potential to even collaborate with somebody who’s considering of issues in 11 dimensions?

So there might be widespread floor, I discovered, I just lately have simply begun a dialog with a person who does quite a lot of quantum principle.

And each of us are enthusiastic about how we are able to apply a deep studying, machine studying, to our respective fields. And there was a really fascinating change that I’ve begun to have with him on this matter.

And this particular person brings a sophistication about computation that I couldn’t ever obtain.

However but he does probably not know what the issues are in neuroscience that will require a machine studying strategy.

Issues like discerning waveforms in, say, a mind organoid, which is one thing we’re very enthusiastic about.

So I believe that there might be widespread floor with somebody so long as you discover the place the shared curiosity is.

Adam Levy: 09:17

Now you talked about that this type of strategy to analysis may not work for people who find themselves earlier of their careers. Is there anybody else you’d say, “Oh, really, possibly this doesn’t fit your specific strategy or your your specific character so nicely.”

Ken Kosik: 09:33

It is not going to work for everybody. However it could possibly work for those that are earlier of their profession, however differently. I’ll provide you with an instance of an individual who got here to my lab just lately and was capable of, I believe, do one thing fairly superb.

That is a person who did his PhD in physics, after which determined to do his postdoc with me. He had nice sophistication in each computation and in instrumentation. And he constructed and devised some units for mind recordings, He had no background in biology in any way.

So whereas he was with me, he not solely was ready to make use of his talent set, however he immersed himself within the biology of developmental biology, which is one thing it’s a must to study while you’re occupied with how and organoid develops, develop sophistication with stem cells, all that form of factor.

He spent 5 years in my lab, and simply within the final month or two received a job with this twin coaching, the place his twin talent set in two, completely very various fields was the important thing attractor that received him the job.

And naturally, the aim of each postdoc is to get a job.

Adam Levy: 10:52

Now, who would you say this, this wouldn’t essentially work out for, then?

Ken Kosik: 10:57

I don’t suppose it could work essentially if an individual is just about capable of accomplish their objectives and their imaginative and prescient, strictly inside the self-discipline.

It’s not essentially essential for everybody to succeed in throughout the divide so broadly. However I believe more and more it’s.

As a result of when you consider all of the sophistication required within the space of optics, to grasp cells, increasingly more issues with computation to grasp cells, that I believe this side of the organic sciences, the place it’s changing into increasingly more vital for us to to succeed in throughout boundaries, is changing into extra related.

And in reality, I see the biologist of the longer term as being equally comfy with our residence turf as we’re with the devices required to review cells, with the computational strategies obligatory to investigate cells.

Adam Levy: 12:10

That was Ken Kosik. As Ken talked about, this interdisciplinary strategy is not essentially for everybody.

And certainly, transferring labs and shifting self-discipline may not be the suitable transfer for all lecturers in any respect phases of their profession.

Within the first episode of this collection we spoke with Tim Fessenden, who’s now a scientific editor at The Journal of Cell Biology. His PhD centered on the biophysics of cells, after which he determined to make the leap into two unknowns.

Firstly, he was transferring to a brand new lab with a brand new PI.

And secondly, he shifted self-discipline to review how immune cells and tumours work together. So how did he discover shifting self-discipline?

Tim Fessenden: 12:57

You recognize, I cherished it. I’m so glad that I do know, I received into my alone little nook of immunology. And that’s my disposition, I really feel like I’m a lifelong pupil, , I really feel like somebody who I at all times need to be the dumbest particular person within the room.

And this was actually the case in my postdoc. I like to recommend it to anybody, simply because it forces you into a brand new mind-set and forces you to understand totally different investigative instruments {that a} totally different self-discipline has at their disposal, and values.

Adam Levy: 13:28

So shifting the sphere of research can deliver a bunch of nice surprises and new studying experiences. However on the similar time, a brand new area and a brand new lab is likely to be a bit an excessive amount of novelty to juggle unexpectedly.

Tim Fessenden: 13:45

I believe a very powerful factor that I’d advise, which grew to become actually crystal clear for me over the course of my time within the new lab, was that should you’re going to affix a brand new lab that comes with a set of challenges that you shouldn’t exacerbate by additionally switching fields, which is what I did.

So I believe issues may need gone way more easily if I used to be becoming a member of a brand new lab in the identical area that I knew.

The place I knew all of the strategies, I knew all of the background information, I knew the opposite huge gamers within the area, the place there was some consolation already there, and I may form of cope with the bumps within the highway of the brand new lab as way more simply.

Because it was I wanted to study immunology, and quite a lot of new strategies. I had by no means labored with mice earlier than.

So all of these issues actually compounded the challenges of a brand new lab. And so I’d say do one or the opposite. Change fields, or be part of a brand new lab. In all probability don’t do each. I believe I’m certain some folks do it efficiently. However in my case, the recommendation I’d give us to not form of mix these challenges

Adam Levy: 14:58

We heard earlier from Ken Kosik, who’s received used to collaborating with bodily scientists, regardless of his organic analysis background.

However what about making the shift the opposite means spherical from the arduous physics in direction of the extra life sciences?

Nicely, that’s the shift that many physicists make once they transition to medical physics. Jennifer Pursley is a scientific medical physicist at Massachusetts Basic Hospital, with an assistant professor appointment at Harvard Medical Faculty.

However her background was extra centered on particles than sufferers. I caught up along with her and we began out talking about what her present job seems to be like.

Jennifer Pursley: 15:39

Technically, in keeping with my employer, my work is 80% scientific and 20% analysis. However there’s quite a lot of flexibility inside medical physics basically to decide on the way you need to spend your time.

And for me, I actually take pleasure in working with college students and mentoring. So I’d say that my break up finally ends up being extra like 50 to 60% scientific, after which 20 to 30% training and educating.

Adam Levy: 16:10

Now once we speak about scientific work as a medical physicist, what does that truly contain? What are you doing within the clinic?

Jennifer Pursley: 16:17

Sure, so it relies upon loads on what sort of medical physicist you might be.

I’m a radiation remedy physicist. So I work within the radiation oncology division. And our job focuses round treating sufferers with radiation.

So quite a lot of my scientific duties revolve round ensuring that sufferers are handled safely and successfully with radiation. I additionally help with the physicians designing radiation remedy plans.

Adam Levy: 16:47

Now, how did you really get into this line of labor? Your background isn’t really as a medical physicist?

Jennifer Pursley 16:53

That’s very, very true. My background is a particle physicist. In order a particle physicist, I did my PhD and a postdoc working at Fermi Nationwide Lab in Chicago, Illinois.

And about midway via my postdoc I used to be beginning to consider what I actually wished to be doing with my work.

And I discovered that I actually loved the hands-on points of what I used to be doing as a particle physicist.

I additionally thought that I’d be happier if I knew the work that I used to be doing had extra of a direct impression on folks’s lives.

So I began asking questions. I discovered a couple of individuals who had left particle physics. And I talked to them about what they have been doing, and a lot of them had gone into medical physics.

Adam Levy: 17:44

And the way has the expertise really been used?

You talk about these, these motivations, hoping to see the impression of your work extra immediately, for instance. Has that been realized?

Jennifer Pursley: 17:55

It positively has. Scientific work is extraordinarily satisfying, in that you just get to help with sufferers day by day, despite the fact that it’s in a small means.

Typically, there’s quite a lot of occasions the place what I’m doing isn’t immediately associated to physics, but it surely’s extra about drawback fixing.

It’s about understanding the entire points of every little thing that goes right into a affected person’s remedy, and with the ability to see connections and discover errors that different folks have missed.

And to repair these in order that the affected person is handled successfully and on time. And that’s extraordinarily satisfying,

Adam Levy: 18:34

Was that in any respect a cultural shift concerned in transitioning from a particle physics lab to, yeah, working usually very immediately with sufferers?

Jennifer Pursley: 18:45

There positively was a really massive tradition shift going from a nationwide lab to the hospital setting.

For one factor, the hospital could be very hierarchical.

So studying the hospital hierarchy, but additionally studying learn how to talk with folks from many alternative function teams.

So at a nationwide lab, everybody has kind of the identical background. Everybody is available in with a physics diploma or some fundamental understanding, whether or not it’s undergrad, grad, all the way in which as much as professor, everybody is aware of that they have a physics background.

On the hospital that’s positively not true. Most individuals do not have a physics background. And so communication, and studying to speak science successfully to non-scientists, was actually vital.

Adam Levy: 19:33

What about, I suppose, these extra comfortable abilities when you find yourself interacting, not simply with, with different medical professionals, but additionally with sufferers?

I imply, physicists possibly aren’t essentially so well-known for his or her comfortable abilities. And I need to confess, I’m a physicist by coaching as nicely.

Jennifer Pursley: 19:51

That’s an excellent level. And it’s one thing that the sphere as a complete of medical physics is making an attempt to determine proper now.

Traditionally, we haven’t had that a lot of a patient-facing function. And if we do work together immediately with the affected person, we principally attempt to not speak to them an excessive amount of. We attempt to let the professionals deal with that.

However we’re seeing the profit for physicists. Particularly there are some sufferers who’re actually inquisitive about what’s taking place to them, like “What is that this radiation remedy that I’m receiving?”

And the physicians can reply a few of these questions. However I’ve really immediately interacted with sufferers who’re themselves engineers or physicists. They usually need to speak to a physicist concerning the linear accelerator and about their remedy.

So it’s positively been a studying expertise. And it’s not one thing that we’re at the moment coaching physicists to do.

However I believe the medical physics area as a complete sees that this most likely goes to be an vital side of our area. And we should always begin coaching physicists on learn how to talk higher.

Adam Levy: 21:04

On this collection, we’ve mirrored loads on how to decide on what workforce and what lab, one needs to be part of.

How do you suppose that query is sophisticated while you’re additionally occupied with altering, altering disciplines and probably altering disciplines fairly radically?

Jennifer Pursley: 21:21

I believe the toughest a part of it for me was not figuring out precisely what I used to be getting myself into.

I bear in mind really, the very first day that I confirmed up, as my medical physics postdoc, I used to be shaking. As a result of I had gone from being an knowledgeable in particle physics. Or I walked into CDF at Fermilab and I knew everybody there, I knew what everybody’s job was, I knew precisely who to ask for questions.

And I felt like I had mastered the place I used to be. After which I walked into this utterly new setting, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know precisely what I used to be imagined to be doing, and even what I did not know that I wanted to know. And it was an actual shock.

So not figuring out what you’re stepping into additionally makes it actually arduous to decide on the suitable match for you. The analysis challenge that I labored on as my first challenge, as a medical physicist, it wasn’t actually an excellent match for me.

So it’s significantly arduous while you’re switching disciplines to know what’s going to be the perfect match for you by way of analysis or lab or place.

Adam Levy: 22:31

Out of your experiences do you might have any recommendations on issues folks ought to ought to be careful for or issues folks ought to keep away from when they’re making a transition like this?

Jennifer Pursley: 22:40

Nicely, my largest recommendation should you’re contemplating a transition between fields is to speak to as many individuals as you possibly can.

And I inform this to college students on a regular basis. What I did was I talked to particle physicists I knew who had change into medical physicists.

However in hindsight, what I ought to have performed was attain out to medical physicists close by the place I used to be in Chicago.

I ought to have referred to as a few of them up or emailed them and requested if I may come and meet them the place they labored, and job shadow them for a day or two, and simply speak to them about their expertise.

And I spotted now that physicists are extraordinarily keen to do that, like they’re really very completely happy to speak with college students or people who find themselves contemplating transitioning into their area, they’re very welcoming.

In order that’s my, like, largest recommendation to folks contemplating the profession change now’s attain out to a physicist in your space.

Even should you don’t know them, or have a connection to them, it is very seemingly that they’ll be completely happy to welcome you and you will get an excellent expertise. You may study extra from really being within the setting than simply from speaking to somebody about it.

Adam Levy: 23:53

Is there something that you just miss in any respect concerning the extra pure physics (I’m placing that within the inverted quotes) that you just did earlier in your profession?

Jennifer Pursley: 24:03

There positively are some things that I miss about pure physics. At the least coming from a particle physics background, I used to be used to working with a really massive collaboration of individuals. And all of us supported one another’s analysis work.

So we had a standard set of code, a code repository, that everybody checked code out and in.

And so any developments, any enhancements that anybody made, have been instantly shared with the remainder of the group.

And sadly, in different fields, that is probably not the way in which issues work in analysis.

In order that side, not with the ability to share analysis as freely or as shortly as I used to be used to as a pure scientist, it was a bit of, a bit of bit totally different than I anticipated.

Adam Levy: 24:49

Is there the rest you’d prefer to share with individuals who possibly are contemplating a transition not simply from particle physics to medical physics, however from a extra bodily self-discipline to a extra life sciences or medical sciences self-discipline?

Jennifer Pursley: 25:02

Written communication is vital. Although physicists are anticipated to jot down papers we’re probably not taught learn how to write.

However having some devoted programs in efficient written communication, I believe could be useful for anybody contemplating switching into one thing like a life sciences self-discipline.

Adam Levy: 25:23

That was Jennifer Pursley. We’ve received simply two episodes left on this collection, however we nonetheless have loads left to debate.

For one factor, we haven’t touched on the specific disadvantages that some researchers face when transferring lab and the way these can complicate what’s an already difficult determination.

And so within the subsequent episode we’re talking with three researchers with bodily disabilities, about their experiences and approaches.

Till then, this has been Working Scientist, a Nature Careers podcast. Thanks for listening. I am Adam Levy.

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