About planning (or not) your future

I have been quiet for some time, but I will try to post a bit more frequently in the future. This time my post does not have any direct link to plant biology. After watching this video a couple of days ago I was nicely surprised to learn how lucky I have been. Although I am a rather extreme case of a person having many different interests, I have very rarely felt the pressure described by the speaker. In fact many times I have felt encouraged. This may have to do with a different cultural attitude in Argentina, and in addition, because I have almost always connected all those different interests. So, what are those interests? I have training as a crop breeder, but I did find very interesting plant eco-physiology, genetics, micro-meteorology, statistics, systems analysis, computer programming, electronics, photography, and graphics/book design. This seems too much! Doesn’t it? Surprisingly I am using all those skills and interests in my current research and teaching. I did my first experiment with plants, as an undergrad, around 1978 and quite soon after that I designed and built my first measuring instrument, an auxanometer (an electronic instrument to measure plant growth rate with a very good time resolution, of minutes, if not seconds). For this I used what I had learnt of electronics, mostly as a  hobby, and from a friend who studied telecommunications at a technical high school. Then we got the first computer in the lab, an Apple II. Money was scarce, and we had a commercial statistical software that was so awkward to use that I do not think a young person nowadays could imagine that anybody would ever write a program, and be able to charge money for it, where you had to type-in the numbers to analyze one by one, and had no provision for editing any data value after you had entered it. In other words, if you made a mistake, you had type-in again your whole data set! I was not happy with that, so I just wrote a programme myself for ANOVA and ANCOVA. Combining what I had learnt of statistics in regular university courses with what I had learnt about programming mostly by myself, again as a hobby.

I hope none of those of you who do have many different interests, is feeling the pressure described by the speaker. If you do, however, stop worrying, and find ways of combining those interests so that you can either use them together, or alternate among them.



“Flow”, success and hapiness

Yesterday after our Biophilosophy Society session, I had an interesting chat with Matan about whether switching research subjects is good or bad.

Today, just by chance I ended watching this video from 2008. I think it nicely answers what we discussed. NOW WATCH THE VIDEO… (19 minutes long, but really worth your time)

Only after watching the video, you will understand what follows:

If you you feel that the field your are working on, does not provide enough of a challenge to get you into ‘flow’ at least now and then, then you have two options: find new challenges that you find exciting within your current discipline, or shift your interests to another discipline. Which of these routes you take, is quite irrelevant as long as you can reuse enough of your current skills in the new subject to be within your safe zone of comfort. Reusing the skills does not require the skills to be used in the same way as in the previous discipline, just that you find a way of making use of your skills even if by analogy when analysing a new problem.

I am currently participating in the “Leadership training” organized by the university, and in one recent meetings of my research group when discussing how to better work as a group, I emphasized that for every member of the group their work should be fun. This idea is formalized, and backed with data in the talk in the video I embedded above. So, if you skipped it, scroll up the page and watch it!