I have subscribed to quite a few journals to get alerts about new papers. Mostly this signifies lots of stuff to wade through until something interesting or relevant pops up. But one thing I always look forward to is the Q&A in Current Biology. In this section, some professor/researcher is asked questions related to their research and their career. Now the reason this is not as boring as you might think is that the questions are pretty interesting. Not only do they highlight that person’s interests and career path, but also their opinions on their field and beyond.
The start is most likely ‘What turned you on to biology in the first place?‘, for instance asked to Botond Roska in this Q&A. While sometimes this uncovers a passion that started in childhood, other, more circuituous routes to biology may also come to light. Often this is followed by ‘And what drew you to your specific field of research?‘. The answers to these two questions already let us see so much more than ‘author of 4 Nature papers’ – they let us see the person and their interests, and how their interests shaped their career path. This is already very interesting to see, especially for early career researchers. However, it gets more useful than that: ‘Where did you learn the skills that were most use to you in later life?‘ was for instance asked to Hugh Dickinson here. ‘What is the best advice you’ve been given?‘ to Botond Roska again. Also, frank discussion is encouraged: ‘What has been your biggest mistake…?’ is something Jennifer Rohn had to answer.
Other questions aim to probe the scientist’s opinion on meta-science, such as ‘What do you think about post-publication peer review of papers?‘ (asked to Peter Reddien), ‘How do you see the future of academic research changing?‘ (one for Anindya Dutta) or ‘What do you see as serious issues in science today?‘ (that was for Thomas Dresselhaus).
The most interesting questions are the ones that make me pause and think – for instance ‘What would you do if you were Minister of Science?‘ (another one for Thomas Dresselhaus), ‘What is your greatest research ambition?’, ‘If you could ask an omniscient higher being one scientific question, what would it be and why?’ (both for Botond Roska), and the most scary one ‘Taken overall, has your work actually contributed anything useful?’ (Hugh Dickinson again).
While you might still be thinking about what you’d ask the omniscient higher being, let me finish with some answers:
‘What aspect of science do you wish the general public knew more about? Evolution’ – I could not agree more with Nina Wedell who was asked here. Even without the confusion about it being a theory, there is more than enough misunderstanding to go around.
‘Which aspect of science, your field or in general, would you wish the general public knew more about? I wish more people knew what science was really like — that scientists are real people, not stereotypes, and that science is not black and white. A fundamental misunderstanding of how science works breeds a lot of mistrust and pseudoscientific thinking.’ Jennifer Rohn again, and she makes a great point – the portrait of the geeky lone scientist in the lab coat does not help, and more grey between the black and white extremes is rarely seen.
Lastly, something biological that I completely agree with: ‘Do you have a deep scientific conviction? Yes, paraphrasing the famous quote of Dobzhansky, I’m convinced that nothing in neuroscience makes sense except in the light of behavior.’ said Onur Güntürkün.