Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Real Job, My Needed Focus

Readers of this blog may think that my whole professional career is dedicated to debunking bad science and teaching about biotechnology.  The funny part is, that is probably 5-10% of what I do.  I'm the Chairman of a fruit/veg crops department that is among the world's best.  I lead a great research program in how light can make plants more nutritious and how different genes shape plant flavor.  I mentor postdocs, grad students and undergrads, along with many visiting scholars. 

This weekend five things happened:

1. Friday, another FOIA request for my emails. 
2.  A note that one of my former undergrads that she is now Chief Science Officer for a company in neurogenomics.
3.  A Facebook post from another former undergraduate that she has completed veterinary school.  
4.  A post from my current undergrad saying that she is heading off to Haiti to help run a youth leadership camp, and that she's doing a fundraiser. 
5.  An undergrad researcher in my lab stuck around for the summer after graduation.  He working super hard for almost no pay, and I think I found a great place for him to chase a Masters Degree. 





The annoyances of evil people that want me to stop teaching are far offset by the joys of my successes from teaching.  Ashley, Kiona, Sofia and Paul... all undergrads in the lab at one time that celebrated successes this weekend. 


You see why I'm disturbed.  On one side, hateful acts of malice that wish to destroy my reputation and career.  On the other side, heartwarming residues of my efforts, seeing undergrads that passed through the lab use that experience as a stepping stone to achieve their dreams. 

In my 14 years at University of Florida I have mentored over 110 students through meaningful undergraduate research.  Ten are named authors of peer-reviewed manuscripts, and just about all of them have appeared on a poster or presentation at a scholarly conference. 

One of my central jobs is to inspire and train young scientists. I'm proud to say that the vast majority have been women. One in particular comes to my mind.  She was a lost soul, truly wrestling with some personal baggage.  The lab environment, particularly the influence of strong female role models just a few years older than her, changed her. 

It did not save her.  She achieved a Masters Degree, found a productive career, but later would take her own life.  One profound tragedy that still makes me cry when I think about it. I have a picture of her on my desk and one in the lab. 

This is what it really is all about. It is about how education changes people.  It is about how experience and building skills opens the best doors. It is about how science is a vehicle to teach and build curiosity.  The task now should be how to bring more students into science so they can enjoy such benefits.  

It makes me think that all of the hassles brought about by activists, dangerous NGOs and hack journalists really belong on a back burner.  They have consumed me for sixteen months, and that's enough.  I was so agonizingly disturbed on Friday night with the new FOIA request, yet so utterly thrilled by the other victories of my former, and current, students. It is much more pleasant to bask in the successes of my students than to cringe at the evils of charlatans. 

It is why I will never quit, and why I need to refocus.  One minute spent on the Food Babes, USRTKs, and their legions of trolls is one minute pulled from my real mission.  I can trade the things that hurt for things that heal.  I can trade regressive angry people for enlightened young scholars.  I can stop debunking bad science and invest the same energy in training new scientists.

Not sure why it took me so long to get here. 

It was a good weekend.  It is Sunday.  I'm meeting a student today at 2 pm and tomorrow (Memorial Day) I'll be in working with another on designing his next projects to complete his first paper.  I'll also be setting up experiments for another super ambitious undergrad that could be real game changers. 

This is what I do.  I think that Vani, Gary, Claire, Carrie, Evil Mikey and the rest of the vicious critics might want to take a step back and think about who they are really harming when they strive to harm me.  

Thanks for reading.  Have a great extendo-weekend.  I will.  I'll be in my safe place, in the lab, teaching the next generation of scientists how to be their best, and contribute to a mission that is truly important.