I just got back from spending a few days with a neuroscientist friend who recently became a PI, in charge of his own lab. On one of the walls in his lab, there was a map of the world with little pins marking the birthplace of each lab member. (My friend is originally from Calcutta.) Needless to say, the world was well represented. One post-doc was from interior China, another was from Jamaica. India, Japan, Korea and, yes, America, were also represented.
This astonishing diversity is one of the reasons I love science. Although a few of the globalized post-docs had trouble expressing themselves in English, they always found ways to communicate with each other. The ensuing conversations tend to be littered with the awkward acronyms of molecular neuroscience, so that every sentence was full of kinase enzymes, funny mutant fly nicknames, and the experimental techniques that are a staple of every lab. (Sample: “I need use PCR to assay mutant for CREB 1″.)
There was something very wonderful about watching these people use science as a sort of universal language, an Esperanto of modernity. Although everyone in the lab came from such radically distinct places, they were all trying to solve the same scientific problem. Diversity was recognized as a virtue, not a stumbling block. People managed to transcend their dialects and cultural differences. I couldn’t help but think that the modern American science lab – this melting pot of talented people – is my model for society at large, a utopia of petri dishes, micropipettes and salt buffers.