Terra Sigillata

Well, you know my answer when you see that I am more than a week late with this post on the 15 June question.

How is it that all the PIs (Tara, PZ, Orac et al.), various grad students, post-docs, etc. find time to fulfill their primary objectives (day jobs) and blog so prolifically?

Priorities shuffle in relation to time demands, so the last two weeks of grant review have taken priority over substantive blogging, including answering the last two AASB questions.

However, this question really gets to the reason that one blogs, given that there are so many interests competing for the time of all of us these days. Like others note, blogging is also a hobby of mine but with a purpose.

Most of what I blog about comes from stories that I read normally on-line or in print, mostly on natural products, pharmaceuticals, academic issues, research funding, health sciences education, and political issues that influence science and medicine. Drafting a blog post often only takes 30-45 min, unless I’m analyzing a study. When discussing a clinical trial or a basic science study on a botanical agent, the post usually ferments in my noggin for a couple of days as I poke around at the foundation literature in between my other responsibilities. I usually get up before my wife and daughter, giving me a couple hours of quiet time in the morning. But I mostly write posts at night, usually with a glass of wine, to unwind from the science I am locked into doing during the day.

Blogging gives me the opportunity to think about issues peripheral to my field or about issues in my field on which I don’t directly work. I also find blogging to be an important adjunct to my daily job as a scientist as I am increasingly asked to think about administrative issues and research areas that are not my specialty. Blogging also allows me the luxury of being involved in a great community with you, dear reader, and my sci/med blogging colleagues here and elsewhere around the world.

Professionally, though, I find blogging to be a great adjunct to my daily job as a lecturer and a principal investigator of a couple of NIH-funded research projects. Writing these posts keeps me in touch with the larger issues facing scientific research today and its interplay with society at large. I find blogging to be most useful when I speak with journalism students about writing on medicine for the public or my pharmacy students on ethical issues facing the profession. The time invested in blogging often translates into the basis for a lecture, a review article, or just simply honing my elevator-talk for interested colleagues or potential research philanthropists. I also find that blogging makes it easier to write the background and public health relevance section of grant applications.

I went into research more for the thrill of scientific inquiry and improving human health than I did for tallying the revenue I’ve brought in on grants or the number of papers I’ve published or where I’ve published them. Being a generalist and an idealist will probably keep me from winning a Nobel prize or publishing in Nature, but these are the terms on which I approach my career. As academic, non-profit research becomes more and more corporate, I long for the spirit of intellectual inquiry, critical thinking, and service to the public that all take spots of lesser importance these days.

After all, being a Ph.D. means that one is a “Doctor of Philosophy.” Lifelong learning, creating and sharing knowledge, and thoughtfully discussing research issues and ethical conundrums of past, present, and future are all consistent with why I went to school and why I continue to search for an environment where at least some decisionmakers continue to place value on these issues.

I also tend to look at these blog posts as written documents of hallway conversations we all often have. Putting them in writing is really just having a hallway conversation with a lot more people in a lot bigger hallway.


  1. #1 Dan Dright
    June 26, 2006

    Jeepers. I haven’t even had time lately to comment! Good on you TerraSig!