9 May, 2006
Just might be science for a while. I think I might be totally and completely boring about it, too. Please do let me know which bits are interesting and which aren't. If any are interesting at all…
I'm giving a poster this week. Unfortunately, I knew I could rely on my "if I wait until the last minute and then stress the fuck out and work like mad, it'll all get done" strategy, which has been field-tested to within an inch of its usefulness. The part I always forget about that strategy, which works brilliantly, is JUST how much the stress sucks. And for how long. But I also forget just how sublime it is once I do take off thinking. It's been a while since I got to do this, just think, figure stuff out….since I defended, in fact.
The scale is different now. The meetings I'm presenting at are smaller. I'm on the field's bleeding edge, working on a very hot topic, and I speak for my lab, so if I'm wrong, it might be a major embarrassment. This sort of error is not unheard of.
This afternoon I walked into what I thought would be a casual presentation of the poster so far to the other authors. That's what my PI said in his email about it, anyway. Which was sent to 8 people. Ha! Not only, NOT ONLY were there ~20 people there, but one of them was my BOSS' BOSS. Let's call him BB. The head of a very important research division at NIMH. Sitting in that alpha-male conference room seat, on the long side of the table facing the door. Probably walked over from his (ahem) OTHER office, on the other side of campus; a 10 minute walk in the life of a busy man. There, to hear me present my data.
Why? Because the email my boss sent said:
(Techne) in my lab has come up with a solution to (bleeding-edge problem), with r^2 values that go over 0.95.
r, you see, is the correlation coefficient of how related two things are. It goes from 0 to 1. So r^2 > 0.95 is hair-tearingly-out awesome, read-the-sentence-again awesome. And I have 0.96. (Every little bit matters.)
The thing about data this cool is, nobody cares if you, oh, hmm, say, are underprepared and tongue-tied and flustered because BB's sitting right across from you staring at you while you search for the words to the stats you only just learned but have to sound competent on and your PI said it'd just be casual and coauthors and friends, but head of the program, yo!! Who never smiles! Even when he's happy!
No — really, honestly, nobody cares. Because it's good enough that once the basics are finally out your PI, who is very good at this sort of thing, deftly takes over from you to guide the conversation. And you, seeing that your PI has your back and that he's also performing for BB, can relax and chime in at a level that redeems you somewhat, cause you know this is totally not about you, which is freeing. And it's a fabulous and interesting pure-science bliss awesome conversation of the type you love, and everyone's already forgotten about your "uh, uh" and remembers only the 0.96. Which you leave up on the screen, really really big.
And at the end they all sincerely thank you and say "great work! really great!" and they mean every bit of it, because you might have just saved them millions of dollars and/or months or years of time and given them the key to Huge Discovery, and now everyone knows who you are, and by the end of the week people outside NIH will too.