Asked and Answered

June 2, 2021

A tweet in response to a question I asked

said that perhaps a grad student’s job is to learn to answer questions and a postdoc’s job is to learn to ask questions.

I thought about that for half a second and concluded that this is backwards, for me. I think that I started into grad school thinking I knew how to ask scientific questions. I then spent the entirety of my time in grad school, right up until my committee signed off on my dissertation, learning the hard way that this was not so. I concluded that the main part of my graduate school training was learning how (not) to ask scientifically tractable questions.

In my postdoctoral training, I think that I learned how to answer questions. Not in the limited sense of “conduct this experiment, analyze the data and conclude a result”. Answering a question in the much broader sense of deploying available resources to address a scientifically tractable question and to bring this to an “answer” that was publishable in the scientific record.

I believe my career as a PI simply extends upon this, in the sense that my job is to secure the available resources in a broader sense and that “tractable” now includes the ability to direct the hands of more people. And the questions may no longer be my questions, but rather the questions of those who are in my laboratory. But it’s all just answering questions.