cowboy me, 2.0: jose nazario beauty and the street


meijer flower (5)

http://monkey.org/~jose/figs/IMG_0987.jpg

another flower from our trip the other weekend to the meijer gardens. i've been slowly taking new pictures, i promise you, but as it's so grey outside i need to brighten it up by taking pics of flowers.

in a recently posted slashdot book review i mentioned i was once a biochemist. in fact, i have a ph.d. in biochemistry (2002, case western reserve university, under prof. vernon anderson). someone asked in comments why i quit the field, since after all it's lucrative and exciting. i left for a variety of reasons.

first, i really didn't feel all that successful in it. i never published, ever, not a single paper. that's pretty frustrating when your ability to get hired and promoted in the field depends on how much you publish. i can't blame my advisor, i really didn't do a very good job as a bench scientist.

secondly, i really didn't like benchtop science. i enjoyed data analysis and experiment construction, but damn i really didn't enjoy doing science, often because i wasn't all that skillful all the time. i'm somewhat absent minded, and that's a detriment when you're a scientist. you have to pay attention to stuff, lots of stuff, and i didn't. my experiments suffered for it.

thirdly, i went to a talk once (i think it was the 2000 protein society meeting) given by professor alan fersht. now, alan's a damned bright guy, and his talk was on his experiences with enzyme engineering. he was on his second or third slide and posted four questions that need to be addressed in ezyme engineering. "great!" i thought, "maybe he's solved them!" no, he went on to abandon those considerations and then wonder why his experiment failed to be meaningful. that was lesson number 1 that science didn't depend on original thinking. i was crushed, but at the same time i was shopping around an idea i had for a new protein structure. i wanted to use it in my post doc study, get funding for it and the like, and i pitched the idea to two people i respected and knew would be able to call "horsepucky" on it right away. they didn't, and i felt like i accomplished something. but at that very same meeting i went to discuss it with someone else who i wanted to post doc with and he seemed non-plussed, totally disinterested. no discussion. i recognized that i simply couldn't communicate with scientists, they were too firmly entrenched in their own failed ideas and not open to new ones. i could stick it out, get a position somewhere, scrape out some funding and maybe prove them wrong, but honestly i am not that skilled. it takes someone who is bright and skilled to do that, i am not that man. i wasn't interested in lingering under broken ideas, either.

i had been pointed at a job at vanderbilt university doing bioinformatics stuff, heading a lab. not a bad place to be, no resarch opportunities, but honestly, talking about the position put me to sleep. really, i would get woozy on the phone just talking about it. i removed myself from that pretty quickly ...

and finally, i applied for two professorships at small colleges and didn't get one (not even an on site interview). well, these sorts of things happen, but there are so few positions like that, and my chances of getting one (with my qualifications? no way) were slim. and i didn't want to go into industry. the pharma industry is a pretty scary place, honestly. i'm not comfortable making my living off of someone else's misery. now, i know it's not a charity, and i know i didn't cause those problems, but isn't there supposed to be the whole "making lives better" thing in there? i didn't see it ... and i didn't want to be a part of it. funnily enough i see this view coming around lately with various third world diseases being ignored by western pharmas or them charing insane amounts of money to help out.

all in all, i found myself having more success and a lot more fun in the information security sciences. i went to a usenix security meeting in DC that year and wow, i was at home. i found i was happier with the people and finding more success, and in 2001 i decided to make the switch. i finished up and got out.

have i ever looked back? rarely, and honestly sometimes i wish i had toughed it out and been a scientist. there's no shortage of new work, but many of the challenges didn't interest me. we'll see how long this security technologist lasts ...

i think i'm a better person for having finished my degree, and i know i bring all sorts of new approaches to infosec that people rarely know about. i'm happy about that, and overall i'm pleased with where i am with things. and being called "doctor" is simply worth it ...

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Last modified: Tuesday, Apr 12, 2005 @ 07:01pm
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