|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||N O V E M B E R - D E C E M B E R 1 9 9 8|
|FROM THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR INTRAMURAL RESEARCH|
|THE QUALITY OF SCIENTIFIC LIFE AT THE NIH|
Given the pace of modern biomedical research, it is all too easy to become obsessed with individual experiments and to lose sight of the larger context in which we do our work. But our value as scientists also depends on having the space to explore new ideas, to devise different approaches to familiar problems, and to step back from what we are doing in the laboratory to take stock of its significance and relevance to our long-term goals.
Space of this kind comes in different size packages. The hour a week devoted to attending the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture (WAL) series provides a guaranteed respite from the intense focus of the laboratory.
With the help of our more than 70 special interest groups and the scientific leadership at NIH, Dr. Varmus and I have assembled a series of lectures intended to provide a broad overview of exciting developments in research that no one ought to miss.
Attendance at all of these lectures will provide a broad perspective that cannot help but improve the quality of research in our labs. If you cannot get to an individual lecture, simultaneous broadcast is available either via our closed circuit TV system at seven viewing sites (Gateway Bldg., NIA: Bldg. 31, Rm. 2C, NIA; GRC, Baltimore, NIA; Hamilton, Montana, Rocky Mountain Labs, NIAID; Twinbrook II, NIAID; the Solar Building, NIAID; and Frederick, NCI) or at your individual computer via the M-bone system; see < http://www1.od.nih.gov/wals/MBONE.html> for instructions.
If all else fails, videotapes of all WALs are available in the NIH library. The scores of other lectures and journal clubs within our laboratories provide additional opportunities to broaden one's scientific perspective, but they require that we commit space to them in our schedules.
Flexible schedules for scientists afford yet another means to veer away from the laboratory for those few hours a week to delve into the reading and writing and thinking that is essential for quality science to flourish. I encourage supervisors to be flexible in assigning and scheduling tasks so that scientists working at all levels of the enterprise can enjoy a few hours of protected time for these critical activities. In my own lab, I am pleased and supportive when a fellow wants to spend a morning or afternoon away from the bench reading the literature or writing up some work. This may extend on occasion to taking care of a nagging personal problem that may distract from laboratory work. I hope that other scientists at NIH see the importance of providing this personal space to improve the quality of life here.
The longest blocks of time for reflection and enrichment of scientific life come from more formal sabbaticals. Sabbaticals can range from a few weeks spent in a different lab at NIH to many months or a year in another laboratory in the United States or abroad.
Nearly everyone who experiences such a departure from the established routine rejoices in a renewal of excitement for science and an opportunity to reconsider scientific directions and make appropriate changes in focus and methodology. For our senior scientists, there are various mechanisms that can make sabbaticals possible, and I urge you to explore these options with your scientific directors.
Whatever the physical space constraints at NIH, they need not impinge on the reach of our minds. Each of us can find some space in our schedules for activities that improve the quality of scientific life at NIH.
As always, I welcome your ideas about this and other issues concerning quality of scientific life at NIH.