Tag Archives: obsession

Scientists as Naturally Obsessed

1 Apr

If you’ve done a Ph.D. in science (or particularly if you’re thinking about it) or if you’re just fascinated with the scientific process, I hope you have an opportunity to see the documentary Naturally Obsessed that chronicles the journey of three graduate students toward the scientific prize in protein crystallography. Only one of them, Robert, wins what most would consider to be the coveted apple– a paper in Science and the pursuit of an academic career. Kil takes his Ph.D. and leaves academia behind for what appears to be a successful career as a consultant for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. The third, Gabe, the woman in the group, decides a Ph.D. isn’t what she really wanted and heads back to work as a pharmaceutical researcher. Their adviser, Larry Shapiro at Columbia University, gets tenure.

What I think is so good about the film by former researcher Richard Rifkind and his wife Carole is that it really captures what it’s like to be a developing scientist. And I choose that term deliberately– the process of a Ph.D. is more fundamental than training. It really is developmental.

The film brought me back to my days in the lab (In the end, of course, I’m a female Kil, who took my Ph.D. and jumped off the academic wagon). The three characters reminded me of myself and of the people I worked with. Their struggles reminded me– perhaps a little too clearly, my husband would say– of the highs and lows of the scientific research game. Continue reading