Sinoatrial surprise

Today I was rewarded with possibly the most significant scientific achievement I have produced. Lately, have been working on a protocol to turn reprogrammed cells into functioning muscle cells and heart muscle cells. The latter of the two protocols can produce cells that are physiologically similar to the pacemaker cells (and cells downstream of these cells) in the human heart. This means that theoretically they can beat in a dish. I’ve been checking meticulously for these signs, and today, to my delight, I observed a rhythmic beating in a few of the wells I had been maintaining. Video below:

It felt like an achievement to have transformed one cell type into another with such a distinct visual characteristic. I’ve performed cellular differentiation before, but I have produced nothing so acutely stunning. I felt like a a true pioneer, and to some extent, a creator. The whole episode raised several ethical questions in my mind I was reminded of the humbling fictional tale of Shelley’s Frankenstein (a favorite work of mine). The possibilities are so broad with cellular and molecular biology-based technologies, but the scope and direction of their application must be clearly defined when pursued. I hope never to take things of such wonder and gravity casually.

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If you were to take a plastic bag and place it inside a large bowl, and then, using a wooden spoon, stir the bag around, you could use the expression ‘a mixed bag’ to describe what you had in front of you, but you would not be using the expression in the same way I am about to use it now. Although ‘a mixed bag’ sometimes refers to a plastic bag that has been stirred in a bowl, more often, it is used to describe a situation that has both good parts and bad parts. An afternoon movie theater, for example, would be a mixed bag if your favorite movie were showing, but if you had to eat gravel instead of popcorn. A trip to the zoo would be a very mixed bag if the weather were beautiful, but all the man and woman-eating lions were running around loose.

– Lemony Snicket, The Ersatz Elevator

Personality types

What you do is dictated by your personality type. I mean ‘what you do’ as the sum of your actions. For instance, a 35-year-old bright-eyed teacher and a 55-year-old power broker are not going to have the same take on life. The net result of their lives will satisfy each, of course. The teacher, young and happy, will be motivated to and content to instruct and influence young minds. The power broker will be happy with his copious amounts of money and clever business intuition. The teacher will not feel the slightest ounce of regret for not pursing financial glory and monetary acumen, and the power broker will not have any remorse for not spreading knowledge among those seeking it.

A problem arises, however, if that last statement does not come to pass. The thing is, it never will. A person who is truly driven to take up the call of [X] will pursue it. I give age references in the example because I think most all people understand where they are going, and if they do not, they spend time to figure this out and move forward. By 35 and by 55, people should be a far ways down their chose path of action. At age 25, for instance, perhaps the teacher was doing Teach for America; the power broker was possibly interning at valuation firms.

This is a universal principle I am highlighting. People will do what they want with their lives. On top of this, however, is how they pursue what they want. Goals can vary, but the means to achieve them do not. There are two ways to achieve things: (1) slowly and steadily or (2) directly and quickly.

  • The first approach is to grow trees. You plant a seed. Tend it, water it, and observe it to ensure its growth. Overdoing any of these things can be detrimental in the long run. If done properly however, this incremental approach will result in a tremendous or fruitful tree. This is good for a career, a relationship, a physique, strength training, diet, etc.
  • The second approach is to build a house. You know you want a house, it will only be made as quickly as you chop the timber, nail the boards, and lay the floor. This is good for projects, immediate tasks, learning concepts, endurance training, etc.

In order to achieve what you want, each tactic must be applied in the appropriate scenario. Here is where personality types come into play. You can only be successful at what are you are trying to achieve if you understand the difference between the two approaches. People who are always rash and impatient will always try the second approach. People who are largely complacent and passive will try the first. The perfect personality type, like most things, is a balance of the two. Rash and quick with some things, complacent and understanding with others. This balance is needed to properly achieve anything.

There are several things you can change in the world, but personality is not one of them (short of a lobotomy). If you ever find yourself spinning your wheels (as I have) and repeatedly doing a task poorly, personality needs to be taken into consideration. Make your personality work for you. Don’t change something you can’t.

I have noticed that I have bursts of wild motivation and desires of accomplishment and then spans of listless torpor. I’ve been working on finding a healthy balance of the two. Somewhere in the last year I think I became increasingly impatient and frustrated with things outside of my control (read: medical school). This was reflected in my actions. I would have wild bouts where I would try and do everything in my capacity. I was forcing myself to change and be ‘on’ all the time. I would swing from lab to the E.R. all while fasting, and then I would run on top of that.

During this I would be plagued with thoughts of where I ‘should’ be. I was in the wrong mindset. I would come off of this period drained and do deliberately mindless activity to compensate: browse online, watch videos, eat poorly. Not focus. Then, to absolve myself of this, I would repeat this process.

I now recognize that things are better treated as a continuum. I should listen to my body and be satisfied with the work I do. It is not a penance I am paying. Now, I am eager with my work because I am learning about the capacity of research. At some point (not that I have reached this) you know everything there is known about a topic and as a researcher or engineer you realize it is your drive to add to this body of knowledge or use it as you see appropriate.

Currently, I have been resting a mid-back injury, and training has taken a back seat. Every time I do pull-ups, my back is worse for it, so for now, they will take a break. I will not atrophy.

I say this insofar as to not be ‘disappointed’ by my lack of constant activity. To me, progress is the single most important thing in life. Progress is personally defined, but if must occur. As detailed above, progress can be slow or fast. As long as it occurs, I will maintain my sanity.