Why do scientists like cooking ?

Lots of scientists I know like to cook. (Not the dutch ones tough, but there is a cultural bias there (;-)))  I always wondered if there was any rational behind that. 

For example :

  • I love to bake stuff, mainly sweet pâtisserie.
  • One of my friend -who will immediately recognize himself- cooked/cooks for hours in the middle of the night when coming home late from the lab.
  • One of my previous PI was an excellent cook who weighted ingredients at +/- 1 gram. And wrote up recipes like science protocols.
  • People like to bring stuff they cooked for coffee breaks in the lab.
  • Every scientist once said “I’d like to take a molecular cuisine course”

Well, I think one of the things that make a great cook is the ability to see what you want at the end and plan the cooking process accordingly. And this is what we  f***** know how to do in labs, no ? (no ?)

And here is the twist … in the lab, our experiments can fail, require optimization(s), etc … Unless you’re doing haute cuisine, cooking does not need this ! A standard recipe has 99% chances to turn out great, or at least decent. You could never say the same for experiments. 

I think this is why scientists like cooking … If you follow the protocol recipe, it generally turns out fine … It’s comforting, reassuring, and satisfying. Mentioning no names …

These are definitely some of the most awesome and nerdy Drosophila cookies I ever saw. They are from this wonderful blog.


About being at the right place, at the right time


Although I don’t like the idea that much, I do believe that part of the success of a scientific career relies greatly on the people who trained you, the labs where the training took place, and the field you “fell” into.

On that subject, I’d like to share a link to an article written by Ronald Dale in the latest issue of Nature Medicine, in the “Lasker Award” special edition. Is is entitled: “How lucky can one be? A perspective from a young scientist at the right place at the right time” 

The article in not open access, but I hope you’re part of an institution paying for the access; because it is a nice read.

Basically, this person has been lucky and hard working at the same time, which is the perfect combination for success in the tough world of academic science 🙂

He started his own lab at 27; after publishing shitloads of Cell papers, and doing some ground breaking research. And he basically gives advices to us, the young scientists. Among them are the importance of having great mentors, and squeezing down your laundry time (yep) ! I will not spoil it more, but just give the proper reference for it !

Enjoy !

Vale, R. D. (2012). How lucky can one be? A perspective from a young scientist at the right place at the right time. Nature Medicine, 18(10), 1486–1488. doi:10.1038/nm.2925

Student Quotes -1- “They don’t hire technicians anymore, they hire PhD students”

We have quite a lot of students around in the lab these days. They are either at the level of bachelors, technician school, masters, etc … and it’s quite funny to hear them talk about our world sometimes. Somehow, they are still “outsiders” and incredibly naive about things. But they can also be unbiased observers.

A few weeks ago, one of them said : “You know, they don’t hire technicians anymore, they hire PhD students”. Hummmmm ….. that kinda felt like a SLAP in the face. Although is was not meant like that. And I might be over-thinking it a little bit.

Somehow, it still felt like the secondary meaning of that remark had some truth. Sometimes, you do feel like a technician, with just some more theoretical knowledge. But you have to do the pipetting and the thinking/reading/writing; and the pressure of getting good data makes it difficult to keep these two activities balanced.

With my bench mate, we decided to tackle this problem by buying a big white board for our desk where we doodle ideas, sketches, etc … Standing in front of it, we talk about our weird observations and far-fetched theories. These moments of pure speculations going wild and wilder are among the best moments in our PhD’s.

So no, we are not technicians, but sometimes you have to actively work on it. 

Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.

For about a year now, we’ve been living in a post-Jobsian world. I know this sounds way to dramatic, but I like to make fun of my Apple geekness. Like a lot of people, I read  the biography of Steve Jobs, by Walter Issacson shortly after he passed away. I admit I was (and still am) quite fascinated by this personality and the incredible life he had. Despite the fact that he was probably self-centered, arrogant, and despotic; he was also incredibly visionary and clever.

I did enjoy reading more about this man, and complemented the book by watching some YouTube movies in their context. Somehow, iBooks did not manage to include them directly in the e-book. For shame.

Anyway, one of his very famous speeches is the one he gave to the students of Stanford in 2005. I find it quite inspirational, despite quite idealistic (but don’t we need it sometimes ?).

One of my favorite moment is that one:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

And also, he concludes with “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. “

Famous Scientists Quotes -3-: “Become a scientist only if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else”

Hi all,

I have been listening to old podcasts of “This Week in Virology” lately, notably TWIV n°100, with David Baltimore (Do I even need to present him ?) as a guest star. He was talking about all the seminal work he did in virology, and was asked to give an advice to young aspiring scientists. And he said the following: “Become a scientist only if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else. It is hard, and only gets harder.” 

Picture from discover magazine.

To be honest, it creeps me out big time. I’m not going to lie. I can totally picture myself doing something else. Many things actually. So I asked my supervisor, former supervisors, other scientists, what they thought of this. To my great relief, they ALL said that they could imagine themselves somewhere else, and that they even seriously though about getting out of academia at some stages of their careers.  Pfffiouuuu, right ?

So let’s just stop acting like academic science was just the only valid thing to do when you love science. And even following that path does not mean not imagining yourself going somewhere else sooner or later.