Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Francis Crick's 'The Gossip Test'

Recently I posted about what I want to be when I grow up. How such a loaded question can require different answers for different audiences. How it implies that we have to decide now, with ultimatum like holds, on what we want for the rest of our lives. How I'm nearly 25, and still happily am uncertain. More important might be the question, "Are you happy with what you are right now?"

Last week was the first week back to classes, and for me, my first week back to TAing. I TA an undergraduate Cell and Molecular Biology Class in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program here at UofC. Each year on the first day we ask students to answer the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And as this program, and the one it was derived from at my undergraduate institute, are often considered to be the elusive 'pre-med'; not surprizingly do upwards of half of the students answer "a medical doctor." It will be interesting if this fraction should change over the course of the sememester.

More interesting, only a tiny fraction of students answer "I don't know yet." It seems they may have things figured out better than myself.

Recently I came across some good advice for how to figure out what you should be doing. It comes from the memoir of the Nobel Prize winning Francis Crick (of Watson and Crick, discoverers of the structure of DNA). The book, titled "What Mad Pursuit." comes highly recommended for anyone interested in taking the research route, and focuses on the choices that lead to Crick's stunning career in molecular biology.

While I'm not quite done reading it, I cam across one particularly interesting piece of advice quite early on. "The Gossip Test." At first this may seem like an effective test to discover what your lab mates are saying about you behind your back. However, that was not Crick's aim in divising this test.

You see Crick was originally trained as a physicist, and it wasn't until he was 30 that he made the choice to switch to the life sciences. Proving of course that you're never to old to start something new. In picking his choice of feild, he asked himself what kinds of science did he find himself gossiping about. By which he means, what science do you rush home to blab about to the 'lay audiences' in your life. If you gossip about it, you have a true interest in it, and so that is what you should probably be working on.

Crick's gossip test narrowed the field between neurology and understanding the molecular basis of life. He passed on neuro, headed up to Cambridge and eventually found himself in the esteemed Cavendish Laboratory. Met up with Watson and Wilkins (that's right the duo wasn't just a duo) and the rest is scientific history.

So give yourself the "Gossip Test", this may let you know if you are headed in the right direction.


  1. Popped in from SITS! I know what I want to be when I grow up, but I have no idea what I'd want to do for a job.

    1. I love that comment, you're totally right that what you are doesn't have to be what you do for work! Thanks for stopping by!!

  2. What an interesting look at what truly interests someone in their job. Stopping by from SITS!

    1. I guess if you gossip about it, you know you love it! Thanks for stopping by!!

    2. He actully went on to study neuroscience for 25 years at Salk, after leaving UK. He wrote a amazing book about it, The Astonishing Hypothesis, wherein he laid out the Scientific theory that everything we feel, every memory we have, and every thing we know is the work of neurons. Or as he put it, "We are nothing but a pack of neurons".


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