A review of the week part 2

Alright so what did I do this week? What did I learn? How should I focus this post?

Well, as you know from my first post, my internship has two main parts: one is my work in the microbiology lab as an embedded humanist and the other is to focus on one of the philosophical aspects that I find while working in and around the lab to write a report on the intersection between science and society. The biological part of the internship was decided during my fist week, and since then I have been in the lab growing bacteria, running PCRs and doing other experiments. However, the philosophical part has been harder to set in stone. Interestingly enough I have to do my own little ‘science experiment’ to see what I can focus my philosophical report on.

At first I thought it would be useful, fun and insightful to focus on the epistemological side of the research conducted at both LBPA and Bianca’s team. The whole laboratory is in the process of applying to be reopened in January. This means that the director, Malcolm Buckle is in the midst of writing a huge summary of the work that has been accomplished at LBPA in the last four years. He also needs to design a ‘plan’ for what LBPA will focus on in the upcoming fours years. I thought it would be fun to look at his past ‘plans’ for the laboratory and see how the mission of LBPA has changed and what accommodations are in place for when the ‘plan’ goes in a new direction. I wanted to center my project on Bianca’s team. I planned to look at her research proposals to see what kind of knowledge has been funded, and illuminate what went wrong in the proposals that were unsuccessful. The end of this project was going to expand to comment on the state of the academic review process at both the level of the entire lab (LBPA) and Bianca’s team. Does the review process accurately portray the work done? What do the reviewers value? Is it effective? Is it worth it? These are very important questions and I was excited to do the research necessary for this project.

So there was my ‘experiment’ all set out. I began by having Bianca send me her past proposals. Quickly the project turned out to be if not impossible, then not worth my time. I don’t have much time here (just until August 1) and this project was too large for my time frame–note that this is a factor that scientists have to consider when planning their own research!!! Also when I read Bianca’s proposals I had nothing constructive to say to her about why it was unsuccessful. The proposals were too technical, in the language of microbiology, and the idea that I was going to point out why the project did not get funded was delusional. Additionally, from my week of research of grant proposals it seemed more and more of a game of luck not ideas and craft. Having a project funded was not a reflection of submitting the strongest proposal. Instead each proposal depends on the other applicants, the number of grants in your subject, what was funded in the past, the people who you know, and a million other factors. It is similar to applying to colleges in America. You could have straight A’s, a perfect SAT score, plenty of extracurriculars, blah blah blah…. The problem is that a hundred other students have the exact same profile, and guess what, they applied to the exact same schools as you. You don’t get accepted into Yale or Harvard, but Cornell and Princeton let you in. Are you not good enough for Harvard? No, not necessarily. It was just luck, there are too many applications. It is the same situation for grant proposals.

Anyways, I had to refocus the philosophical part of my internship. There is a point to be made here about the similarities of how I (a student of humanities) and Bianca (a scientist) go about structuring an academic project of research. But I’ll let you think of that and instead end by telling you my new idea for my internship!

I am attempting to focus on the state of interdisciplinary studies both here in Paris and in Bianca’s lab. Relevant to CSID, huh? See my next post for details!


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