Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Turning points

Nature Cell Biology has started a new series of short autobiographical essays by leading scientists entitled "Turning Points". The idea is for scientists to give a short historical perspective of their career, but mainly, to highlight a story they feel was important in shaping their scientific future. A "turning point" in their careers.
As the editors point out, they "hope (these stories) prove inspirational to scientists early in their career".

The first of these series of articles is from Gottfried Schatz, an Austrian biochemist who discovered mitochondrial DNA1. In this well-written piece he tells us a little about how difficult was for him to get into the biochemistry world in post-WWII Austria and how he got involved in the study of mitochondria [Coming in from the cold: how answering a postcard can launch a scientific career].

While I was reading the article I came across with something I wanted to share with you. I've always hated when scientists don't reply to their emails; "time" is by no means an excuse. It takes less than a minute to send a reprint (it's just an attachment for god's sake!), refer to someone else (e.g. the tech who knows where the plasmid you are requesting is), etc.
Anyway, here's what Gottfried has to say about it:
To this day I promptly answer every letter or email I receive, particularly if it is from a young scientist whose name is unfamiliar to me. Scientists of today are so overburdened with paperwork and mesmerized by competition that they often neglect this simple courtesy. A thoughtful letter to a young scientist in a remote corner of the globe may do more for science than a plenary talk at an international meeting.