There’s a legendary phenotype in this business. It’s that person for whom what s/he does is more than a job, more than even a passion. It’s an obsession, a sort of calling almost. Consider this example. At 85 years old, he still lives and breathes his work, just as he has for decades. He made a name for himself, though perhaps not his intent. He has earned some of the highest accolades. Even now, holidays aren’t particularly relaxing because he isn’t working. And even when he’s not at work, he is thinking of it. He even dreams of it. He goes in every day, overseeing the work of apprentices, making sure things are done right, thinking always how to do them better. Some leave quickly, before their training is done. Others remain years, even close to a decade, striving to meet the demanding standard of their mentor in the hopes of finding independence. One apprentice has been there much longer, and he has slowly taken over many aspects of the day-to-day work and mentoring. He is ready, and one day, he will take over for his mentor. Already he’s been waiting for many years, but because of that promise and his loyalty to his mentor and the culture, he waits patiently in the wings. This is not the story of a well-known scientist. This is the story of a sushi master. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary, telling the story of a man whose obsession is sushi. His 10-seat restaurant in a subway station holds 3 Michelin stars, one of the highest honors in the culinary world. Yet as I watched, I could not help but note the similarities to some scientists who have gained notoriety, not only for their research but also for their behaviors, expectations, and attitudes. A few points struck me. First, at times, it seems we are convinced that this phenotype is unique to science. It is not. Second, it seems we are sometimes convinced that science selects for this phenotype. It does not. But as with many things in life, the extremes make for the most interesting stories, so we tend hear those more often. Finally, there are days it seems our culture promotes this obsessive nature as a key to success. It is not. Obsession does not always lead to success, nor does success depend on all-consuming obsession Never let anyone convince you otherwise. It’s the diversity of people and approaches that move science forward and upward and outward, whether by research or outreach or education or lobbying… Find the way that works for you. And sweet dreams this weekend, whether they are of science, sushi, or slumber.
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