Fourteen hours into a 21 hour train ride, I began to second-guess myself: had I made a mistake in weighing the cost vs. benefit ratio of my trip? After 19 hours of flights and layovers to reach St. Petersburg, a maze of buses and subways, a 21 hour train ride to a small town in northwest Russia, a concerning “off road” bus ride to a discrete dock, and a very cold boat ride through the gray bleakness, we finally reached the remote field station along the White Sea. I was exhausted, and (as the person who had travelled the farthest) becoming concerned that perhaps I was being too indulgent with time, money, and resources by travelling this far to learn protocols and information that I could have probably obtained by reading a paper or walking to a neighboring lab at Berkeley.
Fourteen hours into the program, I had no more doubts – travelling halfway around the world to discuss scientific questions and to collaborate with researchers from various parts of the world is absolutely worth it.
Yes, we can read research papers, email far away researchers, and look up new protocols without even leaving our desks. In fact, the Internet was “invented”, in part, by scientists seeking a better way to share data with each other. But even with the extensive resources we have available both at Berkeley and via the web, there is nothing (at least in my opinion) that will replace that which is gained from the gathering of scientists from different labs, different time zones, and different perspectives. Sitting at an isolated desk with a stack of papers is where ideas are consumed; sharing a space with other minds engaged in heated discussion is where ideas are created. There is no paper that you can read to substitute what you will learn from Vodka-lubricated professors arguing methods and phylogenies around a campfire.
My post this month will not be my normal lengthy blog about something sciency; instead, I offer you encouragement. Make for yourself the opportunity to travel, to meet new people, new ideas, and to collaborate with those in–and outside of – your field. Your effort will be rewarded with the inspiration, ideas, and quirkiness of others that are so very different, and yet so very much the same.