Grappling with my scientific identity

Many of you may know that I’ve been quite ill over the last two years. As I wrote in a post last year, in April 2013 I had a bone marrow stem cell transplant (BMT). In retrospect I was travelling OK a year ago, both physically and mentally compared to now.

But a year on, and things have not improved. In many ways they have gotten worse. The Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) that I was suffering has progressively weakened me physically and I could now just hobble about instead of getting more robust exercise. I have also been recently assigned the status of “Totally and Permanently Incapacitated” which threw me into a rather nasty mental spiral where I had to shut myself off for a bit. What, one day I am “Temporarily Incapacitated”, the next T&P? This somewhat arbitrary classification signalled for me the end of my scientific career as it stands. An event which despite looking increasingly like the only outcome, I was not prepared for and not really accepting of. But here we are. In the nearly 3 years since my transplant, and 3 and a half years since I last did lab work I have managed to avoid the issue of my scientific identity. As I mentioned last year, I still have not updated any of my websites and blogs to reflect that I am no longer a current employee of the University of Queensland. I still have access to my old work email, and the IMB sysadmins have kept my internal computer accounts running. The few co-author papers that have come out in the last few years still have my address as UQ, which is fair enough as that is where the work was done.

But I now have a large number of publications in various states of undress, wondering what to do with them. As has become clear to me, the fact that these have not been taken up enthusiastically by remaining members of the group, or pushed to completion by my collaborators and my PI means that unless I come up with some creative ways to get them published they are likely to remain unseen. The compounds I slaved away to design, make, purify and test, or sent off for testing to collaborators will never see the light.

What are my options?
1) Just let it go? Just admit that it’ll never happen and that those funds were effectively wasted?
2) Just release them as a series of blog posts? As I have argued previously this is pretty pointless from a scientific method perspective. No-one is going to dioscover these chemical structures or mechanisms and bioactivities if they’re not indexed properly by a credible searchable index like Scifinder or Chemspider
3) Publish them open access in some Z-rank OA journal? I don’t have the funds to splash $thousands for publishing access fees.
4) For some commentaries and reviews I have planned that I am writing now as a private citizen, containing no work originating at UQ do I drop my email address as the corresponding author? How much credibility would I get from reviewers of scientific journals coming from a * address anyway? Is it now dishonest to use my old work address?

This all received another burst of urgency when I got a nasty infection a couple of weeks ago. As a highly immunocompromised person I have been acutely aware for the last few years that I am only ever potentially 24 hours away from death by infection. I had managed to stay free of many infections by following doctor’s orders post transplant regarding community contact, food hygiene and a host of other risk factors, but now I can barely walk, and face weeks of lack of mobility. What am I to do with myself if I cannot call myself a scientist any more?

I have always regarded myself as a scientist. Even when I stopped actively doing lab work, I still managed to convince myself that I was still was one as I was doing the other important work, the writing and communicating of science, albeit part-time. But now I fing myself grappling with my identity anew. What am I if not a scientist?


About martin

almost on holidays
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