One thing I don’t like about summer is that the regularly scheduled seminar series in my building are put on pause for the holidays. I miss the intellectual stimulation that comes with listening to people present work completely outside of your field, and the deep satisfaction that comes when you realize you just processed an enormous amount of new information in a very short space of time. It’s such a rush to be in the room thinking that the whole talk is completely over your head… and then realize your brain is making connections between the new material and other biological principles you’re more familiar with, at a faster rate than you ever gave yourself credit for.
When I joined my first biomedical research lab, as a wee third-year undergrad, I had an awesome supervisor who pushed me to attend as many talks as possible. I did not agree with her on this point at the time; I thought I would be so much more productive if I spent all my time at the bench, with minimal interruptions. Most of the talks were confusing and it seemed I was learning very little, while becoming very frustrated.
In fact, after my co-op terms were over, and I embarked upon my final year of classes, it quickly became apparent that attending seminars was the absolute most useful thing I could have done with my time. I am so grateful that my supervisor encouraged me to do this, rather than pushing me to crank out as much data as possible, which would undoubtedly been more beneficial to her career.
Many of my fourth year classes were focused on using molecular techniques to answer biological questions (rather than the soul-crushing rote memorization that had previously been the standard). I felt I had an enormous advantage over students who had never before been exposed to technical talks, in all their confusing and brain-pounding glory. It was so much fun to get asked on exams to interpret data and propose an explanation; or to design experiments to test a hypothesis. These aspects of fourth year Biochemistry intimidated many people, but they delighted me. And I did well in these classes, probably not due to any innate scientific ability, but because one thoughtful person thought it would be good for my intellectual development to attend talks far above my level of understanding.
I am looking forward to the fall, when I will once again be exposed to a regular stream of confusion, humility, and above all inspiration by incredibly bright people telling stories about incredibly awesome science, the kinds of which I can only aspire to one day do myself.