Sunday, January 29, 2012

First month back in NL...

Moving country is exhausting. Living in a house full of boxes for a few weeks. Finding a house. Changing culture. Maybe it's a linguistic thing, but EU countries do not share the same culture. OK, we too have a McDonalds on every corner, but that's about it. But returning to The Netherlands was a cultural shock. A shock? Yes. I thought I knew the country I lived in most of my life.

Then, switching position. Posthopping (=post-doc here and there, attempting to find some local optimum where you both work on exiting things and try to set up a research group) around Europe (I have pension in four EU states now), while trying to keep writing papers and on top of that try to do something that in fact has impact on our science, means that every three months before the end of a post-doc position, and three months after you started the next, it's double work: finding your way around at the new university, while finishing those studies that almost were finished, in random, unpredictable order.

And, of course, being annoyed if your prime minister then claims he sometimes cannot get his work done in 40 hours. Well, one would actually think that a country in an economic crisis, with people eating up all their hard-worked-for saving just to get around, would do all his best to turn the future of the country around... oh well...

Sometimes I really wonder what I'm doing.

And then, in a spare hour here and there do something for myself. Like writing up this post, in an attempt to give all a place. Or finishing up a further paragraph of my book(let), or working on my contributions to the Pharmaceutical Bioinformatics book (molecular representation, semantic web for the life sciences). For my own Groovy Cheminformatics book(let): seventy more pages, and it's a book. Hard-cover, and I can start touring around Europe. BTW, I enjoy and can recommend reading Reinventing Discovery. Done the first 30 pages or so, and keep wondering how those examples can be scaled down to cheminformatics.

Sometime I really wonder why I keep working in an area that everyone just takes for granted and hardly cares about.

I'm tired, and this is slowly becoming a really boring and depressing blog post. That's a shame, because I have had a really great time in Roland Grafstr√∂m and Bengt Fadeel, working among and with one of the greatest, enthusiastic research teams I have seen around Europe. Having to leave that makes me sad too. In fact, I have never ever been homesick, and now going back to the country I grew up, I am homesick. Well, it's a feeling I don't like.

Weirdly, I have many really exciting ideas, research-wise, and my exciting daily work at BiGCaT, which is now in Open PHACTS, the network in The Netherlands, I have much to enjoy here. Yes, it is again hopping to another application area of cheminformatics, after interaction of cheminformatics and chemometrics (my thesis), more fundamental cheminformatics, metabolite identification, pharmaceutical research, toxicity, and now back to drug discovery but also the metabolome. But I love the complexity of the metabolome, and have so much detailed insight in the other fields now... oh, the endless possibilities!

And then I remember why I am doing this to myself.

All the endless possibilities! All the research we can do so much better than now is done! The more accurate answers we get, and actually be in a situation where we can start identifying limitations of cheminformatics! Ha, and you know I love to look beyond the edge of the world.

But, then I realize again that I need funding, and wonder how I can live my dream, if no one believes in it.

Not that I have been completely unsuccessful. Au contraire. I did get funding, for travel on many occasions, and recently small bits for research too. But I am really eager to get some funding to have research the ideas I have, rather than working on them myself. And eager to get a fixed position. Though I am grateful to Chris Evelo for offering the three-year position I am in now.

Next time someone starts talking about interdisciplinary research, get a trout out of your bag. Interdisciplinary research is a buzz word that only works when you already have a single-disciplinary fixed position. Advice to students: never start an interdisciplinary research topic. You will never be the expert people will want to fund, because interdisciplinary research can simply be done by single-discipline experts in a collaboration, and much better than you could, with your years of experience (n=1).

I also now realize that strengthening another project is also no good for your own career. Your hard work will just go to that project. You can contribute as much to some project as you like, but the corresponding Dr. Who will get the fame. No wonder people rename, brand, and use rather than collaborate. We desperately need #altmetrics.

Yes, I realize this applies to the CDK too. I am trying hard to get recognition with those who deserve it. But who reads a copyright statement. Who remembers blog posts with change logs and statistics on who did the work. Scientists in charge of funding remember only the top person.

Ha, you see that pattern applies the publishing too, right? Scientists only too often care more about the JIF of the top concept, the journal, than the actual work, your actual damn paper.

Oh well, fortunately it's almost Monday again, so that I can focus on science again, and don't have to think about these things.

And, I am deeply grateful to all that publicly support my output. A citation to one of my papers, a public review of my book, a new tool that makes stands on the shoulders of your work! That makes a difference!

Then I remember again why I am doing all this. I can make a difference.