the God of science, the bridge, a new life
Updated: Oct 11
My so-called CDL Project at Radboud UMC, which had granted me permission to conduct a specific experiment over the last 5 years, expired on October 1st. For various reasons, I decided not to renew the project. I decided this was the right time to end it and start a new life.
When I run an experiment like this (patch clamp recording from neurons ex vivo), I spend 14 hours a day. I do it partly because I should not waste all the resources I use for it. But also, it is just there is a genuine excitement of getting a neural recording. Those moments when the neurons show activities -whether as I expected, or unexpected, there is genuine excitement. It keeps me going...
But with this opportunity of the expiration of the project, I have decided to end this kind of lifestyle on a regular basis (although if there are opportunities in collaboration projects, I will be happy to do it once in a while). And at the same time, I decided to leave the group at UMC where I have been working to conduct this project. That, except for helping my PhD student I am supervising there. Even for that, I will spend my time only one day a week. This will allow me to have ample time to explore new opportunities and foster interactions.
A few weeks ago, a former PhD student, now an assistant professor, visited me at my place to discuss her new research proposal. We spent three intense hours of brainstorming. When we finished it, she said she had been missing it. We used to have discussions about our projects on a regular basis when she was a PhD student. I, too, had been having a growing feeling for this kind of activity.
I started as a physics student and then went on to get training in electrophysiology. Later, I started vision science/perception research. From now on, I decided, I want to pivot my focus towards interactions in electrophysiology, physics, vision science, computer science, and engineering. And I will focus more on my writings and theoretical works (computer modelling and theoretical discussions).
A few years until I retire, I need to have a happy life as a scientist. And I will be the most happy by doing this.
So, this is the decision I made. Complete my current project before the deadline, and start a new life.
This meant that I had to collect enough data for the current project before the deadline (see this link for the project which has been my main focus in the last few years).
In the last few weeks, whenever the resources were available, I ran the experiment to collect the data. Especially, in the last week, I did it 3 days during the week (Mon, Wed, and Fri), plus on the weekend, Saturday and Sunday (Sunday was October 1st, the last day I could run the experiment under the registered project). On Saturday and Sunday, I knew I would work late and would miss the last train to go back home. So, I went to the university by car. On Sunday, I started the experiment at 10:30 in the morning and I was able to collect data just as I wanted.
But I debated. The project has two parts. And for part 1, I felt I got enough data. But I had been struggling to formulate part 2 of the project and ideally, I wanted to collect more data for it. But it was almost 22:30. And this was the last chance to start the experiment before midnight. I decided to start running the second experiment just to collect enough data for part 2. But there were some accidents (the usual life of an experimental scientist), and mistakes (probably I was tired), and it took longer and longer. I collected some data but I needed to have enough data points. Some data were compromised, because of losing the neurons before enough repetitions of protocols (to have enough repetitions, I needed to keep the neural recording for more than one hour). The same problem kept happening. I wanted one last piece of data. But I kept failing. When I noticed, it was already 5 AM on Monday. And I started to think maybe this was it. This was how one chapter of my life as an electrophysiologist, running this kind of experiment, was meant to end. Symbolic, I thought.
But looking at the microscope image, I saw neurons. I just could not give up and kept thinking "One more time". And I just kept going obsessively. Finally, I decided to select one more neuron and then I should end it no matter what.
During the experiments, I had been looking back on my life as an electrophysiologist for decades. Starting from the university in Japan, then, at other places such as St. Louis, Oxford, and Chicago for this kind of work. When I decided to leave the laboratory in Oxford, I had not even found a next job. But I thought if I had anything to offer in science, then, the god of science would let me find another position. It was decades ago. And I survived. After all the years, many things happened that led me to start this project at Radboud University. I have been passionate about this project and now I am trying to finish it.
I started the recording of the neuron. And this was meant to be my last recording.
And I failed. The recording was not good.
But when I looked at the image of the neurons under the microscope, there was another neuron right next to the one I had just recorded. And I decided to record it. It was after 7 AM.
And it gave a beautiful recording. A perfect recording with enough repetitions of protocols, and it just kept going. My colleague had a plan to use the rig at 9 AM and I had to ask her to let me keep using it until all the recordings were done. And yes, at 10:30 Monday, I finished it.
This was how I ended my project. Thinking of it, I had been having this life for many decades, spending hours and hours in the lab, recording from neurons one after another. And the last recording was my last one (unless I do this kind of work sporadically on other occasions in the future). And it was a beautiful recording. I was too tired to be excited about it then, but now, thinking of it, it makes me happy and gives me a satisfied feeling, that I was able to end it in this way.
While driving back home on Monday, I crossed the bridge over the river of Nijmegen. I like the bridge. It always makes me feel cool when I cross it. I felt good, just as when I had started to work here on the first day 6 years ago crossing it with my motorbike.
When I came back home, I ate and slept like crazy. In the evening, I got huge muscle cramps in my both legs. It happened once before when I did also a 24-hour experiment in Hungary (there must be a medical explanation for this?). It was an excruciating pain and I kept screaming until it stopped.
Having rested and now I look back on what happened in the last few days, it gives me a nice feeling. But also it was strange. A moment before starting the last recording, I had already decided that I should give up. But still, I got that last recording. Felt rewarded, after all these years. Maybe, the god of science let me?
I am walking like a zombie right now because, after having hurt my shoulder and thumb joints a few months ago, I still kept working on the experiments. And I think I hurt my both wrists by compensating for the injured joints. So, I am walking with my hands hanging down from my arms. And my shoulder is hurting so bad, still.
But slowly, I have to think about what's next. Reconfiguring my passion. Takes time. Slowly.
Yes. New life now.