Monday, March 09, 2009

I do not solve Alzheimer's

Apparently 4 years of undergraduate Biotechnology and as many years of people asking me what I wanted to do after college has not trained me enough to come up with a proper response.

This is a typical conversation with a "genuine" stranger with a "borderline and passing" interest in what you are doing.

So you're doing biotechnology is it ?


So you're going to become like Kiran Majumdar of Biocon ?

I don't think so. No.

It's extremely risky to say you don't want to be someone revered by everyone. They immediately assume that you are an unmotivated, uninterested person that does not even have the courage to dream, let alone the empowerment to achieve it. It was at this point I figured out a loophole. In retrospect it was more the truth than a way out through the loophole.

So here's version 1.2

So you're going to become like Kiran Majumdar of Biocon ?
No. Actually, I'm planning to study further.

I truly thought that would get me somewhere. Doing higher studies is not disrespectful to Mrs Majumdar Shaw, it portrays me as a motivated person. I was convinced that the strangers would cross me off their list of "to-be-watched" and mark me as "one of those people that is not going to ruin the glorious heritage our ancestors have left us". Obviously I was engaging in an extreme version of delusion. The conversation which should have a smile on their face and botox-insulting disappearence of my frown lines turned out to be this...

Oh you're going to cure cancer? Very good. Very good.
( In other versions, cancer can be replaced with AIDS. Conscientious news readers wondered if I was interested in stem cell research. But the gist is they all thought that I was very keen on making the world a better place.)

No. Actually I am not.
What was I thinking. I was now the unmotivated, uninterested person that was going to do no good to the world since I had the least interest in cancer.What sorta person was I if I couldn't be bothered to cure a disease. What sort of twisted, devious mind must I have if I did not only care, but could also unabashedly declare that.

Somehow when I decided to do cognitive neuroscience, I lamely assumed that the curse had been lifted. No more cancer, no more stem cell research, no more AIDS. Pure studies of the mind. Motivated by my sole interest to know how it all works. It had nothing to do with solving anything. It had everything to do with unraveling a puzzle that had already been solved.

And so on to version 2.1

So. What do you do ?
Oh. I am graduate student of neuroscience.

I see. So you're going to solve Alzheimer's ?
C'mon now. All of you saw that coming didn't you. I didn't. I don't know what I expected in reply, but it wasn't Alzheimer's. I see very clearly these days that someone who believes and wants to know somehow who can solve alzheimer's, parkinson's isn't going to be extremely pleased when I tell them that I study vision circuits in monkeys. All the excitement about working with big animals, and interesting anecdotes about dealing with monkeys notwithstanding, I still stand as a person that is doing no good to humankind what's so ever.

Maybe they even thought "wait a minute. I'm growing older. I might even be predispositioned to get alzheimer's. I must make sure every minute of my sane life talks. And here I am. Talking to someone that is not helping now, is clear that she ain't going to be help me ever. Gah. What a waste of 2 precious minutes"
And hey. That kinda logic doesn't get any better.

And so I've decided, in a bid to do some good to people who are going to die of all sorts of diseases that I am never going to be competent enough to do anything about, to tell them rightaway.

So. What do you do.
I do not solve Alzheimer's.

I'm gonna start with that.
Cut right to the chase.
Pull off the bandage with one nice quick rip.
Apparently that's the only thing that will work.

And if you're quasi interested in a tiny tiny zone in the brain that I study every single day, let me know and I can tell you more. I promise it will make an interesting story. Does it improve your quality of life ? I can't assure that. But it certainly does improve mine.

PS :
No offence intended to those that do study cancer, AIDS, stem cells, and Alzheimer's.It is a crazy world of molecules gone wrong out there. And I have the utmost respect for those that still manage to tease them apart. I just am not one of them.