Why Polly Matzinger rescued my Science.

Back in May, I wrote a long email to Polly Matzinger, an iconic immunologist from NIH, to invite her to Nov2k, a student-organized symposium at Karolinska Institutet, on November 8th-9th. I felt like a teenager daring to ask an autograph to his favorite pop star outside the backstage after a concert. Would she even read my email?

Polly’s reply was quick and bony:

   hi
   thank you.
   that sounds like a lot of fun.

I worried for months after her reply: I have been advised to literally ‘feed’ Polly with interesting scientists that would talk to her and she could discuss science with. “She wants to talk about science all the time”. As months passed by, in my head Polly became like the scientists-version of King Minos, a Dante’s evil creature that waits the damned souls at the hell’s doors, to convict them to their appropriate punishment. One by one. Mercilessly.

King Minosse waits for the damned at the Hell’s doors – Gustave Doré (Wikipedia)

I think I have been wrongly advised. It turn out that Polly Matzinger personify all the good reasons why I would keep doing Science. Nothing more, nothing less. She is friendly and genuinely interested to everything that’s about human nature. She is Gold Open Access, disclosing everything she does, to everyone who’d ask. Even unpublished data, differently to other researchers that worry their ideas are too weak to stand competition, or foreseen in every single advise they give a lucrative collaboration [sick!].

Most important of all, Polly doesn’t give a fuck. She wears nothing but her personality, a very bulky garment that she carries around effortlessly in yellow rubber slippers. I spend 30 min a day to decide what to where, and how. I probably miss a point, here.

Polly Matzinger lecture at Nov2k 2012 – Karolinska Instututet – all rights reserved (C)

Polly travels with a back bag, anchored to an unstable old trolley that she basically drags rather then pull. Why do people that has nothing to say on the outside, always turn out to be the most interesting in the inside?

My notes during a talk at Nov2k

As speakers talk, Polly takes notes in a neat and tight script. She seems to have a discursive way of reasoning even when she writes. Next to her, my notes looked like a net of unbreakable numbers and letters connected with lines. They are next me right now: I barely understand what I wrote.

The bottom-line is: I will be unable to keep doing science the way I did so far. Meeting Polly made a point clear: if I wanna do this job, it must be at my 100%, and not because that’s necessary to succeed, but because it’s necessary for me to do it well. And gosh, I really want to do this well.

I haven’t been so much in love with research, recently. Who blames me? Look at academia: publish or perish, beg for money, political games. You look around and it seems that the least people who deserve attention get it. You look at your research and it feels like: ‘who cares? For the sake of what?’. Research is frustrating, right? And no one listen. Because of this, I have the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve just turn my back to research. I have been chasing other interests that dragged me away from it, such as communication, politic and student life.

Maybe it’s time for me to make up my mind. If I wanna keep playing this game, I need to focus.

Drop your cloths, open your mind and dive naked into the scientific literature. Adsorbs all of it the best you can. Be unbiased. Be curious, you’ll never know what branch of science you’ll need to explore tomorrow. Read like it’s never enough. Talk to people about your research. Face all kind of audience. Get hit by the hardest questions and reveal your weakest point to yourself. Then go home and fix’em. Forget it’s about “saving life”. We do it for fun.

“Do it for fun!”

I, along with all the other participants of Nov2k, experienced Polly’s concrete inspiration. I hope I’ll remember that research it’s about freedom, curiosity and joy.

It’s like dancing. Dancing in a cage.

Posted in Karolinska Institutet, Me&Someonelse, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post. Leave a trackback.

3 Responses to Why Polly Matzinger rescued my Science.

  1. Colin Anderson says:

    If you want to know the real story about the relevance of danger in transplant rejection, have a look at the actual published paper the data you have posted here comes from (the data Polly is presenting in the photo). It is not “preliminary” data as might have been implied, but instead published, and has a VERY different conclusion. The data in the paper (http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/10) is presented in Fig 2i (in a different format than what is shown here).

    • Riccardo Guidi says:

      Thank you for flagging this article for me. I’m going to read it these days and see what’s “behind it”. I will certainly write a correction or another post if necessary to clarify the story.

  2. Pingback: Interesting Posting about Doing Science | ORGANIZING CREATIVITY

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