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The Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Posted by , on 5 January 2011

But you know he’ll always keep movin’
You know he’s never gonna stop movin’
Cause he’s rollin’, he’s a rollin’ stone

~ Baker Street, by Gerry Rafferty (Link to Song on Youtube)

Something to ponder. whether you’re a rock star or researcher, you’re bound to be on the road at some point. Seldom do researchers remain in one facility, city or continent, with some exceptions. I’d always been told that labs prefer to have personnel with some experience abroad. It’s likely because this brings some fresh perspective and techniques.

(Image: Flikr CC by Katerha)

Scottish Rocker Gerry Rafferty recently passed (Obituary in the Telegraph here). He penned a couple of famous rock songs, such as Stuck in the middle with you (terribly 70s MV), and Baker Street. (I get the feeling I’ll get a few disgruntled rock fans stumbling into this post after a keyword search).

A couple of bloggers have drawn parallels between rockers and scientists before. Eva even has a blog on it.

Listening to Rafferty’s Baker Street got me thinking of another thing or two Researchers & Rock Stars have in common. Usually, neither enjoy stable careers. You can have a few hits or articles in high impact journals..then wind up languishing in anonymity or worse..without a grant for several rounds. (Some will undergo career changes). Often times, success comes from luck, and not merely just talent & hard work. You also have to know what’s currently “hot” & attractive to the masses (or government agencies & publishers).

Many researchers have expertise & research interests that aren’t always high in demand. It’s part of the onus to travel, pursuing one contract after another after grad school. So many PIs, Postdocs and students in Australia are actually internationals on PR or VISAs, for instance. In my department alone at the ANU, there’s a dozen Germans & Austrians, half a dozen from Spain or Latin America and scores of Asians and South East Asians. Even the Aussies in the dept are well-travelled, having lived in 2-3 continents before returning home. Many PIs, I’ve noticed, travelled the world but eventually return their alma maters, the universities that fostered their education & training.

You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re tryin’, you’re tryin’ now
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy

…And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything

This set of lyrics reminds me of two PhD Comics Strips, Origin of the theses (brings so many grad students to their knees), and Your Life Ambition (which takes a nose dive after you enter grad school and find that most of your projects aren’t working, troubleshooting is a b***, your results don’t add up, and your paper got scooped etc. Wonder how many feel jaded after they’ve reached their postdoc). Every year except the one you’re in, seems to offer endless time for you to find your answers and provide evidence for them.

Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day, you’ll drink the night away
and forget about everything

After a hard day or week, (possibly contemplating the above ideas) everyone enjoys their happy hours and drinks at the pubs. It’s the times they get to take a break from work, unwind and not worry about a thing. This could apply to anyone really, who’s had a tough bout in their jobs, which is probably why Baker Street continues to be an iconic 70s rock song. The lyrics themselves are so universal.

To end on a less :( note…

And when you wake up it’s a new morning
The sun is shining, it’s a new morning
But you’re going…

Research (& Music) offers the appeal of travel and change. Work will never be stagnant for long. If the current situation drags or isn’t ideal..you apply for the next position, fellowship and/or contract somewhere else. At least for research, you’re never bound to one country or job by your career. You’re not even bound to your field.

Rest of the Baker Street Lyrics can be found here

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Categories: Careers, Discussion, Lab Life

3 thoughts on “The Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”

  1. In my old lab in Toronto I once figured out that we spoke 14 or 15 languages between 12 people. One of my Chinese colleagues spoke fluent Norwegian, after studying there for a few years.

    (And thanks for the music/science project plug. It’s been a bit neglected (by me) but I’m currently scheduling an interview with a neuroscientist working on music, so there’ll be more interesting stuff soon.)

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