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Mentoring, suicide and Harvard

S L Forsburg nospamforsburg at salk.edu
Wed Dec 9 17:29:34 EST 1998

There was an article about this tragedy in the NYTimes 
Sunday Magazine on 28th November.  Did anyone else read this?  
It certainly captured the feeling of research--one student commenting
that at a certain point when things aren't working, it's just you
and the molecule.  I imagine that chemistry of this sort is particularly
isolating, since usually (not always) in biology, people are working
on related problems in the lab and have more of a network.  But
biologists suffer the same sort of crises of confidence where our sense
of our self-worth is completely wrapped up in how well our experiments
are going. ( I find that explaining the degree of my
self-identification with  the research problem to a non-scientist 
is just about impossible.)

The complete lack of positive feedback contributes to this-- 
 all anyone has ever wanted to tell me is what is wrong with 
what I'm doing, and now that I'm on the faculty, this constant 
criticism is more striking than ever. It's not that I can't take
criticism, it's just that on occasion, it would be nice to hear "good
job" when something goes well.  Instead, I find people are great at finding
clouds over every silver lining.  (Paper got published?  It's in the wrong
journal.  Grant got funded?  Not enough money.  Interesting result?
Probably an artifact. Invited to a meeting?  Never heard of it....)  
So, I try to give encouraging comments to my students and 
postdocs regardless of how their experiments are doing.  But is that 

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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 

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