A description of paradise

A description of paradise

Last week, I was in Hawaii on the joint Rob Phillips (Caltech)/Steve Quake (Stanford) lab retreat.

Every morning and evening, one principal investigator of some lab and several graduate students/postdocs/three undergraduates talked about their research. Afternoons were unscheduled, completely free.

The graduate students in Rob’s lab spent their afternoons exploring Hawaii. Sometimes, I joined them:

Here, I’m getting ready to kayak.Kayaking is very fun when you capsize, and even more fun when you have to paddle away as fast as you can from a huge, honking cruise ship.

One day, we ate lunch on the rocks overlooking this view before a hike.

Sometimes, I didn’t join the graduate students on their afternoon excursions. The sad truth is that problem sets don’t disappear just because you don’t want to do them. On Thursday, when I finally finished my differential equations problem set at 4:30 PM, I grabbed my bathing suit to hit the beach before evening talks– and then it started raining. Irony can be absolutely horrible.(I swam anyway.)

To be fair, this lab retreat was not just a paid vacation to Hawaii. Everyone spent nearly five hours every day learning biophysics, and I heard about research that made my eyes pop. One of my favorite talks: UCLA Professor Shimon Weiss explained how anyone with a simple 100x objective brightfield microscope, a CCD camera, and his SOFI algorithm could increase their microscope’s resolution from 1 micron to below 100 nanometers. (Prefrosh with brightfield microscopes in your basement, this means you!) Listening to other people talk about their research was fun.Quotable quotes from the talks include: “That’s very easy to do. Well, with a lot of money that’s very easy to do.” “As a theorist doing experiments, I only do experiments that are useful. What’s not useful is two data points.” – Dave Van Valen, a graduate student in Rob’s group, explaining why he spent many hours doing essentially the same experiment over and over and over again.

Talking about my own research? Not as easy as listening.

On Friday, as the last speaker of the entire conference, I told larger-than-life professors and postdocs and graduate students about what I did last summer. Literally. That was scary. I was the youngest person there (except for the children of the other researchers.)I had never talked about my research in front of more than five people. Worse, my research is pretty firmly physics, and not even biologically relevant.(My research is yet another analysis of the dynamics of the two-state system using Maximum Caliber, paper coming soon!) Would anyone understand what I was saying? Would anyone care?

Luckily, half of the “biologists” there had majored in physics as undergraduates. So my talk turned out just fine, although one person pointed out that “the two-state system has been solved six ways from Sunday.” That’s very true.

I never thought I’d be so unhappy to get back to Southern California, but as one of the hotel staff explained, SoCal has “nasty” weather compared to Hawaii. Brrr, it’s 60 degrees here!