I said yes to my lab on Monday and sent out a whole lot of emails to all the other labs I was considering saying “I’m with Melon’s lab now”. One PI emailed back asking for the chance to meet and discuss his lab’s work in more detail before I made my “final final decision”. His lab works at the intersection of a lot of my interests. I said yes (of course), never pass up the opportunity to pick the brains of an expert. But the night before I wrote this out to kind of clarify what I wanted. It helps me to write down what I’m thinking as if I’m saying it to the person.

30 Sep 2020

As scientists, the kinds of questions we’re allowed to ask are limited by our tools. A useful new tool opens up the floodgates of discovery and makes possible experiments and discoveries that weren’t before. Western blot – bam, we can identify proteins. Inducible Cre-lox system – bam, we can modify genes exactly when we want to. So what really attracts me to your lab is the way you develop new technologies to answer fundamental biology questions that you care about. It’s a chain reaction – it helps answer not only your questions but questions that other labs have not been able to ask yet.

You’re a blood cell lab, so your technology focuses on cells as individuals, relatively divorced from their milieu. Cellular barcoding and clonal sequencing work primarily on the single cell level and this works for blood cells because they are ferried around your veins as individuals. What’s also interesting is how these cells assemble to form more complex structures. That’s something we’re only just beginning to do. How do you get these cells with these different fates to assemble organs? How do you get them to do these incredibly complex things together that we can’t build machines to replicate? A kidney is the size of your palm but if you lose it, you’re stuck on dialysis 3 times a week for the rest of your life – you’re exhausted, you can’t do anything, you can’t move around, you can’t live. It warps the fabric of your life. Why can’t we build a structure of cells to restore that function appropriately?

I know the field is a very very long way from doing anything like building complex organs for transplant. It’s pretty crazy. Melon legitimately paused for a full 4s after I was like “I want to build kidneys for transplant”. But I want it to happen. I keep coming back to it. I want to physically transplant patients with universal iPSC kidneys and solve the organ shortage crisis.

The stuff I’ll be doing with Melon is not this, right, it’s so so so far in advance of anything like this. But I still want to do it? And I feel like an honours year is a really short time – just 9 months – to screw around with science and chase these things you can’t stop thinking about.

I’d be very happy in your lab – the projects are very interesting, the people are nice, it’s an environment where you can do really good work and be proud of it. Atm, I’m just drawn to the kidney and Melon’s lab in a way that’s not fully rational. And I’m choosing her lab because of that feeling.

Maybe this isn’t the right call. Maybe it’s better to develop a molecular bio technique that might potentially be used by many people, instead of chasing this narrow far fetched ideal. Maybe the obsession will fade in a year when my time’s up and I feel like I haven’t done anything but chase unicorns like a wide eyed amateur, I don’t know.

But at the moment this is what I want. I don’t know if I will be as invested in a year’s time, but I hope someone is. We owe the people who are being drained by dialysis something better.